The Next Time You Attend A Conference, Expect It To Feel Different

Live events and conferences are largely back, but they’re a bit different than they were a few years ago. Whether you’re an organizer, attendee or speaker, you can expect a different experience. And regardless of your role, you’ll want to prepare yourself to lead or participate in the best possible way. I recently spoke to several experts in the industry to reveal how conferences have changed in 2022.

Expect More Interaction

If we’ve learned anything from this time without live events, it’s that sitting passively is not as effective or enjoyable as actively participating and engaging. Betty Garrett, CMP, is the CEO of Garrett Speakers International, a boutique speaker bureau. As a leader in the events industry for more than three decades, she notes that “People are so hungry for face-to-face contact, so excited to see colleagues they haven’t seen in two years, that conferences are building extra time for networking more than they did before the pandemic.”

And for anyone leading a conference or event, Garrett added, “An event planner not only has to deliver a world-class learning experience but also meet the social-emotional needs of their attendees.”

Karen Harris, the CEO of cmi, a management agency that represents a roster of speakers internationally, added that “Speakers who are used to standing on stage and delivering a canned speech aren’t going to make it. The demand is definitely up for the attendee to be a participant in the conversation rather than just a passive listener. There’s still demand for someone that can provide actionable advice that can be used right away tomorrow, but it has to be delivered more interactively.”

Virtual And Hybrid Options Are Here To Stay

Alec Melman, CEO of Gotham Artists, a leading speakers bureau and talent agency, tells me: “Virtual events are here to stay. We just ran the numbers recently; 80% of our events going forward are in-person, and 20% are virtual. We’re seeing that for a number of the large decentralized companies, virtual is going to remain a big part of their events. First, it’s much easier to have one speaker broadcast out to thousand employees than it is to bring those thousand employees together. And second, many of these companies have learned how to speak the language of technology fluently, so they’re very comfortable attending a virtual event.”

Greg Friedlander, President of All American Entertainment, a full-service talent booking agency, added, “We’re still seeing many event organizers go with the hybrid approach, offering a live, in-person element combined with a robust virtual experience, allowing them to cast a much wider net when attracting attendees or catering to the preferences of their employees/members/students. It also provides them with a built-in contingency plan should the pandemic or another disruption come our way. As we shift back to in-person events, we have some clients who are ready to come back together, and some who are a bit more hesitant. Some are even requesting two proposals for the same event —one if they choose to host in-person and another for if they choose to go virtual.”

Post-Conference Options Are Getting More Creative

Mark Castel is President and Founder of AEI Speakers Bureau, bringing 40 years of experience as a lecture agent and bureau owner. He shared that “One of the bigger innovations for events that came out of the pandemic is blending in-person events with virtual follow-up. After the big meeting, we’ll have requests for follow-up events with the same speaker, perhaps four and eight weeks after. This fulfills the demand for in-person events but also allows for even deeper dives into content as well as involving those who may have missed or avoided the in-person event.”

And Michelle Joyce, Founder and President of Michelle Joyce Speakers, an exclusive speaker management agency, noted, “A great trend we’re seeing is clients hiring our keynote speakers for virtual reinforcement after an in-person event – an accountability check-in or a quick pep talk a month or two after the keynote. That wouldn’t have happened had the whole world not been forced to adapt to virtual training.”

The Conference Ecosystem Is Not Fully Back

Planning and attending events has never been stress-free, and it may be even more trying in 2022. Garrett tells me that “Meeting planners have always had an incredibly stressful job. But now, that job has become far more difficult. Stress points for event planners include labor shortages at the hotels and venues. And increased costs across the board due to inflation. And changing protocols on masks and social distancing. And accommodating the needs of both in-person and virtual attendees.”

Harris added that “My speakers tell me that when they get to an event lately, they’re seeing the whole gamut of emotions. People are incredibly happy and excited to be back with live events. At the same time, event planners are incredibly stressed and exhausted. The whole event ecosystem isn’t fully back up to speed. Hotels, airlines, restaurants, etc., are all struggling with staffing, training, and getting back to pre-pandemic capacities. And attendees are often asking themselves whether they want to endure the whole travel craziness and be in-person, which only adds even more stress to event organizers who are trying to ensure the number of attendees justifies the investments.”

Timeframes Will Be Tighter

The days of planning events a year in advance may not return for a while. Harris shared, “Historically, event planners would be looking out six months or more. But with all the uncertainty, many more events are operating in three-month windows. And that puts increasing pressure on events to be able to find the right speakers. We’ve seen many situations where event organizers struggle to find talent available on the dates that they’ve got the venue booked because the speakers are so in-demand.”

Melman echoed that sentiment, noting, “Before the pandemic, events used to book talent six to nine months in advance. Now, because of concerns about whether the event will actually happen, many groups are forced to wait until the last minute. That can be an incredibly stressful position for the event planners and even the attendees.”

A Final Note For CEOs

It’s been said many times that humans are, at least somewhat, social creatures. Because of that, events, conferences, trainings, etc. will always be important for companies. Thus, most organizations would do well to listen more to the people who lead events. Garrett astutely notes that “Given the impact that a meeting planner can have on an organization’s finances and the company’s culture, it’s more essential than ever that they have a real voice on the management team.”

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