Event Professionals Cite Accomplishments During the Pandemic

The latest COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard asked respondents to call to mind their achievements over the past six months. While their write-in responses are wide-ranging, collectively they underscore remarkable resilience and flexibility during uncertain times.

Author: Curt Wagner       

NECA virtual trade show

Planners responding to the latest Recovery Dashboard listed pulling off virtual events —like the National Electrical Contractors Association’s first virtual trade show – as one of their accomplishments during COVID-19.

After a challenging year-and-a-half of navigating the COVID-19 pandemic — especially the latest curve ball, the Delta variant, just as in-person events were becoming more of a possibility — many in the business events industry may have a hard time identifying any wins. With this in mind, Convene prompted them to take stock of their efforts by asking a new question in the August COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard: What do you consider your biggest achievement during the last six months?

Of the 451 planner respondents, 369 answered the open-ended question, offering a snapshot of how industry professionals have risen to the challenges caused by the pandemic. (We’ll share supplier accomplishments in a follow-up article.)

Not surprisingly, the achievement most often cited by participants was their ability to shift to virtual events — from remote classes to large conferences to international trade shows.

Project managing their organization’s first-ever virtual conference was a significant accomplishment in itself for this planner, but the end result was even more meaningful: The online event helped 7,000 acute and critical care nurse attendees “who are severely burned out and many are on the verge of leaving this industry.” The planner added: “We provided a space for recognition, rejuvenation, and education. I’m proud to serve this community [of professionals] who takes such good care of us as patients.”

Many respondents pointed out how they took the time to learn new skills, with a number of them earning their Digital Event Strategist (DES) certification. “This gave me the authority and credibility to redesign our business,” the planner wrote, “and keep my job.”

Below, we have broken down the planners’ achievements into different categories, including pulling off virtual, in-person, and hybrid events, acquiring new skills, successfully negotiating contracts, and developing innovative initiatives, among other accomplishments.

VIRTUAL CONFERENCES

  • Building virtual conferences, trade shows, other events. (23 mentions without specifics)
  • Designing and producing three successful multi-day virtual conferences with attendance between 200-600 people.
  • Planning and executing our first organizational virtual conference.
  • It’s difficult to feel successful lately. But my organization produced our first online conference and it was well-received by attendees.
  • Successful second virtual annual convention drawing at a higher price point, 75 percent (and still rising) of first virtual convention attendance. Thankful at a time when other shows are seeing 50 percent or less the second time.
  • Delivering an annual conference virtually with great feedback for engagement.
  • Presenting our first virtual large conference and using lessons learned to prepare for two more conferences that will be presented later this year.
  • Successful virtual events that are driving sponsor revenue.
  • Producing high-quality virtual events and keeping sponsors.
  • Production of a super successful virtual sales conference for our internal sales and marketing teams.
  • Not having to cancel a single event. We were able to move everything virtual.
  • Planning a virtual event that raised a record amount for charity.
  • Rolling out global, demand-gen virtual events in H1.
  • Hosting an online concert series for students, where I secured the funding to actually pay them for their time and labor. It can be very difficult to convince my higher-ups that students deserve to be paid for their work, rather than just expecting them to volunteer.
  • Being able to pivot to virtual events to continue educating our members and allowing an opportunity for our industry to network and engage with each other.
  • Hosted a successful, multi-day virtual conference for 4,000 attendees.
  • Learning about and executing successful virtual and hybrid events.
  • Flipping to virtual and paying zero damages.
  • Transition to live remote learning classes.
  • Converting our two in-person conferences of 1,600-plus to two virtual conferences of 3,000-plus.
  • Turning our in-person users conference virtual.
  • Managing another successful virtual meeting.
  • Managing large virtual conferences, keeping team motivated, finding new opportunities.
  • Holding a live and a virtual event less than three weeks apart.
  • Successfully putting on a virtual event, as virtual burnout and Zoom fatigue continue to increase.
  • Digital events — few hiccups in actual event airing/playing.
  • Doing a digital event for military personnel all across the globe.
  • Successful execution of virtual continuing education event and trade show.
  • Keeping the spirit of virtual events engaging.
  • Running a large virtual annual meeting for the second time, which was much more difficult than when we did the same thing in 2020.
  • Holding an all-virtual annual meeting with record-breaking attendance and accolades.
  • Flipping our 2,000-person, 34-country, 450-booth B2B trade show to a virtual format.
  • Producing our gala in a fully virtual format.
  • Global virtual meeting with over 3,000 participants — no crashes or other major issues.
  • Hosting a three-day replacement online event with online trade show, having 20,000 viewers from 20 countries and six continents.
  • Keeping up with the fast pace of additional events made possible by going virtual (no venue or catering costs).
  • Pivoting to successful virtual programming and maximizing audience participation and greater than expected profitability.
  • Successful attendance and survey results from large virtual events.
  • Presenting virtual education programs for our members.
  • Pivoting to successfully host virtual events, delivering a quality experience to our audience. As a sponsor of many industry association events, I’ve been impressed with my team’s ability to adapt to the myriad of platforms and formats out there.
  • Producing a live event virtually in less than six weeks.
  • Converting our in-person regional meetings to all being online.
  • Hosting our annual conference for 1,200 attendees 100-percent virtually.
  • Hosting a second virtual annual conference with high satisfaction scores.
  • Transitioning to webinars successfully.
  • Creativity around planning hybrid events.
  • Providing live and on-demand webinars.
  • Training my team to successfully transition from event planners/admins to virtual event producers in an incredibly short period of time with no experience and limited resources.
  • Successfully supporting various digital events during pandemic and planning for first in-person event later this year since the start of the pandemic.
  • Building community through digital events AND launching successful COVID-negative live events.
  • Producing short, entertaining, virtual events conducive to the digital medium and how people want to engage.
  • Global convention virtually and triaging contracts.
  • Virtual sessions with networking opportunities.
  • Moving in-person educational events to virtual only.
  • Delivering our largest virtual event reaching 111 countries and reaching triple our usual audience.
  • Being able to continue to offer all of our events in a new format, first virtual and now hybrid, thereby maintaining the relevancy of the conference department within our organization.
  • Successfully implementing our second virtual conference and making a profit.
  • Pivoting business events to digital and exceeding revenue targets while doing it.
  • Planning a completely virtual event with more than 900 sessions for more than 5,000 people.
  • Creating a flawless experience in Zoom meeting/webinar in our virtual world.
  • Ran our second virtual conference — successful event with improved production and delegate experience [compared] to 2020 but did not achieve revenue targets.

IN-PERSON EVENTS

  • Planning in-person events for the fall. (12 mentions)
  • Conducting in-person board meetings.
  • Successfully holding our first in-person meeting in 18 months.
  • Championing the viability of in-person meetings to be front of mind in my organization’s leadership.
  • Moving forward to planning both an in-person and a virtual event.
  • Hosting a full, in-person convention for 3,300 people.
  • That we were able to conduct in-person education in six states.
  • Staged three in-person B2B events!
  • Holding an in-person event without losing a lot of money.
  • Producing a live in-person event with 600-plus people in August.
  • Trying to plan 12 in-person events within a one-month period.
  • Switching back from all-virtual to live and making the tough decision for our programs to have a vaccine mandate.
  • Pulling off a safe, live event.
  • Actually held an event in St. Louis last week.
  • Planning two large, in-person events after not doing in-person for 15 months.
  • We held a live in-person meeting this past July in Nashville — it was our largest meeting to date at my association, was very successful and we were able to do so safely.
  • Holding a live event (albeit small — 100 rooms peak) in Florida.
  • Delivering our major event in-between lockdowns.
  • Running a four-day exhibition with 31,000 attendees.
  • Navigating the production of an in-person annual meeting that, in addition to being under the pandemic shadow, was also done jointly with a related organization.
  • Able to meet in person with limited participants in June and conducted successful hybrid in-person and virtual fundraising event in July.
  • Holding our major convention as scheduled with almost normal attendance.
  • Successful site visit to Puerto Rico in July 2021.

HYBRID MEETINGS

  • Putting on a hybrid event. (4 mentions without specifics)
  • Held a 700-attendee, 900 exhibitor–rep hybrid meeting with 500 virtual attendees.
  • Producing a hybrid event in only seven weeks and receiving my DES.
  • First 800-person hybrid event in over 16 months.
  • Successful hybrids and incorporating strong contract language.

CONTRACTS/CANCELLATIONS

  • Negotiating cancellations of hotel contracts without penalties for my clients. (5 mentions without specifics)
  • Successfully mitigating millions of dollars in contract cancellation penalties.
  • Renegotiating/canceling over 60-plus contracts with no penalties incurred.
  • Successfully canceling or rescheduling more than 20 contracted meetings without any financial penalty, which has kept my organization afloat.
  • Reducing contract liability for 2020 and 2021. Have also been reviewing and adjusting all future contracts (2022-2025).
  • Recouping all of our cancellation money from our show that was cancelled last fall.
  • COVID liability waiver/updated terms and conditions.

NEW SKILLS/CERTIFICATIONS

  • Obtaining my DES certification (10 mentions without specifics)
  • Completing both my CEM and DES designations.
  • I achieved the DES and now I’m working on the CMP.
  • Developing new skills in digital events.
  • Pivoting to Zoom and demonstrating my value to my organization.
  • Being seen as a virtual event expert by the company.
  • Finding my niche.
  • Being comfortable with the unknown and reacting to it.
  • Becoming proficient in online conference-platform applications.
  • Learning Cvent for event creation and Virtual Attendee Hub.
  • Helping our team to upskill and develop capacity for working in a “COVID world.”
  • I’ve learned and become proficient in two different streaming platforms for virtual events.
  • Becoming a producer and project manager for virtual events.
  • Learning virtual and hybrid events, which we had never done before.
  • Resilience and learning new digital skills.
  • Getting my DES and completing my third virtual meeting.
  • Learning multiple virtual event platforms. Keeping current with platform updates and changes. Teaching others to use the virtual platform.
  • Learning how to manage virtual meetings.
  • Learning how to create and execute virtual events.
  • Getting a new job and earning my CMP after being laid off last year.
  • I am much more comfortable with virtual events.
  • Graduating college.
  • We were able to pivot our normally in-person event to a smaller-scale virtual event that was very successful. Personally, I am proud to have completed the ELI hybrid-event certificate course which proved to be extremely helpful as I planned the virtual event.
  • Learning multiple digital platforms.
  • Sustaining my business and not having to retrench and learning new skills.
  • Fine-tuning hosting Zoom meetings.
  • Continue to work and support my team and learn a lot of new skills closer to TV production than events, knowing the conversations that are important with venues and clients at this changing time.
  • Becoming proficient in producing virtual events.
  • Staying sane and being able to “master” the art of virtual events.

FINANCES/REVENUE

  • Hitting the net income target for our annual conference.
  • Introducing new revenue-generating products (podcasts and industry partner spotlights) that are non-event focused.
  • The ability to adapt to the rapidly changing event environment. Also, having a record year in terms of sponsorship sales.
  • Sponsorship sales — finding new benefits that provide ROI to our partners and selling new partners.
  • Maintain a cash flow to pay payroll and venues.
  • Sold more booth space.
  • Getting back to productive, new, future-year bookings.
  • Business growth.
  • Six new clients!

INNOVATION

  • Curating cross-divisional input on education programs — events, products, and new innovations.
  • We developed, branded, and executed a series of weekly “destination deep dive” experiences over Zoom for 15 months — 60 episodes!
  • Sped up innovations.
  • Developing an integrated vision for a hybrid event, allowing both in-person and digital attendees to interact.
  • Developing a COVID-19 risk management plan for each hybrid event I managed.
  • Finding work with the CDC/Public Health Department and using the facts regarding COVID to work more fluently with my clients.
  • I set up an academy specific to MICE.
  • Education development.
  • Developing a broader service offering and education to support health and safety operations when the company allows for in-person meetings again.
  • Producing an informative, well-attended webinar broadcast series which will continue once we return to producing in-person events.
  • Creating a digital shopping experience connecting buyers and vendors.
  • Working with clients to think creatively on how to deliver lead-generating events.
  • Expansion into other territories.
  • Improving my nonprofit’s business organization and strategy in preparation for planning and attending in-person events in the future so we’re financially able to withstand changes in COVID this fall.
  • Building out digital event platforms for more regular meetings and communication.
  • Transitioning the company to a new tech stack for all digital events and activity.
  • Finding a platform (not Zoom) that we are able to manage independently and provide successful conferences that include networking opportunities for our clients.

RELATIONSHIPS

  • Great progress in digital marketing and keeping our brand in front of our customers and prospects. Keeping relationships with prospects and customers intact even when in-person visits weren’t an option.
  • Increased membership. (2 mentions)
  • Securing a long-term partnership — with TBD results.
  • Staying connected so I am not behind the eight ball when my clients do host face-to-face meetings.
  • Keeping our client organizations up and running, not going out of business.
  • Keeping connection alive.
  • Membership retention and mastering online platforms.
  • The ability to provide outstanding CME for my membership.
  • Able to stay connected to our membership and provide valuable tools.
  • Keeping members engaged in a virtual world.
  • Still able to implement activations from some clients.
  • Maintaining our programs.

TEAM-BUILDING

  • Maintaining staff morale and retaining staff. (4 mentions without specifics)
  • Doubling the size of my team as we continue virtual programs, launch COVID-safe activations, and plan for live events.
  • Maintaining a fully staffed operation in an essential industry. Providing services to our members in spite of COVID-induced limitations.
  • Supporting my team through this difficult time and being able to have one in-person event, which was so refreshing and energizing, before issues started to arise again.
  • Convincing senior management now is the time to pivot into other areas since we are transforming the business model anyway.

SOFT SKILLS

  • Patience. (2 mentions)
  • Staying positive. (6 mentions)
  • The ability to continually be flexible and change events when needed, especially when planning for the future. (3 mentions)
  • Continually pivoting and changing course as nothing is business as usual.
  • Kept us moving forward despite the challenges and uncertainties of the pandemic.
  • Resiliency, learning new skills quickly. (2 mentions)
  • Keeping my optimism that there is an end to the insanity — at some point.
  • I have become more resilient and understood how the world works in different situations.
  • Taking on more responsibilities as a result of having our team reduced in size.
  • Staying curious about the latest developments and looking at our current situation with a global approach.
  • Evolving and continuing to adapt to virtual events, plus planning for 2022.

STAYING IN BUSINESS

  • Staying in business (6 mentions)
  • Maintaining and protecting our business without incurring unmanageable debt.
  • Keeping my staff employed and my business open.
  • That my company has not folded due to all the cancellations of meetings from our clients.
  • Our company is still in business and growing.

STAYING IN INDUSTRY

  • Transitioning from a freelance role to an in-house permanent role!
  • Not getting fired, furloughed, laid off, or quitting. (8 mentions)
  • Still working in the field despite exhaustion and constant change.
  • Finding another job after being laid off for almost a year.
  • Pivot, pivot, and pivot again.
  • Just started working again.
  • Continuing to do the work.
  • Sticking with it.
  • Becoming a TV producer!
  • Continuing to create enough value for my company to still have a job.
  • Staying afloat in my career and personal life with so much uncertainty.
  • Maintaining relevance and adding value to the company.
  • Getting back to work in the industry after 14 months of unemployment.
  • Relying on my transferable skills to earn income.

CAREER CHANGE/NEW JOB

  • Landing a new job! (2 mentions)
  • I made a career change from a senior sales manager for a golf resort in September 2020 to Lamont Associates as a senior director of global accounts acting as a resource for five active clients for their conferences and competitions happening in 2022 and beyond.
  • Finding a new position that suited my skillset.
  • Reinventing myself to stay employed.

WFH/WFO

  • The ability to be resilient with the continuous changes in our industry while working from home.
  • Adapting to working fully remote, no travel, and executed numerous success virtual events.
  • Returning to the office to help my mental health.

SURVIVAL

  • Surviving the endless changes in mandates, regulations, plans, COVID restrictions, etc. (8 mentions)
  • We survived and thrived! We made it this far with much success of our virtual events and we were able to reach a wider audience.
  • Surviving the 2020 fallout as my event was one of the largest in Ontario to be suspended. Learning how to deal with angry, agitated clients who are posting claims with credit cards who do not honor specific event cancellation and refund polices and are also more than willing to take all of this to small claims court in Ontario. The Ontario small claims court changed its ruling on small claims tenfold and with all of the legal, corporate (credit cards) and government changes, it is has been beyond challenging to navigate, even with a solid legal team. Assistance in this changing climate would be soul soothing.

MISC. WORK

  • Managing our participation in a high volume of simultaneous virtual and in-person third-party events.
  • Successfully shifting our annual with minimal financial exposure.
  • Put on my annual meeting.
  • Planning our flagship event with half the resources we typically rely on.
  • Scenario build-outs.
  • Planning programs while knowing they could be canceled.
  • Meeting revised budgets.
  • My former clients reached out to me directly to ensure I’d be available still when meetings come back this fall. Super flattering. But since then, they’ve all cancelled. 🙁
  • Reactivating our events engine.
  • Fiscal forecasting.
  • Helping conference organizers maneuver through challenges.
  • Keeping our contracted venues.
  • Starting the planning process for a hybrid event that has since been canceled.
  • We had planned a major, weeklong event that we believed would be safe and enjoyable. Sadly, we have had to postpone due to new COVID numbers.

MISC. PERSONAL

  • Getting vaccinated and getting on an airplane, determined to not let COVID change my attitude.
  • Planning work for son’s wedding.
  • Not getting COVID-19.
  • Not freaking out.
  • Biting my tongue.
  • Getting out of bed each day.
  • Had COVID — was a long hauler. Literally staying alive.