Transforming the events industry with crucial learning from the pandemic

What will events look like in the future, and how can we use what we have learnt during the pandemic to transform the industry? Those are the questions many in the meetings industry are facing as more of the world opens up. 

"The industry is slowly getting back onto its feet. We need to prepare for the future. We all want to come back to in-person events to meet, network, and share best practices," Said ICCA CEO Senthil Gopinath, "Associations are still working on hybrid models across the world and slowly getting back to face-to-face meetings,"

During the ICCA Thought Leadership Session on 31 August, a panel of experts discussed the impact of the pandemic on events, how they managed to adapt, and what their key takeaways were.

Flexibility and communication are vital themes

All panel experts agreed that flexibility and communication were vital when adapting events during the pandemic. In addition, co-operation was essential, particularly with vendors, partners and sponsors to maintain good relationships for future events.

Monica Fontana, Executive Director at ERA-EDTA, talked about cooperating with partners regarding venue space and fees to instil more loyalty. She said, "Flexibility, sitting down, talking together and finding a workable solution is the best way to move forward." 

Adrian Ott from EFORT described how the organisation went into survival mode. It was essential to make sure the whole team knew what was going on during the pandemic. "The topics and discussions we had made us discover new areas of the organisation," he said. "We had more regular meetings, which were more focused, used instinctive prioritisation, and there were tangible intentions and planning."

Pricing strategies differ 

During COVID-19, many events had to fully transition to online. This unprecedented event led to businesses scrambling to maintain their audiences, and pricing was one key strategy that could help to keep audiences on board.

During the pandemic, the ISCB charged one-third of in-person rates. "You should charge registration fees because sponsorship is down, and you want the event to break even," said Bel Hanson, Senior Manager, Operations and Programs at the ISCB. However, they could overhaul their membership pricing during the pandemic to add economic-country type fees which helped with registrations. "There was a significant uptick in members who wouldn't be able to come in person, but that can attend online," added Bel Hanson.

ERA-EDTA decided to stick to the same prices regardless of whether people were online or virtual because the scientific content is still valuable even if an event is virtual. "The financial issue is a big challenge," said Monica Fontana.

Content is king

Ensuring that the programmes gave as much value as possible was another essential aspect of running events during the pandemic. 

Bel Hanson, Senior Manager, Operations and Programs at ISCB, talked about the importance of surveys to find out what your attendees really want. "We do member surveys periodically and survey after an event," She added. "Access to recorded content was the second most important thing for virtual meetings. First was the content." 

At EFORT, they focused on the program and structure, adding an EFORT live TV studio. "We decided to take a moderator to make everyone feel comfortable and guide us through everything." 

Looking towards the future

So what does the future hold for events? "The communication we could observe during the difficult time will help us shape events and feed our future discussion. It will define what the association's educational events will look like in the future," Said Adrian Ott, Chief Executive Officer at EFORT. 

At ISCB future events, they are thinking about adding in-person lounges where you can interact with people at home. Also, they plan to add extra volunteers monitoring Q and A at hybrid events so the audience feels like they have an in-person presence at hybrid events.

Monica Fontana, Executive Director at ERA-EDTA, said, "In the past maybe we could have had one size fits all, now there's no longer applicable."

ICCA CEO Senthil Gopinath thinks working as one team will be the future. "Be flexible, be creative, communicate, collaborate, and work together, so it's a win-win situation. I think that will be the future."