Most business events industry planners and suppliers who responded to our May 4-7 survey, COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard, said they were planning to acquire new skills to conduct meetings — whether in person or digitally — while the coronavirus pandemic still might be an issue.
The survey was the third since the first week in April as PCMA and Convene attempt to determine how the business events community is coming to terms with the coronavirus crisis, imagining events in the near future, and reskilling for the long term. Over the course of those four days, 1,388 professionals — 935 planners and 453 suppliers — participated.
It’s no surprise that eight out of 10 planners told us they are reskilling to help them design digital event experiences, while roughly half the suppliers said they are learning about digital events.
However, 78 percent of the planners and 62 percent of the suppliers said they are learning about designing live experiences in physical environments with more stringent hygiene standards. This is despite the fact that the timing around resuming face-to-face meetings remains in question while no vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19 is readily available.
The graphic below shows each of the skills and the percentage breakdowns for which answers both planners and suppliers chose. (Download a PDF with complete results for all our COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard surveys.)
Respondents who answered “other” to the reskilling question give us insight into what they are thinking beyond how they are reskilling, including the progression of the pandemic and the future of the industry as a whole.
“Looking into a crystal ball to predict what will happen,” one supplier respondent wrote before asking the questions weighing on many people’s minds. “Will the virus have another flare-up? Will there be treatments or vaccines? When will companies start to encourage their employees to travel? Will they send fewer, cut back on exhibit spending — and how long will that impact last? How do we keep good employees from migrating to other industries because of the unpredictability?”
One planner respondent, a self-described veteran of the business events industry, is sure about one thing: Live events are on hold. “I believe international events will not come back [until] there’s a vaccine and nor should they. … Planning and crisis management is our forte, and the health and safety of our clients and delegates is far more important than a speedy [live] event recovery.”
This planner is learning about new sponsor sales plans because “not for some time will the pull of overseas speakers or delegates be key selling points” for events. “Spends on events and sponsorships will be reduced or nonexistent for some time,” the respondent noted.
While many respondents answering “other” said they are working on skills that will help them create digital events, others wrote about looking to the future when face-to-face events do return. Learning about distancing restrictions, F&B safety, and transporting people from venue to venue are top priorities for them.
In answering new question on the May 4-7 survey — In the absence of a therapeutic treatment or vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, what is the farthest distance from your home you would consider traveling to a business event in 2020, assuming there are no financial or regulatory restrictions placed on travel? — 31 percent of planners and 32 percent of suppliers said they would travel any distance necessary if the program was worth it.
One respondent did express doubts about the immediate future of live events not because they pose a health risk, but because social-distancing policies run counter to one of the main goals of face-to-face events. If “we’re keeping everyone separated and sterile,” the planner asked, “how does that play into the inherently social nature of live events?
“I really don’t know how we bring the energy and excitement of live events in socially distanced environments,” the respondent wrote. “The experience factor is still going to be a ‘thing’ that we are going to need to deliver. How do we do that in physical environments with a level of social cautiousness?”
An answer from a supplier seemed more hopeful about finding a way forward: “Building confidence across the marketplace — from venues to suppliers to clients — will require innovative collaborations and new approaches.”
Below are other skills respondents are focused on acquiring.
“Working on graphic design, digital tracking skills and social media strategy skills to adapt to new circumstances and new ways of working.”
“The psychology and sociology of this situation on events, and the impact of human fear.”
“New non-event monetization strategies.”
“How to run a cohesive hybrid event without breaking the bank.”
“New engagement tools for attendees in a virtual setting.”
“Having the courage to present true facts and alleviate fear of this pandemic.”
“Just being nimble to reinvent ourselves as the market changes or evolves will be key.”
“Public Health and Safety awareness messaging like APPIX, APSA Area Public Safety Alerts with the Event Safety Alliance.”
Please take our current COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard survey. We’ll share those insights the week of May 25.
Curt Wagner is an associate editor at Convene.