Top 10 Don’ts List for 2021 Events
I have read so many articles and attended many virtual events about lessons learned from 2020 and what event organizers should do in 2021 that it’s making my head hurt. Many event organizers are tired and still in a state of shock from all the extra work they had to do to create an entirely different event or cancel their 2020 event and deal with the aftermath.
Instead, I’ve put together a different type of list – Top 10 Don’ts List to help organizations stay on track to produce a successful in-person, hybrid, or all-virtual event in 2021 and beyond:
- Don’t go into 2021 without a strategic plan. I know it is extremely difficult to plan for the unknown or in an environment where things keep changing. However, without a strategic plan, how can you achieve the goals and revenue your organization needs, know what type of event will work for your audience, implement technology that will meet your participant’s needs, or understand the metrics to measure success? Don’t just produce a one scenario plan and budget – you may want to do multiple scenarios, including virtual only, hybrid, and onsite only, and different venues and dates. A three-to-five-year plan will also be essential to the survival of your organization.
- Don’t produce an event and not extend it beyond the day or days of the actual event. Organizations spend all year developing the education and other programs, selling exhibits and sponsorships, and promoting to attendees, and after it’s over the event falls off a cliff. Record the education sessions so professionals can view at their convenience, find new ways to connect buyers with sellers, introduce new products / solutions through your event platform, communicate to your attendees with news about exhibiting companies and other happenings in the industry, and other ways to extend the event value. There are many new technologies offered now to extend your event’s digital presence and many organizations already have digital assets that can be leveraged like online communities, webinar series, etc. Showcase the value of your event both onsite and digitally all year.
- Don’t think your event budget will not change this year. Whether you are producing a live event, hybrid, or all-virtual event, there are many different implications and new considerations that will impact the event budget. Make sure your team has a complete picture and a strategic plan to develop a reasonable budget.
- Don’t expect attendees to connect with exhibitors in the same way in a virtual booth. It just didn’t happen in 2020 so it won’t happen in 2021. From the many surveys conducted with exhibitors, the majority said they did not have a positive return from their virtual booth investment. If you want suppliers to return to your event when it does go live, you have to give your exhibitors and sponsors different ways to connect to virtual attendees, educate buyers on their solutions and products, and facilitate better lead generation.
- Don’t think that it will take less time to produce a virtual or hybrid event than an in-person event. As suggested by Marti Winer, Vice President of MGM Resorts Event Productions in an Associations Now article (4 Things Planners Must do to Make Hybrid Meetings Successful, January 20, 2021), “a hybrid event should be thought of as two separate meetings, but not produced in silos. It takes just as much time, if not more, to create a virtual event than a live event, and even more time to connect the virtual event with an in-person to have a successful hybrid event.”
- Don’t make decisions in a vacuum and go dark on your exhibitors and attendees. If exhibitors don’t know what your organization is going to offer, then you may have to refund their exhibit or sponsorship fees. Attendees may find other virtual or hybrid events to attend. Not communicating with your event participants and members may even damage the relationships your organization has built over the years. Communicate your plans early and often, even if you do not have all the details. Some communication is better than nothing.
- Don’t cut your event staff and then expect to produce an event in 2021 that achieves the revenue and attendance goals needed. Your team was probably overworked before the pandemic. Now throw in new technologies, onsite safety protocols, strategies, contract renegotiations, and other decisions that need to be executed. It could lead to disappointing results or another loss that the organization can’t afford. Now may be a good time to outsource some activities or the entire event to a 3rd party management company that has the expertise, time, processes, technologies, and staff in place to produce an event that is right for your organization.
- Don’t try to renegotiate your venue and vendor contracts…only kidding. You should be looking at every contract and working with your convention center, hotel, and vendor partners to find the best solutions for your organization and audience while reducing your risks.
- Don’t expect general service contractors, venues, and other vendors to be at full staff to provide the same turnaround as pre-COVID. Most providers, even the large companies, had to lay off staff and there will be a ramp-up period as these companies staff up to full capacity, so be patient and allow plenty of time for delivery turn around.
- Don’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. That’s the definition of insanity. The only thing that is constant is change – be prepared through better planning, budgeting, contracting, and execution of your 2021 events and beyond to ensure your organization continues to serve the industry with valuable education, networking, and sourcing opportunities and achieves the organization’s financial goals and objectives.
No one can predict what will happen to events in the future, but one thing is certain. The need for education, networking, sourcing, product innovations, funding, and other benefits that events provide to their respective industries will not go away. Event organizations just need to deliver these benefits across multiple platforms year-round.