After another year of disruption, members of PCMA’s 20 in Their Twenties class of 2022 are proof positive that adaptability is a requisite skill for business events industry professionals. Suzanne Thibeault, associate meeting manager at Association Headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, shares what she sees as important for the industry’s recovery.
How do you see the industry changing as a result of the pandemic?
The business events industry has moved from survival mode into a period of energized, experimental collaboration. From one event to the next, we are reimagining how people connect with purpose. We’re learning how to best leverage this new programming environment. I see meetings professionals abandoning a one-size-fits-all approach by giving attendees a voice and choice in customizing their experience. The pandemic produced invaluable real-world experiments in applying omnichannel engagement strategies. I expect the industry to utilize our experience with hybrid, face-to-face, and online events to customize the attendee’s participation. The industry is discovering that attendees are willing to learn differently and are shifting their expectations regarding the event experience. Providing that customized learning opportunity and event experience is where I think this industry is headed.
What do you see as key to the industry’s recovery after this time of disruption?
Through this journey, the industry must acknowledge that the world is reacting to profound changes occurring simultaneously. I expect the industry to prioritize flexibility since the pandemic-induced disruption of the industry’s business model is certain to be followed by other unforeseen challenges. The changing climate, the changing expectations of audiences, and changing technical capabilities ensure an evolving business environment that rewards flexibility. To be successful, this flexibility must be coupled with grace and empathy with our audiences, partners, and teammates. The road to recovery comes with patience, an open mind, and the strong support of our customers and communities. Rebuilding the business events industry calls for an emphasis on equity and creating safer spaces for those we touch. Businesses too often prioritize customer good will only when it is lost. Our industry, which thrives on personal interaction, should make customer goodwill a core value.
What new skills has the pandemic led you to pursue?
In October, our team executed our first hybrid annual meeting, hosting in-person attendees while live streaming the main stage to an online audience. With the goal of delivering TV quality content, I took on a new role with our production team. Instead of walking the floor and conducting room checks, I camped out with our audiovisual teams facilitating speaker rehearsals and working through the minute-by-minute playbook for how each session would roll out. I learned the importance of communicating clearly with speakers and asking the right questions upfront to give our audiovisual teams the information needed to capture the sessions seamlessly. Something as simple as who the presenter will pass the microphone to was plotted down to the minute. It gave me a greater understanding of the functionality across varying platforms, including the in-person experience and the incredible work our audiovisual teams do with ease. I am excited to learn more about this side of the industry and how the role of meeting professionals on site will continue to take shape as hybrid conferences pave their way.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten from someone in the industry?
The best advice I’ve received is to slow down and put yourself first. Meeting management is ranked as one of the higher stress vocations and with organizers’ drive to do it all, it’s easy to put our work before ourselves. To be effective leaders, we must lead by example, taking the time to care for our mental and physical health. To show our best, that sometimes means we take a step back and take a breath.