Life has changed drastically since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially when it comes to the work/life balance we once knew. Event attendees prioritize time and travel differently than they did in 2019 and this makes the expectations for in-person events higher than ever before. Last month, Beth Surmont, Vice President of Business Event Strategy and Design at 360 Live Media, a Smithbucklin-owned company, visited the Smithbucklin Chicago office to share insightful tips with association CEOs and event directors to help associations thrive in periods of economic and worldly uncertainty – specifically, with regards to hosting events.
Reasons to Care
In Surmont’s experience, unpredictability is normal, and there is no getting away from it. She believes the only option is to adapt to it. As a result of the pandemic, she explained that business travel has seen a permanent reduction since 2020. With lower attendance rates across all sectors, associations need to rethink how they measure the success of events. According to Surmont, there is a push for higher quality in-person events. As people return to in-person and find that it is the standard speaker on the stage with little interaction, the audiences are disappointed to find the experience is similar to the virtual events they’ve been attending. Associations must show their attendees that traveling to their organization’s event will be worth their while, as travel, expenses, priorities, approval, and time all play significant factors in the decision to attend an event.
When it comes to event sponsors in 2023, they are increasingly interested in meeting all marketing goals within their event. They want to go beyond the books and be seen as true industry thought leaders and partners. Now more than ever, it is important for associations to consider new ways to work with sponsors to provide maximum return on investment.
The Idea XChange
Surmont shared a new format, developed by 360 Live Media, to help increase engagement at events. As a way to engage her audience, she asked each attendee in her session to stand up, find a person in the room they didn’t know, and have a timed conversation about the following:
After the time had expired, she directed them to find new partners. The Idea XChange served as an excellent resource to spark conversation and generate problem-solving ideas by reflecting on previous in-person event experiences. This tool engaged session attendees and left them with real-world examples that both applauded them for overcoming challenges while opening the door to discuss new problem-solving strategies. As a bonus, it was a simple format that they could take with them to incorporate into their own events.
Strategies to Thrive
Surmont said that the best way to thrive in the midst of uncertainty is to “eat risk for breakfast.” This means to adopt a proactive position around being prepared and she offered a variety of ways in which organizations can tackle uncertainty within their events and successfully navigate through unexpected challenges:
- The first is to understand the value you are delivering to the attendees. Surmont explains this with the “Value Equation.” Value (V) is equal to Quality (Q) over Price (P). Which means that the audience value is equal to what they get, and what they pay for it. The secret is to ensure that the perceived quality always outweighs the price.
- Organizations can refer to the V=Q/P equation, wherein the value of the event is equal to the quality over price.
- Take time to do an event health check to measure your event’s potential, purpose, and perceived opportunities. Just like going to the doctor for an annual checkup, you should be performing a yearly assessment on your event to fully understand the baseline and potential trouble spots. Surmont shared the seven areas of assessment her team uses when strategically reviewing events, which include:
- Impact on the overall mission
- Impact on the audience
- Overall product health
- Intentional connection opportunities
- Education quality
- Business opportunity
- Overall experience
- Monitor areas of risk on a regular basis. Surmont recommended that organizations identify areas of potential impact to their events and build a dashboard for continual proactive monitoring. She noted this takes time and a dedicated effort, but it is well worth it.
- Finally, perform an organization assessment to identify the willingness and support for change, and the internal resource availability. This assessment will help associations identify areas where they are both under- and overperforming.
The uncertainty surrounding events that has marked the past few years is not going away anytime soon. Instead, associations will need to navigate through a continued period of rapid change, new audience behaviors, and increased levels of risk. By using the tools and tactics that Surmont shared, associations will be well-positioned to move forward feeling prepared to face whatever is next.
Gina Brennan is in Corporate Marketing at Smithbucklin.