Associations rely on events. They’re a powerful tool for engaging with members, providing networking opportunities to members, connecting members with corporate members that supply products and services for the industry, and much more.
But how are associations handling today’s mix of in-person, virtual, and hybrid events? How can they plan for the unexpected as global pandemic circumstances and concerns continue to change? What does the future of events look like for associations?
At Community Brands, we set out to discuss these questions in an online session that brought together a panel of industry experts that included:
- Chris Brown, EVP and Managing Director, Global Connections and Events at National Association of Broadcasters
- Marsha Flanagan, VP of Learning Experiences at International Association of Exhibitions and Events
- Reggie Henry, CIO and Engagement Officer at American Society of Association Executives
Addressing issues and concerns about events in the association industry
The panelists agreed that their organizations and many of their members are ready to get back to in-person events. But because the global pandemic and its effects have lingered and continue to evolve, they’re needing to address multiple issues and concerns. Here’s what they’re doing:
- Gathering feedback – The panelists said their organizations are gathering feedback from members via surveys to ask about things like levels of comfort with attending in-person events, members’ plans to attend upcoming events, and what health and safety policies members want.
- Managing health and safety policies – Panelists also agreed that they must take their duty of care seriously but managing the health and safety of their members cannot become the job of every association. They’re working with third-party organizations to understand how to plan around changing pandemic conditions and what health and safety policies to put in place. They’re also relying on third-party organizations to manage the validation of any vaccine requirements and handle on-site issues, such as if an attendee tests positive for COVID-19 at the event.
- Communicating policies – Panelists communicate with attendees frequently about health/safety guidelines leading up to the event as conditions change. They also post their policies for each event online and update them regularly so that attendees can proactively check on the latest information.
Lessons learned about association events
Another thing the panelists agreed is that the past 18 months have provided many lessons. Some specific learnings they shared included:
- Staying connected with new audiences – The shift to virtual events in the past year and a half have allowed them to reach new attendees that hadn’t attended previous in-person events. As in-person events return, associations must still engage with those members by providing virtual and hybrid event and online community experiences that align with their members’ needs and expectations.
- Experimenting with digital – The global pandemic pushed associations to adopt digital techniques earlier than they would have otherwise. Many associations have no digital teams and have needed to experiment with tools and strategies. Even as in-person events return, offering virtual options and building online communities year-round are still important. Today, it’s time for associations to start thinking innovatively and strategically to ensure they can deliver the right digital experiences for their members and event attendees and exhibitors.
- Getting help where they need it – Association staff has been stretched to do much more over the past year. It’s important to work with third-party organizations and partners to help in key areas when needed, including managing health and safety policies and procedures, handling audio/video for certain events, and building a great online experience for event attendees.
Find out more about the state of association industry events. Watch the on-demand webinar, Industry Insights Panel: Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Going – an Event Tech Talks Series.