4 Strategies to Guide Your Return to Live Events

With COVID-19 cases down at the time of this writing, we are now largely mask-free, back in offices — and planning furiously to deliver in-person events. Here’s a framework.

Author: David Saef       

speaker on low stage with audience listening

At PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2022, the Promenade Stages on the show floor brought speakers in front of attendees in a more intimate way. (Jacob Slaton Photography)

David Saef headshot

David Saef

The rush back to in-person events is made more challenging by staffing shortages, changing circumstances, executive scrutiny, and the need to make timely decisions despite many variables and uncertainties.

Here are four critical priorities to guide your return to in-person and hybrid events.

1. Invest in audience research and acquisition efforts. The Great Resignation means that a chunk of your existing attendee base may no longer work at their organizations. Compounding that attendee-acquisition challenge is the pending elimination of cookies to track online visitors. Those two factors will require us to work harder to attract and engage audiences. It’s time to invest in audience research to identify key care-abouts, personalize messages, and create compelling calls to action. In so doing, you will be able to center your content, community, and commercial engagement around audience priorities.

2. Appoint a “connections curator” (aka networking chief). Getting face to face with the right people is a primary benefit of the live channel, yet few organizations make connections an organizational priority — complete with goals, curation, and measurement. Now is the time to appoint at least one dedicated staff member to focus on:

  • Understanding how attendees connect today by using ethnographic research to figure out how they interact and by analyzing attendee tracking/scanning data
  • Curating different types of meetups that are designed for varying audience needs, such as problem-solving workshops, mentor-mentee interactions, crowdsourced feedback, peer-to-peer exchanges, and roundtables.
  • Selecting technologies that make it easier for attendees to find and connect with peers vs. using legacy AI technology, which has a mixed track record of matching by work titles only
  • Setting goals for audience engagement and monitoring results

3. Optimize the in-person and online channels. More than ever, we are competing for our participants’ time and attention. Plus, technology is enabling audiences to participate where and when they want based on individual priorities and accessibility. How do we stay ahead?

First, optimize in-person engagement:

  • Highlight what is truly new, novel, and cutting-edge and make that available only on the show floor.
  • Enable attendees to engage and immerse — with each other and in hands-on demonstrations.
  • Provide short, meaningful, and inspiring talks by experts and/or peers.
  • Deliver high-impact, exclusive, and captivating experiences that cannot be replicated anywhere else.

Next, optimize the convenience and access of being online:

  • Enable attendees to learn and certify on their own time and at their own pace.
  • Provide exclusive livestreams to expert speakers.
  • Facilitate peer-to-peer dialogue or meetups on dedicated topics that offer practical ideas and solutions to pressing challenges.

4. Provide different opportunities for corporate partners. While some companies continue to rely on the time-tested exhibit model, major players and disruptors want new and different participation options:

  • Develop experience “zones” driven by content and engagement that are complementary to a company’s booth.
  • Offer sponsor activations in nontraditional spaces, whether in the entry courtyard, hallway, or through creative food and beverage experiences.
  • Provide content partnerships that capture on-site presentations or launches and are amplified through livestream or sponsored white papers distributed post-event.
  • Capture and analyze audience engagement for companies seeking to increase awareness or consideration.

Learn More: 6 Examples of Ethnographic Research


Rethink Your Go-to Policies

Another area we recommend when it comes to corporate sponsorships is revisiting legacy practices — from priority points based on a variety of criteria like exhibit space and exhibiting history, to sponsor requirements and renewals. Many of these have been sound practices that worked in a different environment, but in a post-COVID world, they could be holding you back from exploring new partnerships and opportunities.

David Saef is SVP strategy, mdg, where he partners with clients on growth, sponsorship, and business transformation strategies.