After a trying year for event professionals. members of PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties class of 2021 have proven resilience is a key skill in their toolkit. Colleen Bingle, Meetings, Exhibits, and Sponsorship Manager at the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry in Chicago, shares her thoughts about the future of the business events industry.
What has this year of disruption taught you about the industry?
I always knew there was a community orientation to what we do — naturally, our entire profession revolves around bringing people together. But the disruptions brought about by this year’s tragedies really showed that we don’t just bring people together. As meeting planners, CVBs, and suppliers, we are members of a broader community that banded together with partners across the board to weather this storm. Our industry is resilient. Working together, we will get back to a time when we can all get together again.
How do you see your job changing as a result of the pandemic crisis?
One thing that will never change in my job is the need to use creativity. Adapting to a virtual world has required new contracts, new ideas, and new perspectives. Even with these new challenges, my end goal remains the same: creating connections. I’ve been so encouraged by the way this industry has adapted to new platforms but has maintained the relationship between key stakeholders and exhibitors.
In my own organization, we shifted to a fully virtual “NashVirtual” with only two months to plan. I was able to retain exhibitors and sponsors by offering creative alternatives while being flexible with them. For instance, I gave exhibitors three options which not only generated revenue for NashVirtual, but also secured revenue for AAPD 2021.
How do you see the industry changing as a result of the pandemic?
I look forward to the time when we can meet face to face again and I know that time will come! However, I think there will always be a virtual/hybrid element to our meetings in the future. This will be a positive enhancement because rather than just connecting to those who are physically present, the meeting’s reach can be much wider.
Nothing will ever replace face-to-face meetings, but I think the digital platforms will continue to expand their capabilities. We have seen how AI has been utilized in our industry and I think it will be a vital resource. AI can be used in these digital platforms to suggest sessions or create connections. I think moving forward, partnerships that were traditionally between organizations and hotels, cities, and restaurants now will include a technology component, whether it be a virtual platform, planned social-media campaign, or partnership with another technology component.
What creative initiative or innovation have you seen this year that you believe should remain after this crisis passes?
Over the past few years, it has been interesting seeing how experiential events were becoming more popular during conventions. While this can’t be accomplished in the same way, I think the virtual experiences for attendees is an innovation that should remain in our industry. Many groups are sending attendees a sponsorship swag box before the sponsored happy hour, or e-gift cards to Uber Eats to use during virtual trivia, or a virtual cocktail-making kit. I think these are great ways to engage attendees and still create a sense of community around the event. Even when we do return to face-to-face meetings, these ideas can still be used. They can be implemented in a way to create excitement and buzz around your event before it even starts.