IAF updates

Hosting Events During COVID-19

Melissa Cole
Managing Partner, Say Something Communications Inc. (SSC)

SSC has been providing event management services to IAF and ILAC for over five years.

Meetings and events have been a necessary part of the accreditation world since the beginning, and COVID-19 will not change that. Even during the pandemic, your meetings and events can and should continue with the help of technology. A virtual event is not a “PLAN B” – it is an opportunity – to grow, expand, to expand your reach, and to connect with your attendees on a new level.

How are Organizations Hosting Events?

In a virtual event, the audience interacts in a fully digital environment; content is provided primarily through live streams and pre-recorded videos and is supported by live interaction in the form of chats and live questions and answers.

Virtual events have many benefits: less strain on the resources of your attendees, since travel is not required; greater flexibility for the event host with respect to timing of the event and logistics; easy scalability if your event attracts more attendees than you had anticipated; and importantly, digital event platforms allow for excellent planning and very accurate reporting. All of these things may lead to an excellent return on investment for your virtual meeting.

Planning and Managing Virtual Meetings

The most important piece of advice I can give you is this: design your event, and then choose your platform.

First, identify the reason for your meeting:   

  • To influence meeting attendees or to provide information updates;
  • To take a decision;
  • To solve a problem; or
  • To strengthen relationships.

Once you know the reason for your meeting, identify its specific needs: does it need to be live streamed or can it be pre-recorded, do you need confidential polling where the results are archived, do you need live questions and answers? All of these questions will help you to choose your platform. Zoom works very well for many virtual events, but if your event has more complex needs, such as paid registration, live confidential polls or robust reporting on attendees, you may need to use a virtual platform such as OnAir, PheedLoop or 6Connex.

Once you have identified the reason for your meeting and your platform, you are ready to invite your attendees. Make sure that you clearly identify the role of your attendees – if the reason for your meeting is to take a decision, treat your attendees as decision makers. If the reason for your meeting is to solve a problem, treat your attendees as problem-solvers. If the reason for your meeting is to provide information and/or updates, make sure that your attendees know that their role is to be an observer, and let them know that there will be opportunities for questions and answers. Identify the role of your attendees immediately, and make sure that their role in the meeting is very clear to them. Without this important step, your attendees will default to the very tempting role of “observer” – even if you do not want them in that role! –  and it will be difficult to pull them out of this role.

When you launch your virtual meeting, issue a “call to action” right away: we are here to make a decision on “x”. Give your attendees a quick presentation of no more than 3-5 minutes, then proceed to the decision. This is important as the human attention span is very limited: research consistently shows that humans cannot focus for longer than 8 minutes before their focus starts to decline (in fact, we forget 90% of what we hear if we do not apply it!).

Considerations for 2021

At least through the first half of 2021, most meetings will likely be virtual, with the possibility of being hybrid depending on the location – that is, they may contain a face-to-face component and a virtual component. Having a face-to-face component in the era of COVID-19 brings risk, so if you plan on hosting a hybrid event, make sure you identify all the risks to your organization and then mitigate them. This includes a focus on terms and conditions with the venue for your hybrid event to ensure that you are protected from cancellation penalties, and that the venue you choose is capable of managing the hygiene, sanitation and distancing requirements related to your event. If you plan on holding an event with a face-to-face component, you will also need to consider the risks associated with the location of your attendees (i.e., are they coming from a COVID-19 hotspot, which raises the possibility that they may not be granted entry to the economy where the meeting is being held), the need to quarantine upon return to their home economy, etc. Once you consider these factors, you may well decide that it is better to hold your entire event virtually instead of hosting an event with a face-to-face component.

The SSC Experience

SSC has spent most of 2020 transitioning our clients’ face-to-face meetings to various virtual platforms, and to date, all of our clients have had positive experiences with these virtual events. For example, one of our large association clients had to cancel their annual 1800-person convention due to the pandemic, and instead, we organized a virtual trade show and internship fair for them with several hundred attendees – and everyone was extremely happy with the outcome. Our client achieved their business goals, and attendees were thrilled that they could participate. All of us – the client, the attendees and SSC – have new tools for future meetings, new connections, and a comfort with the new way of doing business during a pandemic. If you are contemplating hosting a virtual event, we strongly recommend it!

Categories: IAF updates