Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2020

How to Plan for the Unplannable? Go Hybrid

By Adam Briggs

As the COVID-19 pandemic waxes and wanes in the U.S. and around the world, meeting professionals are mired in uncertainty. What will conditions be in their host destination when their dates come around? Will attendees be willing to travel, even if the disease is receding at that time? What will a socially distanced meeting look and feel like?

Planning for the unplannable means taking what for many is an uncomfortable step into the unknown of virtual meetings. While it may be anxiety-provoking because it’s not something that’s in the binder they’ve come to rely on in planning in-person events, I strongly urge everyone who isn’t going 100% virtual to plan to augment their live events with an online component through at least Q2 of 2021.

Build In Your Plan B
Think of going hybrid as having a Plan A and a Plan B all in one. If you are able to hold the in-person event, you likely will have those who won’t be able to attend because they are immune-compromised, or they’re concerned about spreading the disease to vulnerable loved ones, or they can’t get away because they’re home-schooling their kids, or they are furloughed and can’t afford it — no matter who your audience is, there likely will be a certain percentage who just won’t be able to make the in-person event. Going hybrid is your Plan A to get to the content to those who can’t attend.

Should the meeting become untenable due to a resurgence of the virus or some other event and you have to cancel, you won’t be caught out as all too many were this spring when they had to cancel altogether because they didn’t have time to build out a virtual meeting. If you’re already planning the hybrid piece, you already have your going-virtual Plan B in place.

Considerations for Going Hybrid
Each component of your hybrid event is going to need to be reconsidered in light of today’s environment.

In-person considerations:

• How will you change your programming to accommodate socially distancing requirements in your venue’s space? You may need to consider breaking into smaller sessions rather than holding larger keynotes and general sessions.

• How will you make registration, the least socially distanced piece of a meeting, safer? Even the most confident attendee likely won’t want to wait in that normally long queue for the reg desk or have to use a kiosk keyboard or touchscreen that hundreds of others have used over the course of the day.

We could go back to the days of mailing badges to attendees ahead of time, but my recommendation would be to go to a touchless registration system. Attendees can go to one of a series of satellite kiosks, spaced to reduce the need for close interaction with others, and scan a barcode on their phone or send a text to have their badge printed without their having to touch anything.

Also consider using badge materials that eliminate the need for a badge holder, or at least have someone wearing gloves handing out lanyards. No one will want to reach into that big bin of lanyards everyone else has been reaching into all morning.

Online considerations:

• Are you going to go with livestreaming, or will you be recording sessions, or perhaps doing a bit of both? When negotiating with a provider over pricing, think of this as a negotiating point, just like Wi-Fi.

• Similarly, how will you schedule your online content? Do you run it in real time as it’s happening live, or do you offer it on demand? Do you include all of your in-person sessions virtually, or offer a smaller selection?

• How do you price the online version? Some offer deep discounts or give away the online content, in hope that the influx of participants will justify the costs to the sponsors and exhibitors who are underwriting it. There’s something to be said for that strategy, though it could devalue worth of the content in attendees’ minds. But it also is difficult to justify charging the same amount as you would for the in-person event (given lack of food or beverage provided to virtual attendees). The most common strategy is to provide a reduced fee to attend the virtual component.

• How will you provide a good return on investment (ROI) for exhibitors and sponsors? This is always important, but even more so now when the contracting economy is causing many companies to cut back on marketing expenditures, including exhibiting. One thing I predict we’ll be seeing more of is a sort of “hosted buyer lite,” where the attendee can get a discount when they set up appointments to engage with sponsors.

Driving Revenues Via Virtual
Adding a virtual component to meetings can also help with a show’s economics. If your trade show typically has a waiting list, you can increase revenues by adding virtual booths. Likewise, you can open up new registration revenues by providing those who can’t travel to attend virtually.

These are anxious times, especially for meeting professionals who are forced into the uncomfortable position of being asked to plan for the unplannable. Going hybrid will not only help you hedge your bets with a built-in Plan B, but also potentially provide ways to reach attendees who otherwise might not be able to come, and to build in a new revenue stream. Why wouldn’t you go hybrid?

Adam Briggs is senior Vice President, operations, with ConferenceDirect.

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About ConferenceDirect
ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 4,400+ associations, corporations, and sporting authorities through our 400+ global associates. www.conferencedirect.com

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually. www.meetingmentormag.com

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