Buyer Q&A: As Hybrid Events Remain, Human Connection Are Key

As part of our ongoing Global Meeting & Incentive Travel Exchange Buyer Q&A, Meeting Spotlight spoke with Paige Laliberte, event manager for The Castle Group, a corporate event management and public relations firm.

How has your segment of the industry changed over the last year?   

A year ago, our team was getting ready to travel to Orlando to execute a user conference for one of our clients. Within just one short week, everything changed. Our jobs shifted from actively planning programs to a whirlwind of cancellations and new contract negotiations; everything we did was in the hopes of mediating risk between our clients and valued hotel partners.  

Soon after, we began the hard and fast pivot to virtual events. What started out as a buzzword ended up being the very thing that allowed us to retain our team of event professionals throughout the pandemic. Since then, we have learned entirely new skillsets and became technical gurus and virtual event producer extraordinaries. 

Of the strategies you developed last year to adjust to the crisis brought on by COVID-19, which ones were the most successful?  

In the beginning of the pandemic, our team started to notice a variety of trends across the multiple events we were working on. So, we put our heads together to develop a series of best practices for various components of all virtual events. For example, we created speaker guides that detailed how remote speakers should be framed and lit onscreen using home equipment, the orientation of their cameras and what they should be wearing to optimize the production value of their content. We also developed a number of ways to "Keep Your Audience Engaged During Virtual Events" by condensing the agenda, having frequent breaks, and gamifying the experience.  

Creating these virtual resources allowed our team to work efficiently by using them across multiple events. Our team would modify the recommendations based on the specific client and virtual platform we were working on at the time to ensure they were customized for each event. Our clients were thrilled to share our insights with their speakers and stakeholders.  

What are some new trends in the industry that you think will have staying power in 2021 and beyond?  

Virtual audiences are here to stay. While we expect live events to return, our clients have seen one major benefit of virtual events—reaching a broader audience.  

As my colleague, Keri McIntosh, says: "Hybrid is on the horizon." Moving forward in 2021 and beyond, we expect that live events will have a hybrid component where at least some portion of the audience attends remotely. As a third-party, Castle will be tasked with advising our clients on how to connect the two audiences to make the event feel cohesive.   

What are some ways technology has been helping you through this crisis?  

Technology has allowed us to stay connected despite working from our remote home offices. While so much about this past year has felt isolating, technology has allowed us to see our team daily, work collaboratively, and share content with a simple screen-share.  

Additionally, virtual event platforms have worked tirelessly to evolve and allow us to continue hosting events throughout the pandemic. With hundreds of platforms on the market to begin 2021, we’re able to find a great fit for each of our client’s needs.  

Given the impact of COVID-19 on the MICE industry, which regions of the world do you think will be ready to host meetings in the last quarter of 2021 and first quarter of 2022? 

Domestic locations such as Orlando, FL and Las Vegas, NV will likely be the first to host meetings in 2021. Their large conference infrastructure allows for plenty of social distancing and they’ve made it clear that they’ve worked hard to develop protocols and procedures to host live events safely. We should also see incentive programs return to destinations such as Hawaii and Florida where they’ve already started to welcome leisure guests.  

Moving into early 2022 we expect to see continued expansion. In January 2022, we have a program in Austin, TX that is currently still scheduled with an in-person audience. Additionally, some international event travel should begin to resume with trips to the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Mexico and even some European destinations.  

What is the most valuable thing you learned in 2020 and how will you apply it to your business moving forward?      

Human connections are everything. Whether in business or our personal lives, we have a need to connect with other people. While we’ve been able to bridge the gap with some truly impressive virtual events, we’re looking forward to the day that we’ll be able to step foot in a venue to watch our attendees enjoy each other’s company along with the food and entertainment we’ve curated for them. We’re fortunate to work in an industry where we get to provide people with the opportunity to foster connections with each other and will be certain to appreciate every moment in the years to come. 

The Castle Group is a third-party corporate event management and public relations firm based in Boston with offices in Maui and Atlanta. Visit www.thecastlegrp.com.

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