Event Organizers’ Big Leap Forward

More than half of the meeting planners who responded to the most-recent COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard plan to launch entirely new digital events — not based on any previous face-to-face event — with goals ranging from reaching new audiences to marketing new products.

Author: Barbara Palmer       

digital events

Haute Dokimazo created the brand new Age of Conversation Summit as a digital event. More than half the event professionals responding to a recent Convene survey said they are planning new digital events that weren’t previously in-person events.

Convene has surveyed meeting professionals more than a dozen times since March, trying to better stay abreast of evolving strategies and changing planning horizons. The responses we’ve collected have told us a lot about how you are coping with the challenges of the pandemic.

But in the Recovery Dashboard survey conducted Oct. 19-22, we asked respondents directly for the first time to tell us how they are feeling right now. The most frequent response, chosen by nearly half, was “doing my best to get by,” closely followed by 40 percent who said they are anxious about the future. Exactly one-third of respondents said they are hopeful and 20 percent identified with feeling “determined.” More than a quarter of respondents reported that they were exhausted and burned out.

We didn’t limit responses to only one emotion, and the data indicates that people are feeling more than one thing at once. As one wrote, “[I am] tired of the roller coaster but love all the people that I have met and collaborated with over the last few months and continue to talk with and cheer on.” Wrote another: “[I am] inspired to learn, but the workload is getting much bigger now for the same event.” One respondent gave a poignant, one-word summary — “lost” — while another shared a sense of certainty that things would get better: “Look at how much our country and our world has survived! We will prevail.”

Factors outside the meeting industry weighed heavily on respondents. One wrote: “The outcome of the U.S. presidential and local elections confirms whether or not I will have civil rights. It’s terrifying.” And “[I am] not encouraged about a U.S comeback until the feds establish a national plan for testing and tracing.”

One data point was a little puzzling to us: Only 13 percent reported feeling “inspired and creative.” That’s in spite of how many meeting professionals have become, by necessity, near-instant experts at producing digital and hybrid meetings that were initially planned as in-person events.

Many respondents have been busy not only doing that but have been creating entirely new events and business models out of whole cloth. For the first time, we asked respondents whether or not they were planning to launch a new digital meeting that previously had never been held and more than half — 52 percent — said yes.

It’s a jaw-dropping statistic when compared to data we collected from meeting professionals a mere year ago for Convene’s 29th Annual Meetings Market Survey. At that time, less than one-third — 31 percent — of respondents said that they had planned to add a virtual or hybrid element to their largest event. One signal of how much and how fast events have changed in 2020: Last year, we didn’t even ask survey respondents whether or not they were planning digital-only events.

Meeting professionals who are planning new digital events offered a variety of reasons why. The two most popular were to better serve their existing audiences (68 percent) and to create opportunities for their communities to connect (65 percent). However, more than half — 54 percent — were planning new digital events in order to attract new audiences and 20 percent were using new digital events to better segment their audiences. Increasing revenue was driving the creation of new events for 35 percent of respondents, an equal percent was using them to provide opportunities for sponsors, and 20 percent were marketing new products. More than a quarter — 26 percent — were designing the events to offer CEUs or CMEs.

Barbara Palmer is deputy editor of Convene.

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