Four ways to maximize your events & learning budget in 2022

Four ways to maximize your events & learning budget in 2022

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It’s no secret that the past two years has presented the events industry with new opportunities and undeniable challenges. As many events continue to lean towards an in-person return, or at least have an in-person component, there are still many factors that continue to drive our approach to events; including health concerns, onsite safety, and knowledge of technology to pull off a multi-faceted event, just to name a few.

To execute a successful event, whether virtual, in-person, or both, we must also ensure event professionals and organizational leaders are aligned with how the attendees want their education delivered. So, we must ask ourselves:

  • Are we sure all our attendees are fully ready to get back to in-person events?
  • Do some attendees still prefer learning in a virtual format?
  • How can we ensure we bring the most value to our attendees and sponsors, no matter what the event format is?
  • Do we have the right technology and support to pull off our event vision?

These are all questions we’re hearing, so we took a deeper dive and conducted some research – a study of 1,000+ members and 850+ association professionals – to get a feel for what 2022 has in store for all of us.

In this Community Brands’ research study, 2021 Association Trends: Building the Next Normal, all these questions, and many more, were addressed to help us better understand what we should be thinking about to meet our organizational goals, and the needs of our attendees and sponsors. Not only did we find out the answers, but we also brought in two of the experts from the events industry to take a deeper dive into the results, discuss some of the event trends they are seeing, and provide onsite and virtual event recommendations as we roll into 2022:

Heather Cooke-Barnett, Assistant Director of Group Sales
Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort

Orlando Monge, Regional VP of Venues

Here are some of the things we learned, and some tips and tricks on how to maximize your events and learning spend to meet your goals and pull off a successful event:

1. In 2022, it will be important to broaden your event mix and frequency.

According to the research study, 58% of event professionals said they were ready to return to in-person events by the Fall of 2021, while only 32% of the attendees were ready, and still, there’s another 11% of attendees not feeling comfortable to return until the second half of 2022. What is this telling us? It’s time to mix it up, but also not forget about staying connected with your virtual audience. The shift to virtual events in the past year and a half have allowed us to reach new attendees who hadn’t attended previous in-person events. And as in-person events continue to return, we must still engage with those at-home attendees by providing virtual and hybrid event and online community experiences that align with their needs and expectations. Here is how:

  • Provide year-round online course via live webinar or short videos
  • Webcast your live events
  • Create a hybrid experience through live-streaming and pre-recorded content
  • Enhance the technology you use for professional education and certification
  • Add smaller, virtual events throughout the year to supplement your larger meetings or conferences
  • Level-up your AV (Audio Visual) to help overcome virtual fatigue
  • Select a virtual event platform and AV services partner that can help facilitate the needs of both your in-person and virtual attendees

2. Investing in event technology will help meet event goals for your organization, your attendees, and your sponsors.

50% of the professionals feel technologically unprepared going into 2022. As we investigate the near future, event professionals indicate that sponsorships and in-person ticket sales will be the top drivers of revenue from their events. To assist with event planning and execution, they are turning to online registration tools, a virtual event platform, and AV services for virtual attendees and are considered the most important tools to have in your stack. These will be important investments going into the new year, preparing you for any event format you plan to tackle. Technology to consider:

Online registration
Virtual and hybrid platform
AV production and services
Analytics tools
Mobile event app
Onsite event check-in and badge printing
Attendee tracking tools
Expo management
Lead retrieval
Sponsor management
Speaker management

3. Leveling-up your AV will help to combat virtual fatigue and bring more value to your virtual attendees.

Let’s face it – virtual fatigue is real. Attendee expectations have never been higher, so it might be time to step up your game and reboot your approach to virtual and hybrid events. According to the research study, the professionals feel like the two biggest challenges for holding a hybrid event is providing comparable value to both their in-person and virtual attendees, as well as the audio-visual planning and execution. Aside from choosing the right technology and services partner to help you pull off your AV production, Orlando Monge from Encore (formerly PSAV) offered some tips to ensure AV success and maximize costs at your next hybrid or in-person event:

  • Plan, plan, plan. As event professionals, advanced planning is an easy decision, but when it comes to AV production, the further in advance, the better. If you know you will add a virtual element or livestream to your event, make sure you are communicating your needs well in advance so you won’t be scrambling and increasing unforeseen costs at the last minute.

  • Account for onsite space coordination to ensure your attendees are socially distanced properly. This may cause in increase in space needs, which, in turn, requires more AV setup and a potential increase in cost. Think through your layouts and get creative with your AV needs to cut costs.

  • If you are live streaming, choose a few rooms (as opposed to every meeting room onsite), where you will hold live streamed meetings or sessions. This will help your budget overall, as you will limit the amount of equipment and staff needed to execute your live streaming needs.

  • Consider pre-recording some content for your virtual attendees – this is a cost-effective way to bring value for those who cannot attend onsite, and cut the amount of staff and equipment needed onsite to record every session.

  • Make sure you are working together with both your AV event production partner as well as your onsite AV partner to create a seamless event. When everyone is communicating, you ensure both your in-person and your virtual attendees are being taken into consideration and all receiving the same value at your event.

4. Enhancing safety measures and precautions onsite will not only help to bring your attendees back in-person but help you to meet your onsite minimums.

As we continue to watch the fluctuating trends with the pandemic, it has been difficult to make that final decision and move forward with how to approach the next event – are we going to host this in-person next year? Should we stick with virtual? Should we do a hybrid event so we can bring attendees in-person, but also reach those who are uncomfortable to be in a group of people? What if we choose hybrid, and we can’t meet our venue minimums because more people choose to participate from home? What if Covid cases unexpectedly rise, and our in-person attendees drop? Heather Cooke-Barnett, Assistant Director of Group Sales, Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort, had some ideas to help you determine your approach, and create an onsite experience that your attendees won’t want to miss, despite the uncertainties and challenges that we are all facing:

  • Survey your audience. The best way to determine the comfort level of your attendees is to ask them. Once you analyze the results, you can make a better-informed decision on how to move forward, how many attendees you would have onsite, and to create a safe environment that makes them want to attend in person.

  • Create a safe environment and communicate the precautions you are taking in advance. Most everyone is concerned these day with, “How will you keep me safe in a large group setting?” Heather Cooke-Barnett recommends not only going above and beyond to create that safe space, but also stresses the need for communicating all the tactics leading up to the event to help increase onsite attendees. Here are a few things to consider:

    • Select a venue that is experienced with in-person or hybrid events, and follows their own safety protocols for staff and guests

    • Determine if you will require vaccine proof, a negative Covid-19 test, or both before the event, and ensure your guests know the requirements before arrival

    • Determine your mask policy in accordance with the venue guidelines and the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommendations and ensure your guests know the requirements before arrival

    • Work with a third-party vendor like CLEAR to help you set up onsite health needs and pre-event screening

    • Set aside space in your event planning that allows for daily symptom checks, pre-event vaccine card screening, testing, and an isolation room in the event someone tests positive

    • Meet often with your onsite hospitality staff and meeting organizer prior to the event to determine the safest space and food and beverage setups for your attendees. Here are some check-in and setup tips to help ensure your onsite guests are always comfortable:
      • Use contactless event check-in tools like Expo Logic to save line time in line, reduce gathering in large groups, and not require your attendees to touch screens that multiple people have touched

      • Work with your venue partner to create an online check-in process and keyless entry for their hotel room

      • Require daily symptom checks

      • Offer colored bands for attendees in green, yellow, and red that indicate their comfort level with other attendees – red for those who are not comfortable being close to other, while green indicates those who are fine with closer contact

      • Allow guests to use the virtual platform you selected to watch the livestream sessions from their hotel room

      • Ensure food and beverage is distributed safely:

        • Keep airwalls open in larger food and beverage settings
        • Switch your normal self-serve, double buffets, to one-sided buffets with plexiglass and servers
        •  Consider serving your meals plated, and offer to-go boxes for those who may feel better eating alone
        • Reduce the amount of chairs at your rounds from 10 to 8, or even less, if space allows
        • Set up some smaller tables for one for those who feel less comfortable in a group setting

The bottom line is, the safer you are onsite, and the more you communicate with your attendees about the protocols you are taking, the more probable your attendees will want to be an in-person attendee. In turn, this helps you to better plan and meet your in-person minimums.

Key Takeaways:

How we approach events has been ever-changing – uncertain times have continued to steer our decisions on whether we connect virtually or take a shift to delivering our education face-to-face. But one thing remains clear – we are all trying to build the next normal.

Whether you choose to host an in-person, virtual, or hybrid event in 2022, there are many budgetary considerations you need to think through. Ensuring you are putting your dollars towards event technology, onsite safety protocols, and AV production and services will help to increase your reach, attendance, and value for all your attendees, no matter where they are located.

To hear more from our panel of experts, check out this on-demand webinar: Diving into the research – Maximizing your events & learning investment in 2022