While no one knows just when the live events industry will rebound, it seems certain that small meetings with limited in-person attendance will lead the way. Most planners polled in Northstar Meetings Group's latest Pulse Survey said they expect to plan fewer events with 500 or more attendees in the next 12 to 18 months.
Not only do smaller meetings reduce the risk of virus transmission, they also provide a more intimate setting for attendees to build connections and get more out of the event. That theme was underscored during Interact Small Meetings & Unique Venues, a digital event hosted by Northstar Meetings Group on July 21.
"Small does not mean unimportant," said Christy Lamagna, founder of the Strategic Meetings & Events planning firm. "When you think about it, scarcity breeds value. So small meetings in some ways are going to be more valuable and harder to get into because you've got a select number of seats."
Interact Small Meetings & Unique Venues brought together nearly 60 industry professionals for a day of networking, hosted-buyer appointments and education sessions. The event kicked off with a session from Lamagna, where she shared a variety of tips for how to create an intimate yet impactful event while navigating new COVID-19 guidelines.
Chief among the tips were the need for creativity, strategic planning and partnerships. According to Lamagna, the challenges presented by COVID-19 can also be viewed as opportunities. With a little creativity and some help from their hotel partners, planners can rethink the traditional event experience and create new, exciting group offerings. Examples include a "bedazzle your face mask" activity and a "lounge and lunch" session that utilizes outdoor lounge chairs for a safe and socially distanced dining experience.
"The first thing we have to do is embrace the space and understand how to work within it," Lamagna said. "You can absolutely make a big room feel warm and intimate, while still maintaining social distancing. So, get creative. You don't need a budget; you just need an imagination and hotels can help planners solve problems along the way."
One-on-one appointments and networking breaks throughout the Interact event helped attendees connect with other planners and suppliers in the industry to share tips and plan for future meetings, whether they be later this year or early next.
"There are CVBs and a few people here that I know, and just to reconnect with them, see what's going on in their town, what their expectations are and what's new that I haven't heard about is great," said Katherine Paszek, a corporate planner with TW Metals. "The truth is not a lot of business is happening right now. But for us to be able to explain when we're going to be booking again is helpful for the venues. And for me to know that the city is open, the hotels are open and what's going on in the city, that's great information for me to take back with me."
Dan Berger, founder of the event planning software Social Tables, now part of Cvent, closed out the day with a session on predictions for the future of the events industry. Berger provided 40 trends and nine predictions for planners to consider, including that convention hotels are a thing of the past and that meetings as usual will not return for at least two years. Berger also noted that every aspect of the food-and-beverage program is being challenged, and enhanced data security will become increasingly important for virtual and hybrid events. But perhaps most important, planners will need to master new skills like public health safety in order to succeed post-COVID-19.
"I really hope you are taking this time to rethink everything because now is the time to blow everything up and reconstruct it," he said. "We need out-of-the-box thinking."
The next event on the Northstar Interact Digital Summer Series calendar is The New CVB, which will be held on August 4 in partnership with Destinations International. Click here to view the full lineup.