It’s exciting to watch in-person meetings and events return. According to Blackstone Securities, group meetings and convention gatherings will return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year. However, in this post-lockdown environment, attendee expectations have changed. Event technology has advanced. Your audience will also look very different than it did pre-pandemic. Consider these February 2022 findings from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics:

    • 3 percent of people over the age of 55 have left the workforce
    • 9 percent of the entire American workforce (47.4 million people) quit their jobs in 2021

The pandemic reshaped how we work in America. Even as offices reopen, roughly 6 in 10 US workers (59%) who say their jobs can be done from home are working from home all or most of the time, up from just 23% who worked remotely before the COVID-19. (Pew Research Center, Feb. 16 2022)

2022 statistics

According to the Q1 2022 U.S. Travel Association Business Tracker, business travelers say developing relationships is the most important aspect of their business trips. Education and networking traditionally are the No. 1 and 2 most-important reasons to attend events. But the way education and networking components engage participants needs to change. No one is coming out of this pandemic with the same set of values or expectations they had going in. And that creates significant barriers to enjoyment if you intend to plan your events the same way.

All this means event designers must adapt to meet evolving audience expectations.

As an event designer, you have the opportunity tonew event strategies and help discarding their outdated ones. There’s never been a better opportunity to position yourself as a strategic team leader.  The rules have changed. It’s time to step up your game. This guide will help you adapt, transform and outperform expectations. Are you ready to play? Game on!

Think ‘in-person+’

Consider the following:

    • The number of in-person events are increasing as fully-virtual events decrease, yet nearly a quarter of all meetings will remain hybrid through 2022. Source: Encore Planner Pulse Spring 2022 Report
    • Association professionals report more than 50 percent of their second and third quarter 2022 events will be hybrid and 35 percent will be digital/online only. Source: PCMA Convene Covid-19 Recovery Survey

This data signals a need for meeting and event professionals to shift their mindsets. If between 25 percent and 50 percent of an organization’s events will be hybrid, it might be useful for organizers to think of hybrid events as being ‘in-person+’ rather than just added work or a passing fad.

What do we mean by in-person+?

We mean that technology developed for virtual event platforms can be adapted to enrich the in-room event experience and allow in-person attendees to switch between real-time and on-demand engagement, as needed. For example, if a participant gets an important call during a session and has to leave the room, they could use the event platform Chime Live to consume the content virtually and toggle back to the in-room experience once the call is over.

Virtual attendees are valuable members of any meeting community. Research by MPI and PCMA have proven that virtual events don’t cannibalize in-person attendance. In fact, people are more likely to attend an in-person event after experiencing it as a remote participant. Offering that virtual option allows people who can’t attend the in-person gathering to still experience your event’s content and community. It broadens your reach and helps you engage new audiences. It also amplifies your event return on investment (ROI) by increasing potential participant engagement, transactions and revenue from sponsors and exhibitors.

One of the best ways to create a seamless experience is to focus on engaging both the in-person and remote viewing audiences. Let this document be a guide to help you navigate the process of innovating your event and content design processes so you can access the boundless opportunities for engagement in-person, hybrid and digital events offer.

What’s in this guide

The purpose of this guide is to help you navigate these new opportunities by focusing your attention on seven key areas:

  1. Developing an innovation process for event design — How to generate, select, and evaluate ideas as well as how to catalogue and store ideas for future use.
  2. Leveraging event technology for engagement — The basic tools, technologies and best practices you need to engage dual remote and in-room audiences.
  3. Mapping the attendee journey — How to map the customer journey for your event participants and key stakeholders so that your event design achieves your desired outcomes.
  4. Creating healthy event ecosystems — Events comprise multiple components, or ecosystems. This section will help you test the health of each one and fix unhealthy ecosystems.
  5. Practicing radical inclusion — How to avoid common problems that leave attendees feeling disengaged, unwanted and excluded from your event experience.
  6. Designing engaging educational experiences — How to help event participants engage with content before, during and after your event in ways that will help them learn, remember and value your conference content.
  7. Maximizing return on education, return on objective and return on investment (ROE, ROO and ROI) — How to analyze event data, report results and use them to improve the event experience, revenues and ROI.

Developing an Innovation Process for Event Design

How to generate, select, and evaluate ideas as well as how to catalogue and store ideas for future use.

Step 1: Identify what needs to change

Sun Tzu wrote, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

If you begin the innovation process without knowing what needs to change, you’re prioritizing tactics over strategy. That’s why it’s important to look at data and feedback from past events or marketplace research before you design your next event.

Look for:

    • Data-point outliers: In which areas did your event score the worst? Where did it score highest? Build upon your successes. Look for areas of opportunity. If something isn’t working, either tweak it or stop doing it.
    • Strong anecdotal feedback: Survey results don’t tell the full story. What kind of feedback did you, event team or staff gather from hallway conversations or complaints? Note: People will be more forthcoming and honest with an independent third-party auditor.
    • Customer or industry pain points: What keeps your customers up at night? What arethe industry’s biggest pet peeves? These are friction points that your event might be able to solve.
    • Big fails: Was there anywhere else you feel your last event (or other events by your competitive set) fellshort?

All will present opportunities for change. Identify three to five items that would make the biggest impact on your event or audience. These are the areas on which you want to focus your idea generation efforts.

Step 2: Invite the right people to generate ideas with you

If everyone in the room looks the same, has the same background or works in the same department, chances are that they’ll generate similar ideas. You don’t want an echo chamber. To generate ideas, you need diversity of perspectives, backgrounds and opinions.

To achieve this, invite a cross-section of key stakeholders and internal team members, including people who may not be directly connected to your event team. Make sure they all feel welcome, included and have an opportunity to share their voice.

Step 3: Lay down some basic rules

If you don’t lay down a few basic rules for idea generation, you’ll end up with a brainstorming session dominated by a few people. Avoid this by:

    • Making space for introverted contributors: Before group conversations or any sharing begins, let people have five to seven minutes to write down their ideas on a set topic or question. This allows people to generate ideas without fear of being shut down.
    • Create a clear activity schedule: Idea generation should be a time of pure brainstorming. Help participants resist the urge to start shooting ideas down or discussing them by creating different time-bound segments of the idea generation process. For example:
          • Make it clear that idea generation time is solely for generating ideas without discussing or debating them. If you allow people to start judging ideas now, you’ll shut everyone down. If anyone offers an opinion, remind them there will be time to discuss the ideas later.
          • Follow idea generation time with an activity that allows groups to add bullet points or creative strategies to ideas that speak to them. For example, if you’ve got five areas to innovate, divide the participants into five groups so there is one working on challenges and solutions for each area.
          • After these ideas have been fleshed out and contextualized, give groups time to present on the challenges and solutions they worked on. Now is the time to discuss, debate, tweak and improve.
    • Develop a parking lot: When people get off-track, gently steer them back on course. One of the easiest ways to do this is to take items that they want to discuss and place them in a “parking lot” that you can come back to later, if time allows.
    • Decide on winning ideas and innovations: Ideally, the group in the room can also make the go-ahead decisions. But if that’s not possible, enlist their help in creating the presentations, videos or pitches required for the senior leadership team or event decision makers during the idea generation session. Remember: You don’t need to change everything. Trying one to three new things may be all you can handle.
    • Determine how you will measure success: This is an important item to discuss while you’re debating and discussing the ideas. Once you know how success will be measured, then identify who will be responsible for implementing, tracking and reporting those measurements so you can evaluate the success of the experiment post-event.

Step 4: Capture the ideas and innovations generated

    • Document the process: Film the presentations, assign dedicated note-takers for each group, or capture what is discussed in some way that makes it easy to archive.
    • Create a knowledge database: Sometimes you’ll discover a great idea or innovative process that won’t work for the current event, but which you’d like to try at some point. Don’t lose these ideas. Instead, create a knowledge database.
    • Keep records of your experiments: The knowledge database is also a phenomenal place to keep track of what happened when you applied your grandiose ideas and innovations to your event.

Step 5: Analyze results and iterate on your success (or failure)

    • Analyze the results: What did you learn implementing this idea or innovation? Why did it work or not work?
    • Present your findings: Who is invested in the success or failure of your event? What is the best way to communicate this information to them?
    • Iterate and build on your success: Innovation is an iterative process, not a one-and-done thing. That’s why it’s important to examine and improve on your innovations, even if they were successful. If it worked, is there a way to build on that success? If it didn’t work, is there a something you can tweak that might help it work next time?
Kristi Casey


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