Re-imagining business conferences

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Networking is important for professionals in any industry and the events of the last two years have made it hard for that to be done in larger groups. Now we’re seeing a comeback for business conferences, expos, and symposiums but they’re a little bit different. Changes that we might see include hybrid or both physical and virtual attendance, new thinking when it comes to catering, and meet-and-greet sessions with a twist.

Colleen Lategan,Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront Banqueting Manager, has been part of the events and banqueting scene since before the pandemic. Below she shares five ways to re-imagine what your next business conference might look like. 

Highlighting introversion

Working from home has a host of benefits that have been highlighted over the past year. However, refining our social skills is not one of them. For both introverts and extroverts, more time spent at home as a result of the pandemic has increased social awkwardness. A recent BBC article titled ‘Why we may all need to re-learn to socialise’ cites that this could be a result of the brain’s amygdala actually shrinking with less time spent in community with people. Not to worry, for business events, simple ‘event warmers’ or group opening activities that encourage conversation with attendees can firestart attendees’ brains and sense of connectedness.

“Ideas for ‘event warmers’ could be signs placed around the event that encourage elbow greeting strangers” comments Lategan. “Another idea could be to pair attendees together in groups of two at the beginning of the event and have them ask each other three questions to remember until the end of the event. At the end of the event, they are paired with the same person to share the answers to those questions with each other.” Little elements like these can ease social awkwardness and add laughter, and connection, and bring about shared feelings of re-learning to socialise.

Give more thought to the user experience and event tech

Today almost every event will have some element of hybrid technology. This could be a speaker dialling in from overseas or the option of both virtual and physical attendance for example. With this added technological nuance, event organisers will need to include teams who are knowledgeable with event tech and user experience. Event-tech includes the use of platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or virtual events platforms such as Welcome. They also need to ensure that any microphones, screens, and function of the digital technology is secured and in place for the event.

Checking that technology is working properly and that presentations and speeches are stimulating, interactive, and interesting can help to create positive user experiences.

Don’t just switch back to pre-pandemic catering options 

It’s great that events are in person again, however precautions around the spread of germs are still key. Many attendees will be looking forward to eating something different to the usual home-cooked meal but, even though restrictions are no longer in place, many will still want to see that extra precautions have been taken.  “At our hotel, we  individually plate most items. The food is displayed buffet style, with serving cutlery, and we ensure that all stations have sanitizer present, for those that want to disinfect before touching the gear”, Lategan notes.

Edutainment

The pandemic pushed everyone into more of a digital space. Children are now able to attend a new school virtually, from anywhere, and events are no different. The growth of digital has given rise to the term ‘edutainment’ for business events where a section of an event is both entertaining and educational. Even the more seasoned professional would benefit from a group session or talk with a professional coach on topics like negotiating skills or the soft skills everyone can learn about like teamwork, story-telling or critical thinking.

Additionally, factor in that at every event there should be a social media element. For their entertainment and in order to follow what other delegates are up to, people want to engage with the event on TikTok or Instagram and via hashtags. Upload content as the event happens to let attendees watch videos or view stories about the event as it happens, and encourage attendees to upload their own content, too, using a predetermined hashtag.

Pandemic meeting and event design

Open spaces, hand-sanitizer on tap, and event facilities that have conferencing tech and can offer a range of platforms for attendees to meet have become standard requirements. Today both personal and online safety should be factored into the planning of any conference. Free WiFi access should include security for each user and guests should be given the option to wear masks or socially distance wherever possible.

“There’s no doubt that the pandemic has revolutionised the way that events are held and designed. What is also true is that for the most part, these changes will and have likely improved the way we organise events and set up occasions to socialise with one another professionally,” Lategan concludes.