Don’t Look Back
One of the things Burrus loves about riding his motorcycle is that it doesn’t go in reverse — in other words, we need to operate in forward mode only. “If you’re really working at trying to go back to the way things were before COVID,” he said, “you’re doing yourself an injustice, regardless of whether you’re a meeting planner or you’re running a hotel or a catering business.”
“The more you’re forcing yourself to think in the future,” Bothwell said, the more you are “opening your sensors. You’re more aware of listening and hearing other things. You start making connections and sense out of things. And that allows you to come back and frame what you might need to do for your particular event in the next year. It helps you not go back to 2019 but create what 2022 or 2025 should be.”
Instead of just tweaking what you used to do, Burrus recommends looking at how to transform your customers’ experience “to an elevated level of relevancy based on the direction the future is going.”
And for event professionals, that means going digital. “As a planner, if you hate virtual,” Burrus said, “it’s kind of like hating change. You’re not going to like the future. Instead of hating it, let’s embrace and extend and transform, meaning what do we do to make meetings a great virtual and physical experience?”
Bothwell acknowledged the “massive challenge” of planning hybrid events to create “two experiences that are equally engaging,” she said. But that’s a prime opportunity to imagine solutions. “Are there new technologies out there that can start bridging the two experiences? There may be,” she said.
Burrus advises planners to seek out tools and systems to make planning hybrid meetings less difficult, time-consuming, and expensive — to explore “how can I actually derive increasing revenue and have the virtual component of a physical meeting be a profit instead of a cost center?”
Gioia is adamant that there is no substitute for face-to-face events. “There is an exchange of energy that takes place. There is a chemistry that happens, a possible collaboration and connection. And these do not happen electronically the way that they happen in person,” she said. “So, I believe that there is going to be a very, very strong desire to get back to being in physical spaces where we can hug each other.” At the same time, another association she belongs to, the Institute of Management Consultants, has held very successful virtual events since COVID and she doesn’t see them going away, even when the pandemic recedes.
Part of our challenge with figuring out what the future will bring, Burrus said, is that it’s “our human default to think about new things with an ‘either/or’ mindset — either it’s going to be live in-person or digital, either it’s going to be paper or digital, either it’s going to be all the vendors on the show floor with their hardware, or it’s all going to be virtual reality.” Burrus attributes much of his ability to forecast with accuracy over nearly four decades to embracing a “both/and” concept.
Here’s how that concept works for events, he said: “The future is definitely in live events — of course, we want to be with other people, we’re human beings. But on the other hand, the virtual element, the hybrid element— oh, that’s there, too. There are certain meetings that would actually serve us well to just be digital — there are things you can do in the digital world that you can’t do in the physical world. There are things you can do in the physical world that you can’t do in the digital world. It’s really important for us to think through what those things are. So, if we are having a physical meeting and we do things that actually could have been done digitally just as well, why do we have the physical meeting? And if we’re in person, we should be maximizing the fact that we’re physically getting together. If you’re smart,” he said, you will embrace both delivery channels. “You’re going to make every meeting a hybrid meeting going forward.”