Getting Back to Face-to-Face Events

After false starts and months of virtual experiences, in-person events are returning. Here’s what organizers of three physical events held in the second half of 2021 learned. 

Author: Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes       

SuperZoo 21 dog

The World Pet Association’s open, honest, and empathetic communication leading up to SuperZoo 2021 led to a high-energy event — even for the pets. (Courtesy WPA)


Produced by World Pet Association (WPA)
Aug. 17–19, Las Vegas

As the Delta variant started becoming a concern in the weeks leading up to SuperZoo, a few exhibitors withdrew and rumors about the event’s status began to swirl. Immediately, WPA’s president, Vic Mason, committed to being fully transparent about the event with all stakeholders. In empathetic communications to attendees and exhibitors, the WPA addressed rumors, informed them of on-site safety plans that aligned with regional and venue guidelines, included quotes from confirmed exhibitors, and spotlighted big-name registered attendees. The proactive, open, and authentic messaging ensured that WPA controlled its own narrative in the months leading up to the event.

On site, the energy and enthusiasm of participants was palpable, WPA reported. Several supplier companies sent representatives who, regretting their decision not to exhibit, secured their booths for 2022 during the on-site space selection process. Those who exhibited said that visitors were serious buyers and they were able to justify their ROI with orders taken on site and many more in the pipeline.

“There was never a point where we doubted the show would go on,” Mason said. “We channeled our certainty into a communications strategy that would instill confidence into our audience. As a result of the success we had this year, we’ve created a sense of heightened excitement for what’s to come in 2022.”

Insuretech Connect 2021

Clarion Events reimagined the exhibit floor plan for Insuretech Connect, building around “meaningful areas of the show floor that were dedicated to learning and networking.” (Courtesy Insuretech Connect)

Insuretech Connect

Produced by Clarion Events
Oct. 4–6, Las Vegas

True to its name, Insuretech Connect focused on enabling participants to make quality connections. Exhibitors, in particular, said that they were able to do more business in just three days than they did in months of virtual meetings.

That was due in part to the team rethinking the floor plan. “We didn’t want to have all linear booth space,” said Liz Irving, executive vice president and head of marketing, technology, and customer experience at Clarion Events. “As such, the floor plan was built around meaningful areas of the show floor that were dedicated to learning and networking.” The strategy met attendees’ need for content and exhibitors’ need for traffic.

Understanding the importance of those in-person connections, Insuretech offered outdoor event space to enable participants to network without masks in the open air. And while having the opportunity to learn is important to their audience, Insuretech organizers didn’t over-program their event — after so long apart, people just wanted to be together.


The social and networking experience at the Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition in Las Vegas was made more enjoyable because attendees were able to go mask-free due to a strong vaccination requirement. (Courtesy NBAA)

Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition

Produced by the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA)
Oct. 12–14, Las Vegas

For its Las Vegas event, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) decided to require full vaccination with no religious or medical exemptions and no testing alternative. As a result, the city’s indoor masking mandate was lifted, which made the social and networking experience more enjoyable.

While the vaccine mandate received some pushback and the show lost a few exhibitors, that wasn’t unexpected, said NBAA Senior Vice President of Events Chris Strong. “Any decision you make will bring some level of turbulence,” he said. “While we probably won’t make that call for upcoming shows, in hindsight it was the right decision at the right time.”

NBAA hosted three webinars in advance of the event; two geared toward exhibitors that focused on marketing and know-before-you-go logistics, and one for attendees. It was a successful strategy: More than 500 people participated in the webinars, which cost nothing to organize and helped NBAA build excitement for the show.

Whether a show is successful or unsuccessful often comes down to circumstances and timing during COVID times, Strong said, but “what you can control is your communications.”

Read the health and safety requirements for NBAA-BACE here.

Kimberly Hardcastle-Geddes is president and chief marketing strategist of mdg, a marketing and public relations agency specializing in audience acquisition for live and online events.

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