Virtual Events, Other "COVID Trends" Likely to Continue to Mid-2021, Meetings and Events Director Says

Meeting Spotlight spoke before the holidays with Deborah Dickerson, director of operations at East West Connection (EWC), a full-service meetings and events agency. She said she expects virtual events and small, face-to-face meetings to continue midway through 2021.

How has your segment of the industry changed since March? 

Our business has been greatly impacted since March due to COVID-19. Live meetings and incentives we had been working on were either cancelled or postponed. Our team, however, adjusted quickly to the new business environment that required us to reimagine meetings and events. We were proactive and talked with our clients about the current environment and alternatives to live meetings. During this period, we enhanced our virtual capabilities and explored ways to effectively convey the client’s content and overall messaging that would be of interest to participants. EWC continues to take a strategic approach by concentrating on the client’s goals and objectives in a creative way.   

What are some trends you have seen in recent months? Do you think these trends will last? How are you adjusting to those trends? 

What’s most obvious is that in lieu of in person meetings, everyone is switching to virtual. We have had to reposition ourselves as a company who can pivot to virtual along with our clients. For those who are still having face-to-face meetings, they are much smaller:  Regional vs. national, drivable vs. flying; COVID screenings are being conducted for attendees on-site. Hotels are offering “pre-packaged, grab-and-go" meals, and, in some cases, meals that would typically take place in a group setting are now being delivered to attendee guestrooms. I anticipate these trends continuing through mid-2021. 

How has your businesses adapted to the new normals? 

Pre-COVID-19, we weren’t known for producing virtual meetings/events. We had to quickly let our clients know that we have 10 years’ experience in the virtual space; however, there just wasn’t a demand for it. So, we are embracing innovative virtual technology; staying responsive to our clients’ and their stakeholders’ evolving needs; operating with compassion and concern; demonstrating value by listening, being proactive and providing consultative guidance and solutions; analyzing our business processes to ensure we remain resilient; forging enhanced alliances with vetted business partners; following the science to drive our decisions; taking care of our staff so we can take care of our clients.

Have you used this time to develop new strategies for the future? If so, what have you developed? 

As we continue to try to navigate the new reality of the meetings and events industry, we are looking at non-traditional offerings for our clients; i.e., content development, establishment of a Medical Writers Advisory Board, unique attendee engagement experiences, gift procurement, etc. 

How are you structuring your meeting strategy moving forward in terms of virtual events vs. in person events? 

In hopeful anticipation of Phase I of the meetings comeback, our strategy will be based on our clients’ needs. What we are hearing is that Phase I will be a hybrid meetings model and we are prepared to embrace the “new normal."  When thinking about this, a Bruce Lee quote comes to mind: “Be shapeless. Be formless. Like water. When you pour water in a glass, It becomes the glass. When you pour water into a cup, It becomes the cup. When you pour water into a tea pot, it becomes the tea pot. Water can flow, or water can crash. Be water, my friend.”  We are prepared to help our clients and business partners reimagine meetings. 

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