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"We have weathered the storm," Paul VanDeventer, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International, told the crowd during the opening session at MPI's 2021 World Education Congress. WEC is said to be the first major industry event of 2021, with an estimated 1,229 in-person attendees and an additional 568 digital participants.
The 25th annual WEC is being held at the newly built Caesars Forum in Las Vegas, from June 15-17. The event comes just over two weeks after Nevada fully reopened, allowing gatherings to resume at 100 percent capacity.
"Last year, the world was given an invaluable lesson about our industry. Granted, it was a painful and costly lesson. But the world learned what it's like to live without face-to-face interactions, and the world did not like it," said VanDeventer. "The value of face-to-face meetings has never been clearer, and the desire to gather in person has never been stronger."
Health Remains a Priority
Although Nevada has lifted its gathering restrictions, MPI has kept a number of safety protocols in place. In-person attendees must complete daily health assessments and temperature checks. Face masks are expected for those who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised. Attendees also have the option to use color-coded ribbons that display their personal comfort level with physical interactions. Meals and snacks at Caesars Forum are artfully presented in individual grab-and-go portions.
"We felt an obligation to move forward with WEC," said VanDeventer. "Despite some skepticism in parts of our community, our board courageously supported that decision." WEC 2020 was a good beta test, he noted. The event, held in Grapevine, Texas, from Nov. 3-6, was attended by nearly 700 people. According to VanDeventer, no cases of Covid-19 were traced back to the event.
Integrating the Hybrid Experience
Inviting a digital audience isn't a temporary measure for MPI, according to Stephen Revetria, president of Giants Enterprises in San Francisco and chair of MPI's board of directors. "A lot of tangible, positive changes have occurred in this hybrid format," he said. "We'll respond to that and how we deliver content will continue to evolve."
MPI will host WEC 2022 on June 21-23 in San Francisco. VanDeventer said, "We learned a lot last year about digital production and engaging digital audiences. Digital cannot fully replace this live experience; what I see is a real blend of the two going forward… We're going to leverage digital to engage a broader audience, to enhance the overall experience for those in the room and those who can't be here."
The digital experience also has influenced the production quality of the live event, he noted. "We're using more of a TV-type production mentality," VanDeventer said. "You engage your live audience differently now from what we learned over digital, and that's going to help us do better events in person."