Meeting Mentor Magazine

October 2022

Planners Share Top Tips Gleaned from COVID Chaos


Over the COVID-19 pandemic, meeting professionals had to learn on the fly how to transform an in-person meeting to an online event, negotiate (and then renegotiate) a meeting that had to be postponed, and develop a workable plan to go hybrid. But that’s not all we’ve learned that will stay with us long after the pandemic is history.

Here are nine things meeting and event professionals say they will take with them moving forward.

Don’t make everyone else’s urgency your urgency. During COVID, there was a lot of pressure to make decisions on the fly, at least partially based on what everyone else was doing. As Jacqie McWilliams, commissioner, Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, says, it’s important to take a step back, evaluate the reality of the situation, and “be flexible and nimble to do what’s right for your organization.”

Leadership is critical. “I have seen some great leaders emerge through these tragic moments,” says McWilliams. “I have also seen a lot of leaders who not only failed to manage their teams well, but ignored the quiet members. The screen hid a lot of things that people were feeling but couldn’t articulate — and some leaders didn’t pay attention or did not have the bandwidth themselves to lead with more care for members of their teams”.

It’s OK to reset. “We learned a lot about how we can better streamline better,” McWilliams says. For example, she says they learned how they could use Microsoft Teams, something they already had been using, in all kinds of new ways. “It changed how we did business.” Many also learned that it’s OK to give staff the opportunity to continue to work from home — as long as they continue to get the work done.

Teamwork is critical. “During the pandemic, I had several opportunities to work with and learn from colleagues within my organization — because everyone was trying to figure out how to conduct business virtually,” says Jean Middleton, CMP, senior vice president and chief of staff with the Association of Public & Land Grant Universities (APLU).

People can be productive working from home. Angie Pfeifer, CMM, vice president, IGM Field and Corporate Event Marketing, IG Wealth, says that people found they could actually be even more productive working from home, especially those who had a long commute. While her team is going back to the office, they still will have the option of working from home on days they don’t need to be in person to collaborate and brainstorm.

But they also can find it hard to turn off and have a life. When so many shifted to working from home, they found themselves working at all hours of the day and night. “We programed ourselves over the past two years to always be available. It caused more stress, because people never stopped working,” says McWilliams. “As a leader, I learned it’s important to build a culture where it’s OK to get off the computer and go to lunch, to shut it all down. And as a leader, I have to model the behavior I want for my staff. I am a mom, and a wife, and I’m a commissioner who reports to CEOs, but I do have boundaries and I can shut it down and still deliver exceedingly.”

You need to be able to demonstrate the value of what you contribute to the organization. Pfeifer says, “In our world of corporate finance, the easiest place to cut budgets was with events. I found I had to demonstrate the value of what events contribute to the business.”

Empathy is key. “I am task-oriented, so I start with the work first and people second. However, during the pandemic, I had to put people first,” says Middleton. “I found my job much more fulfilling when I learned how to balance the two.”

At some point, you have to balance “good” with “good enough.” Event professionals tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to deliver amazing experiences, but especially now when they’re dealing with having to put on essentially two meetings in parallel — hybrid and in-person — and budgets that aren’t keeping pace with inflation, it’s important to think about what you can let go that the end user is never going to notice. “Our expectations on what we want to deliver are very, very high, but attendees don’t know what our expectations are,” explains Pfeifer. While it’s among the hardest things to put into practice, it’s important to really examine what you’re doing and, if no one but you will know the difference, to let good be good enough.

What are some of the key lessons you learned over the past couple of years that will inform your work moving forward? Please share your thoughts with Sue Pelletier at sue.pelletier@conferencedirect.com. And don’t miss the Fall issue of MeetingMentor, available in print and online, where you’ll find much more on where we are in our recovery as an industry.

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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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