I'm Ari Pereira, an international planner, producer, and destination expert, and these are my thoughts on Re-Eventing the Wheel
The 'Re-Eventing the Wheel' Interview series asks event producers, marketers, and industry experts to share their perspective on how COVID-19 is reshaping the events industry.
Tell me about yourself & your background in the meetings & events industry.
I started my career in promotional marketing for radio, hospitality and even a major league soccer team. I then made the transition to the corporate world, planning internal & external events for technology companies. All of that culminated into becoming an international planner, producer and destination expert. My passion is centered on designing unique and memorable experiences; I’ve planned executive retreats, incentive travel, mindfulness events, remote events - you name it.
From your perspective, describe the current state of the meetings & events industry.
That’s a deep question; I think digital events are here to stay - they’re not going anywhere. For 2021, people will have to build out their strategies to include digital events plus in-person events but on a much smaller, and localized scale. I could see a multitude of 50-100 people events happening but we’ll have to do a lot more research to figure out what’s acceptable in every city and every country. I wouldn't be surprised if we had to build in contingency plans for “future pandemics” - we have to be prepared for things we never expected. Personally, I do virtual events out of necessity and that’s the direction the event industry is heading in. Our industry is still figuring out how to build remote communities and engage with people virtually; I'm optimistic about it and am hopeful we begin to create more mindfulness in the events industry overall. We need to focus on creating the right space and offering people options to feel safe if they do decide to attend in person.
How has COVID-19 impacted your planning process & strategy?
Everything was canceled in March. In May, we started to get really busy with virtual meetings. A few years ago, my business partners and I came up with Olympian meetings; we wanted to disrupt the industry and reimagine how a meeting is done. Gone are the days where people sit at a chair all day or stare at a screen for 8 hours or more. So, how do you create an agenda that creates more movement and brings more mindfulness to your meetings? COVID-19 helped us bring this meeting concept to life; we're focusing on remote events, mindfulness, and retreats of groups of 10-50 people for more localized, regional events. Mindfulness in the workplace is huge and has been gaining a ton of traction over the past few years. With social distancing guidelines and work from home policies in place, it's more important now than ever.
What technologies do you see emerging from this?
We're definitely going to see a lot of event management platforms coming from this. These technologies existed pre-COVID but now they’re coming to the forefront. From networking and messaging apps to virtual environments that look like the conference center, I feel like new technologies are coming out every day.
Since COVID-19, Zoom has become a household name. One thing that drives me crazy is when people think webconferencing software is a platform for events but it’s not. It’s strictly a meeting tool and that’s it. It’s not an event software tool. Don't get me wrong - it’s a great tool but it’s a meeting tool. The events industry needs to be educated on what tools are out there and what the different tools offer. It's all about finding the right tool and what’s appropriate for your event and spending the money. People are using Zoom because it’s cheap! If you’re actually going to invest in a platform, you’re looking at 20K and up.. minimum. And if you want the creative, it’s way more than that!
Everyone is missing human connection - how do you create human connection when you’re virtual? We teach children to be socially distant but we should be teaching inclusiveness and community. We can do that remotely but it requires a strategy and investment.
If you had a technology wish list, what would it be?
One platform that everyone knows and could use. In an ideal world, we would say this is what we’re using - as an industry. It's a struggle working with speakers remotely with varying technical capabilities and speaker kits. Computers overall need better recording capabilities so we don't need to physically mail speaker kits. The speaker prep for virtual events is serious. We need to perform a tech check, content rehearsal, and generate the recording BEFORE the event even happens. We're even asking people for their Zoom backgrounds and to rehearse from where they’re going to be sitting. People don’t think they need prep because it’s virtual but it's incredibly necessary.
What are some pros and cons to virtual events over in-person events and conferences?
Pros: safety, money saved on travel (but not on AV or production costs), travel time, more robust content, shorter time frame (if you want dedication and engagement, the event should be no more than 3-4 hours)
Cons: lack of human connection, difficult to achieve high price point for attendees, and uncertainty around external recording
How do you see this affecting the attendee experience? The sponsor/advertiser experience?
It’s going to be very difficult. For in-person events, you have to commit certain numbers for the hotel. If half of your attendees are going virtual, then how flexible is the hotel based on your numbers and commitment? In my opinion, a hybrid event is actually two events in one - how do you keep people engaged at home and in-person? It's important to make attendees feel special regardless of whether they're attending in-person or virtual. With hybrid events, you don't want to inadvertently create a scenario where the virtual attendees feel like they're missing out. As far as sponsorship goes, companies should not be afraid about asking for sponsorships. Sponsoring your event was already set as a line item in 2020 budgets.
How do you see the day-of-event operations changing?
For in-person events, we're going to have larger room layouts with 6ft apart markers everywhere. We'll have touchless registration. Buffets are gone; food will either be pre-plated or served on a cart dim-sum style. We'll have to provide PPE-wear onsite; depending on the size of the event, I could see also including medical personnel onsite as well. Depending on the caliber of the event, I could see offering some sort of white glove service that includes COVID-testing. Essentially, it all boils down to making it as easy as possible for your attendees to attend your event.
When do you think in-person events will start up again?
They've already started but on a much smaller scale. My hope is for in-person events to become more of the norm starting in Spring 2021. Business has opened in Mexico and there are a lot of resorts hosting events. Hotels in South Carolina are hosting events. Restaurants in Hawaii are hosting luncheons. In-person events are happening but I don't think a lot of people are talking about it. Black Lives Matter - that's an event! We have an election coming up - rallies are events! It's a slow comeback for the events industry to host events somewhere like a ballroom but "events" are still happening every day - in people's homes, in restaurants, in the streets, in parks, all over.
How do you see travel impacting this?
I believe events are going to be US-centric for a long time for most US-based companies because I don't see international travel fully opening up any time soon. I think business travel is going to lessen as well. Even if it's safe to travel around the US, I don't think as many people will find it to be as necessary anymore. You can still sell products over a Zoom call and send nice gifts to clients for a lot less money than jetting off to different locations all the time. Of course, it depends on what you're selling but it's certainly something to think about. Events are going to be localized: European clients will stay in Europe, Asian clients will stay in Asia, and it's going to be a while before we have that in-person global community again.
How do you see the events industry evolving from this?
Nothing is going back to normal. Digital events are here to stay and companies will need to build a mix of in-person and virtual events. My personal opinion is it should be one or the other - no hybrid. After 9/11, there were no events for another year and then it came back full force with conventions. People are eager to travel, network, learn, and get out of their house. There’s an eagerness and a willingness and the Events industry contain the type of people that drive that force. We want it to come back and we’ll make it happen.
What opportunities do you see emerging from this new landscape?
The obvious one is, of course, the remote working environment and how to conduct almost anything remotely. New technologies are going to emerge to help support that. Mindfulness is going to come to the forefront. There will be new ways to create remote communities and give back. There will definitely be new safety standards for in-person events - that's a given. I also foresee a new level of respect across the board emerging in the events industry. Clauses and contracts are going to have to be more flexible to accommodate cancelations, postponements, safety & sanitization, etc. I'm excited for this new landscape.
The "Re-Eventing the Wheel" Interview series asks event producers, marketers, and industry experts to share their perspective on how COVID-19 is reshaping the events industry. Have someone you'd like to see featured or some ideas on questions we should ask? Please email Nicole.