Three business event experts weigh in on lessons learned during “uncertain times” and the opportunities that lie in being nimble.
The business events industry rose to the challenges of the past few years and, in the process, raised the bar on resilience, resourcefulness and creativity. We asked three industry experts how their organizations became more flexible once they embraced the uncertainty of our times.
When Destinations International chose Toronto to host its 2022 Annual Convention, few could have predicted the roller coaster ride the pandemic still had in store. A solid strategy—and nimble partnership—was devised to ensure the in-person convention would go ahead, says Don Welsh, president and CEO.
1. Encouraging the pursuit of passions to fuel creative entrepreneurial spirit.
When the pandemic stopped the meetings industry in its tracks, Toronto-based Moore Carlyle Consulting & MCC Destination Management encouraged staff as well as industry colleagues to explore personal pursuits, says managing partner Anita Carlyle, CMP, CMM. “We really pushed our staff to become more entrepreneurial and to continue their passions.” The result: four new businesses that now work closely with MCC to offer unique products and services to corporate and association clients.
Artist and MCC event specialist, Tabitha Marshall, started Tab Creates, which offers commissioned artwork and painting lessons. Gail Reodica, MCC director of client service and communications, earned her ISSA Personal Trainer certification and launched Gains+Grinds to provide fitness and nutrition coaching and training.
MCC event manager Shaniece Nicholls created Holy Charcuterie, which creates thoughtfully curated charcuterie boards. And, while not an MCC staff member, Patti Bond, a retired TD Bank meeting planner, began the Good Karma Cookie Co. during the pandemic and now provides custom-designed sugar cookies to MCC for their client events.
2. Leveraging the hybrid model to expand reach and engage new audiences.
One of the lessons learned since 2020 is how technology can reach new audiences, says Jill Zeigenfus Brafford, CMP, MTA, director of meetings and continuing medical education for Washington, D.C.-based American Academy Of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP).
In October, 2022, AACAP and the Canadian Academy Of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (CACAP), hosted their joint Annual Meeting in Toronto, attracting 3,100 in-person and 1,750 virtual attendees. It was the first time AACAP staged a hybrid event and, in the process, discovered how to serve audiences that wish to engage in education in different ways.
“We’ve missed opportunities to reach some of these folks in the past. We’re rethinking our online education to provide more variety and types of education that we offer.”
– Jill Zeigenfus Brafford, director of meetings and continuing medical education at AACAP
Prior to the Annual Meeting, some pre-recorded content was made available so that attendees could prepare for the sessions. Selected sessions were live-streamed to the virtual audience during the event, while other sessions were recorded and made available post-event. “We’re also doing a lot more repurposing of those recordings to create new online, on-demand courses,” Zeigenfus Brafford adds. “We’re trying to do a little bit of everything so that our attendees can choose from a variety of experiences.”
3. Building nimble partnerships and solid contingency plans pays off.
If resilience is defined as the ability to adjust to misfortune or change, the partnership between Washington, D.C.-based Destinations International and Destination Toronto is a shining example.
Back in October 2021, when Destinations International chose Toronto to host its 2022 Annual Convention, few could have predicted the roller coaster ride the pandemic still had in store for business events. By January 2022, the Omicron variant had arrived with a bang, throwing many planned business events into uncertainty.
Together, the two organizations devised a strategy to ensure the in-person convention would go ahead, says Don Welsh, president and CEO, Destinations International.
“Plan A was going to be a much more restrictive convention [due to COVID-related gathering constraints], which would have definitely impacted attendance and would have required heavier screening [for infections],” Welsh explains. “But as we got closer to our July dates, restrictions [on public gatherings] began to lift.”
As it turned out, Plan B—featuring an array of educational, VIP and networking events hosted in downtown Toronto—got the green light thanks in large part to efforts by the team at Destination Toronto, which helped secure key venues like the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the convention and Stackt Market for the closing event.
“We came away from our first site visit with 90% of what we needed to get done, and we had total cooperation from every possible venue or partner… showing their knowledge of the customer’s needs,” Welsh adds. The Annual Convention successfully hosted 1,339 registered attendees from 20 countries.