In-person events are back! Here are 5 ways to take them to the next level.

Rumor has it in-person events are back, and to say we are excited about it would be an understatement. Among the many reasons we’re thrilled about this development is that we cannot wait to leverage the knowledge and innovation that has emerged over the past two years to take the events of this new era to a whole new level. The future is bright when it comes to events and the role they can play in the growth of your association. The key is to never stop adapting to the evolving event landscape and your attendees’ changing preferences. Check out these five strategies to embrace the upcoming generation of events and take your next one to a whole new level.

Leverage the learnings from virtual experiences

To say we’ve all learned a lot about how attendees prefer to engage with events and associations in the past two years would be a huge understatement. This is largely due to the influx of attendee data and insights many associations have been able to harvest from the digital event platforms that kept them connected when in-person meetings were not an option.

All that data is a gold mine for insight into the best ways to optimize your next event, regardless of whether it will be online or in-person. With the knowledge of which content subjects and session formats your members value most to the way they prefer to engage with sponsors, you will be able to tailor the next experience you offer to your community’s exact preferences.

Apply those insights to design your upcoming conference with attendee satisfaction in mind. Showing your members that you understand their needs and care enough to support and connect with them in a way that meets those needs will solidify your association in their minds as one that provides them with value and is well worth continuing to invest and participate in.

Take advantage of technology

While many organizers and association leaders are welcoming the return of in-person events with open arms, the reality is that most post-pandemic on-site meetings are seeing a dramatic drop in registration and attendance compared to the 2019 era.

Many people have become accustomed to participating in events to whatever degree they like without having to leave the comfort of their own homes (or pyjama bottoms), thanks to all the incredible technology that has emerged in the industry since early 2020.

To make the most of connecting with your community in person while continuing to provide the benefits of virtual meetings, such as increased flexibility and decreased financial and personal investment for participants, why not incorporate some of the industry’s new digital technologies into your on-site events at a reduced capacity?

This way, you will still be able to offer the human-to-human experience you and your community have surely been missing without falling victim to the limitations that technology eliminates. This could look like a full-fledged on-site event supported by a digital platform that facilitates easy personal scheduling, amplified learning, and dynamic networking beyond the event dates. Or perhaps it could take shape as various registration packages you offer, ranging in degrees of on-site accessibility and digital access to session content.

We are not the only ones of the opinion that maintaining a technological approach to events is the way forward.

According to this EventMB report, hybrid meetings will be the next move for 63% of event professionals, and since the pivot towards virtual events first occurred back in 2020, it’s become an audience expectation that every on-site experience will offer an opportunity to participate digitally in some capacity. We believe in this idea wholeheartedly. That’s why we’ve recently teamed up with the Palais des congrès de Montreal in a dynamic partnership aimed at levelling up the next generation of events by merging the digital and in-person worlds.

Set expectations and communicate proactively

Understand from the get-go that your in-person event this time around will likely look a little different from those circa 2019.

Not only is registration and attendance far lower than it ever was pre-pandemic on average, but the parameters of possibility for your event may have closed in a little for a couple of reasons:

  • Reduced revenue and sponsorship opportunities;
  • lingering travel restrictions and positive cases;
  • and a general shift in how much people are willing to invest in events and association life as they were two years ago.

The key to setting your organization and community up for success heading into the future is to make sure everyone, association members, sponsors, and your team included, know what to expect from their experience participating.

Outline the scale of the on-site experience. Be clear about whether there will be any limitations or restrictions put in place to avoid an unfortunate case of unsatisfied customers.

In the leadup, highlight all the incredible value attendees will discover at your meeting. Maybe you won’t have as many people wandering the halls as you did last time, but who cares if what you are offering is valuable in its own right and perhaps even better tailored to the engagement preferences of today? This way, those involved will be prepared to embrace the experience at hand for all the wonderful benefits it provides, rather than comparing it to that of your last event pre-pandemic.

Take advantage of the excitement and make a buzz

If you are preparing to organize an in-person event, we’ve got some good news: now is the perfect time to do it!

After two years chock-full of zoom calls and webinars, so many people are eager to get back to wandering through venues and shaking hands with their peers. This is your opportunity to tap into that community sentiment and generate as much buzz and excitement around your upcoming event as possible.

Develop a dynamic digital marketing strategy to get your members in the loop about what they can expect and when and try and do it as early as possible. Whether through your association’s community platform, forums, or social media, engage with your members to get a pulse on what they are expecting, wanting, and needing now.

Once you discover what aspects of the return of in-person events are generating the most excitement, you will better understand how to tailor your event structure and marketing efforts to fit the current market.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

While there is something to be said for being a “master-of-one”, we tend to suggest adopting a jack-of-all-trades approach when it comes to your association’s event strategy.

When your organization’s revenue source, community building, and visibility are all solely reliant on a singular in-person event throughout the entire year, the future of your organization becomes entirely dependent upon the success of that one event.

Now, imagine this: a new COVID variant or altering world event comes along and you must cancel the annual in-person meeting you’ve been planning all year. You’d likely be left scrambling to source funding, member engagement, and a viable path forward.

By offering your community numerous smaller touchpoints through a variety of formats all year long, you’ll be able to diversify your association’s revenue streams and boost engagement 365 days of the year. Not only does this secure your stability moving forward, but it also often leads to increased attendance at future in-person events.

If you want to take things one step further to ensure your organization’s stability and growth in the leu of any unexpected surprises, consider interweaving a few digital components into your year-round plan. Not only do virtual and hybrid events allow us to continue communicating if ever we can’t do so face to face, but they also increase participation in all community engagement opportunities, with nearly 75% of organizers claiming a hybrid strategy reliably boosts event registration. (EventMB)

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