On July 17th, the UK government announced what we have all been waiting for: live performances can resume on August 1st, and conferences and business events on October 1st.  While this is great news for our industry, the threat of COVID-19 remains and events should follow our MeetSAFE guidelines to minimize risk.

With this announcement, the longing to host live events again has increased at a rapid pace. But because socially distant meeting layouts can lower the capacity of our venues by as much as 75%, we need to offer our clients solutions that enable them to connect with the same size of audience as before, but with a high volume taking part online. With a vaccine still some way off, these hybrid events could be our future for quite some time!

Hybrid events will have two audiences – one in the room, and one viewing from their home or office. I believe that we need to do everything we can to ensure that the guests taking part from home have the same experience as those in the room. At its simplest, we can stream a meeting to an online audience with little more than a camera and an internet connection. However, engagement is key for an online audience, especially with the distractions around the home or in the office.

When planning for a hybrid conference, there is a wide range of tools that we can use to bring together delegates in the room and online. Live-polling, Q&A sessions and even chat functions can ensure that everyone attending feels engaged and inspired. If speakers aren’t able to travel to present at your event, we can pre-record their sessions or even stream them into the room and onto the remote platform live.

Using Chime Live, the delegates who are attending the event in-person can interact with the conference using their own devices to answer polls, ask questions, check the agenda for the event or find out more information about individual speakers. The remote delegates are able to have the exact same experience, with the added functionality of a live stream of the event.

When producing a hybrid awards event for example, we can stream sponsors, presenters or even winners live from their devices into the room and onto the streaming platform. Competitions can be hosted using social media, allowing all guests to compete together whether they’re live or remote. Guests can even be brought together using live chat, so that people can interact and network as they would at a live event. Combining both audiences is key to ensure that those at home feel as much part of the event as those who are in the room.

It’s important to remember that the move to hybrid principles doesn’t always need to be viewed as a ‘problem-solver’. A hybrid event can actually increase the attendance at the event and add value – global pandemic or not. We have seen attendance numbers of virtual events outperform those of in-person events because of the convenience of attending remotely. Adding hybrid technology to an event will no doubt add some element of cost for event organisers, but this can be outweighed by reduced travel requirements and F&B spend, and can even add an extra channel of sponsorship for the remote platform.

We have an undoubtedly challenging time ahead of us, but hybrid events will enable us to support our clients to engage with large audiences both in person and online for some time to come.

As the events industry starts to return, it’s becoming clear that hybrid events are going to become part of the new normal. While there are countless tutorials, resources and products that are geared towards making the technical transition easier to understand and execute, one challenge that remains is how to maximize remote audience engagement.

Founded in 2009 by Anthony Scaramucci and SkyBridge Capital, SALT is an annual global thought leadership forum and networking platform that encompasses finance, technology and geopolitics. In 2019, working with Encore Productions, SALT wanted to reinvigorate this high-profile, invitation-only event and take it back to its roots; a thought-leadership forum filled with conversation-based keynotes and fireside chats that blended together the intersecting areas of finance, tech, politics, academia, sports, military and entertainment.

“Although past events had historically been successful, SALT wanted to continue pushing the envelope on their events to stay ahead of competitors. They were looking to transform it into the event of the future,” recalled Chani Mintz, Senior Producer, Encore Productions.

After coming to an understanding on how to further evolve the in-person event, the task became more complex—how to take the event into the digital sphere in a unique way? The event planners wanted to make sure their virtual audience was given an experience that not only mirrored the specifications of the in-person event, but enhanced it. “We really had to change our mindset on how we approached this – it was really to incorporate the best of live show production with more of a television broadcast approach,” confided Jamey Gallagher, Vice President of Creative Strategy, Encore Productions. With this in mind, the production team leveraged three key techniques: creating an immersive environment, graphic elements and exclusive content.

Create an Immersive Experience

Create an environment where attendees can find and explore your content in a way that easily allows for sharing and participating actively in the experience.

In the case of SALT, there were multiple touchpoints for virtual attendees to interact with: a virtual lobby, exhibit hall, keynote presentation and networking lounge, to name a few. These creative elements allowed attendees to interact with one another and the material presented in a way that made them feel connected and part of the action.

Add Graphic Elements

The producers were also mindful of how keynotes and video content was presented to the digital audience. To mimic the energetic atmosphere at Bellagio, they crafted graphic elements that made each keynote feel as if it were a segment on a news channel. By using these graphics, along with picture-in-picture elements, call-outs for the next presenter, and making it look and feel like a highly-produced television show, the creative minds on this project brought a dynamic experience into existence for these users.

Create Exclusive Content for the Virtual Attendee

Between speakers, they utilized roaming cameras to make those at home feel like they were truly in the room. “The virtual viewer actually had a bigger experience than the live viewer,” said Jamey. “They went right from a live session, to an interview backstage and immediately to the conference center. The virtual attendee could attend up to five functions in an hour, where the live attendee could see maybe only three.”

These elements culminated into an event that SkyBridge Founder & Managing Partner and SALT Chairman Anthony Scaramucci proclaimed to be “by far the smoothest and coolest event we’ve ever done.”

What will meetings and events look like following the COVID-19 pandemic?

For everyone in our industry, that’s certainly been the question on our minds. And while it’s easy to say “I don’t know,” the meetings and events industry as a whole is too important to accept that as an answer – 10 million jobs worldwide directly depend on it.

Instead, PSAV and our family of companies, along with our venue and industry partners, are looking to help get the live event industry, event planners, and our teams back to work and begin the road to recovery. In order to do so, meeting safely will undoubtably be our top priority.

With nations and individual states slowly releasing stay-at-home orders, now is the time to envision what our return to live and hybrid meetings will look like. As risk and health are two key considerations for businesses and associations, physical distancing and enhanced cleaning procedures will remain an essential part of making people comfortable with gathering again.

But we can’t go back to “business as usual” right away. An anticipated phase one recovery for our industry likely represents smaller meeting sizes in alignment with evolving government guidelines.

How will meeting safely in the early stages of recovery look?

Working alongside our venue partners, PSAV has designed a series of meeting formats, equipment packages, and recommendations that address how to reduce risk, increase confidence, and promote well-being within the meeting space.

Our MeetSAFE guidelines address examples and options for meeting designs, room layouts, traffic flow, technology considerations and enhanced cleaning procedures, with the goal of making the meetings and events industry stronger and healthier than ever.

We know this is just the first step on the road to recovery, but we also know our industry is resilient. Together, with your support, we’re confident our industry can show great leadership throughout the comeback.

Spread the word about MeetSAFE with our new infographic (click here for full resolution).

Meet Safe Infographic

The current environment across the globe has presented the meetings and events industry with a clear focus on virtual opportunities. As a result, there are some natural questions that come to mind. Are virtual meetings the new normal? Will they ultimately replace live meetings? And, can people do without face-to-face events?

The answer is understandably nuanced.

Technology to deliver virtual events continues to improve and offers a credible alternative in an environment where people cannot physically gather. Dramatic increases in use of webinars, livestreams – even the reality that ‘Zoom’ is becoming a verb – all demonstrate that virtual events are thriving. And with more of us becoming comfortable with the medium and more thoughtful in how to design virtual events, we will absolutely see an increased use in purely virtual meetings as well as hybrid events, even after governmental restrictions on public gatherings are lifted.

But this does not mean face-to-face meetings can be fully replaced. At their core, meetings and events are meant to connect and inspire people. This happens not just in general sessions or breakouts, but also in moments of serendipity on exhibit floors and the social networking times outside the formal program. According to Meetings Mean Business, 84 percent of executives agree that team productivity is at its best when people meet face-to face. We learn, change, and innovate when we are together. This is due to real value we all get from human connection.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Our world is certainly forever altered. Virtual meetings will have their place and all of us need to learn how to leverage technology to increase the opportunity that our meetings can connect even larger audiences. Face-to-face meetings will also continue to have an important role as virtual cannot satisfy the purpose of every event. The opportunity for us all is to understand how to create hybrid events that give attendees the best of both solutions in order to multiply the impact of our meetings.

On Global Meetings Industry Day on April 14, 2020, I sat down to discuss this topic in detail with Tara Higgins, President at Hargrove, Tricia Rawh, Executive Director of the Cardiovascular Research Foundation’s Center for Education, and Jim Huss, Director of Employee Events at Intel. We discovered that now, more than ever, we’re positioned with a wealth of tools at our fingertips to go virtual. But as we move forward, when is the right time to use which format? It boils down to strategy and purpose.

“Now our toolbox is bigger,” said Jim. “Now we have more ways of accomplishing things. Sometimes that’s a great thing, sometimes that’s daunting because – which one do I choose in which situation. But if you start getting very clear on what the purpose and goals of your events are, I think that leads you down the right path for what technologies to deploy.”

Tricia agreed, astutely stating that “meeting objectives will have to drive the delivery method whether that’s virtual, in-person or a combination of both.”

There’s an opportunity for all of us to have louder voices around advancing the strategic goals of our organizations with the right combination of virtual and in-person for our events. The time to start these conversations is now.

Ask “What If…?” And You Will Change the World

In a world where technological capacity is only increasing, it’s time to take a step back and look at what makes us distinctively human. What are the elements that we bring and what power do they hold?

For this year’s talking point, the IMEX Group explores the idea of imagination. Behind every successful event is the imagination of an event professional, and the practical skillset to bring those ideas to life. Every planner, every day, uses their creativity to make waves in the industry – something technology cannot replace.

In association with IMEX, PSAV sponsored the development of “The Year of Imagination: 15 Stories to Inspire Your Next Event.” This industry whitepaper champions the power of imagination and identifies three pillars to demonstrate the idea: transformation and collaboration, diversity and inclusivity, and sustainability.

Taking Action

When we ask ourselves “What If…?” we open our minds up to a whole new world of possibilities. Take the steps today to learn how planners are putting these concepts into action by downloading the whitepaper and sharing our new infographic (click here for full resolution).

IMEX Infographic

Grand ballrooms, exhibit halls, breakout rooms one, two, and three. Been there, done that? If you feel that way, that means your customers do, too.

These days, customers want options! An atypical location brings something new and exciting to the table, and venues can’t just be reactive to requests for creative space anymore. They need to proactively plan for these requests so that when the opportunity arises they are prepared to execute it flawlessly.

It’s time to get inspired. The venues that are open to adapt and create unique ways to use their flexible meeting space will be the ones that win the game.

Flexibility: More than Just a Trend

Trends come and go, right? Well, all signs point to the flexibility “trend” not going away any time soon. In fact, in the recent IACC Meeting Room of the Future report, more than one-third of meeting professionals report the importance of flexible meeting space moving forward. When asked to describe the ideal venue, meeting professionals mentioned words such as “open, flexible, bright, fun, and well-equipped with technology.” Does this match how you would describe your own event environment?

If not, then it’s time to work smarter, not harder. Learning, understanding, and anticipating the needs of participants before they arrive will be critical into how venues can flex their space. Meetings will need to move past reactive adjustments and adopt a proactive approach to personalized experiences.

We can do this by utilizing data and predictive analytics to map the flow of attendees and provide optimum touch points in those heavily utilized spaces. For example, using furniture with built-in technology, mobile F&B stations, or adjustable seating plans helps the planner achieve their goals while achieving your revenue goals as well.

Create the “Accidental” Meetup

According to the latest study between Marriott and PCMA, “spaces can no longer be designed with one journey or path in mind.”

Networking can take on a whole new meaning when space is designed to maximize interaction We call the evolution of these types of meetings the “accidental meetups.” For example, there are shared workspace venues that intentionally create narrow hallways so that you have a better chance of “bumping” into people, fostering interactions.

Some venues take the idea of the accidental meetup even further into what IACC describes as the Linger Effect: “Long after the planned event concludes, we observe attendees remaining in comfortable environments — continuing intriguing discussions, sharing information, and having meaningful conversations.” When spaces are designed with the attendees needs in mind – comfort, flexibility, tech – they’re more likely to stay and talk to one another long after, potentially coming up with new ideas about the content at hand.

Part of this design influence stems from millennials. Their “plug and play” workspaces have become the expectation. With the “accidental meetup,” guests want the ability to open their laptop and meet with other guests/customers to get work done. Many times these spaces become key networking “hot spots” during conference breaks. That can translate into revenue hot spots just as easily for venues with point of sale stands placed strategically in these locations.

If Not the Ballroom, Then Where?

Your wheels may already be turning, and you might be thinking: if planners aren’t using ballrooms, where are they going?

Some companies are actually getting creative and utilizing space that belongs to them. A major airline, for example, holds their annual military fundraiser gala right in one of their very own airplane hangars. Plenty of space for tables, staging and a 120’ long screen to capture the attention of over 2,000 attendees.

Another company stripped down their event and used an empty warehouse to create a comic book using panels and video mapping. Attendees simply walked from panel to panel to become part of the story for their product launch.

Here’s the thing about a lot of these events…you just have to get innovative! These types of events can be altered to scale and placed in your parking deck, rooftop or – yes – even your ballroom! You can create entirely different looks through lighting, technology, and décor. If you move the educational content out of the ballroom, you’ll have a lot of additional time and space to set the stage for an event the attendees will be talking about for years to come.

Set the Scene

The key is this: paint the picture for your customers. Brainstorm with your operations teams to start planning for the non-traditional participant from now – don’t wait until an opportunity comes to start thinking about it. Consider bringing in your partner suppliers to these brainstorm sessions for added input.

As you arrange for flexible meeting space, don’t forget to plan for the back of the house as well with an operational flow that has the least disruption to your attendees. Make sure to map out where power and technology equipment are going to be housed so that unsightly cables and supplies are minimized.

The more work we can complete on the front end, the easier it will be for our customers to take a chance at trying something new and creating lasting impressions on their attendees.

As a meeting planner, we’re faced with tough choices every day. From selecting venues to coordinating stakeholder travel, the details are endless.

Selecting an AV provider might be one of the biggest – and toughest – choices to make. The decision to stay in-house or to go with an outside vendor is a constant conundrum. With such fierce competition, it’s important to understand the value. 

In today’s blog post, we’re looking at the top benefits of using an in-house AV provider. 

Knowledge of the Venue  

Knowing you’re getting the most out of your space is imperative. When discussing your audio-visual needs, no one will know the space better than someone who lives and breathes it every day. From infrastructure to technology, chances are likely that your in-house AV team has already executed something similar before and is not only equipped to answer every question, but can help you get creative with event design and bring your exact vision to life.

One Contact 

In-house AV teams are strongly connected with the hotel venue team as a whole, meaning your event will be rooted in solid working relationships and good communication. Plus, an added benefit to having your team in-house is that there’s a single point of contact for you to manage. 

Imagine having a change to your plans. How much easier would it be just to contact your venue, knowing that they will take care of the rest? When you can limit how many participants you have in the chain, planning your event will be much easier and less stressful.

Fast Room Turnover 

One of the biggest advantages to having an AV team in-house is that most of the equipment is already installed: rigging points, projectors, etc. So, what does that mean for us planners? Rooms can be adjusted on the fly with little-to-no setup time, and your meeting (even if it has a strict agenda!) can run smoothly.  

For example, for events with a lot of breakout rooms or last-minute room usageit’s a lot easier for in-house teams to accommodate last-minute changes because they know the space. Outside AV companies have to coordinate separately with the venue.   

Sustainable 

When you think “in-house AV,” start thinking “sustainability.” You might not realize it, but by choosing an in-house AV vendor, your meeting’s carbon footprint is reduced. Venues that have their own provider are local and invest in energy-efficient technology. That means there’s no shipping, technician travel, per diem costs, and no personally-owned equipment malfunctioning during transport. As planners, we have enough things to worry about; damaged equipment during transportation should not be one of them.  

Conclusions 

With in-house AV, you’re signing up for a venue-supported, seamlessly aligned experience. Using an in-house supplier is convenient, efficient, and ultimately ensures a smoother, more impactful experience for your attendees as well.