PCMA Gulf States Chapter celebrated its first face-to-face meeting in over 16 months as members gathered last Wednesday at the Worthington Renaissance Hotel in downtown Fort Worth for fellowship and to listen to a panel discussion on what to expect in live and hybrid meetings.
An on-line audience also participated in the one-and-a half-hour program that was sponsored by the Worthington Renaissance Hotel, Visit Fort Worth, Encore and the Drover Hotel, which hosted a reception at their location following the meeting.
The panel, which consisted of Nicole Knoderer, CMP, Sr. Director of Conferences and Events, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Dana Doody, VP Marketing and Communications, Juno and Brandon Goodman, Sr. Director of Project Management, Encore and emceed by PCMA Gulf States President-Elect Amanda Wells, Arlington Convention and Visitors Bureau, focused on the challenges facing planners when preparing for live events during this time period while incorporating the technologies of also incorporating the virtual product.
Knoderer, who has been planning a meeting for later in the year in Orlando, a couple of the larger preparation struggles have been around meeting space sets and accurately identifying the live attendance numbers.
“Looking at our space, we’ve had to add some space because of Covid protocols,” she said mentioning that she already had a big space, but not enough. “Also, the big challenges of how many people are going to show up. We have really been all over the place with that, but we’ve sent out lots of surveys and that has really been key. I think the communication and all of that has really helped us understand as we’ve had to move (space), we’re moving with everyone who’s coming.”
Knorderer also noted the complexities of working with her attendees versus the protocols of the facility. Right now, there are no Covid-related restrictions in Orlando or the state of Florida, however, for Knorderer’s meeting, the bulk of the attendees are university students and each school has different requirements that must be considered if those members can attend.
“So, we may have to put some (Covid-protocols) in place to make everyone feel safe and secure and we’re just getting from all of our companies who come and hire our students, they’re trying to figure that out as well (if they can be live and participate.” Knorderer explained.
Food and Beverage is a whole different scenario, Knorderer said, noting the facility recommending signing BEO orders months earlier than normal to lock in pricing which has fluctuated as much as 20% higher in short notice. Also, determining distribution of food, utilizing a Grab-N-Go process or a food-station setup.
Then there is the virtual portion which could include a platform and production. So, from just a live event to a hybrid one, the costs are going to be much more.
“So, when you’re having a live meeting, you’re all very familiar with the costs involved in that. And it’s been interesting, and I know there’s a big struggle with how many people are showing up in person,” Doody continued. “A virtual event or in that platform, well it’s really a venue, right. A lot of those are charged by the person (accessing the platform). So, your organizers are also struggling with trying to estimate how many people are coming into the virtual platform. Even though there are not hard costs like food and beverage, there are some hard costs for the technology companies. That’s the struggle we see a lot of people having is estimating those people.”
Goodman added as planners strive for a higher quality virtual program the more elements are needed to deliver that product.
“Executing an event from a broadcast level, there’s all these other components and complexities that come into play and a lot of cost,” Goodman said. “It may not be in the technology. A lot of this production is labor costs (like) producers. “Getting people in the right room at the right time, making sure their microphones are working. There’s all these different challenges.”
Goodman also recommended that it may behoove planners to be open with their spend on their virtual meeting so their technology provider can plan the proper solution.
“Be more transparent with your budgets upfront,” Goodman suggested. “What are you looking to spend and in what areas. And then what do you as a planner value and what do your attendees value. What can be pre-recorded? What needs to be live? All these different conversations (need to happen). How do we nail down the scope of work? I think that’s going to be the critical part of planning a hybrid event.”
Knorderer also cautioned to engage with your speakers early and encourage them to have their presentations done well in advance of any pre-recording or live event. “That means they (the speakers) have to have their presentations and everything done maybe event two months, three months before they were anticipating doing it and they’re not prepared for that. So, you have to coach them through it.”
“We also find in the virtual platform because speakers are so used to just walking in and everything is working,” Doody added, “having a platform or someone from your team who can be present with the speakers to help walk them through those last-minute things (is a real benefit).”
Rehearsals are another must-have to ensure success in both live and virtual presentation environment, but it requires much more planning on the virtual side.
“We have to nail down those (rehearsal) dates as far out as possible,” Goodman said, noting those dates could change. “But, trying to get them the day of is really difficult.”
Discussion turned more toward virtual platforms and how to find the right one for your specific need and ultimate successful result. Determining what experience you want the attendees to have before deciding on a platform seems to work best.
“We’ve been interviewing planners and the ones who we’ve seen have had the most success in terms of revenue and attendance with virtual events have done just that,” Doody says. “These are the ways we want people to connect with each other, to connect with our content and connect with our exhibitors or sponsors and then they went out shopping and figured out what platforms are good at those things.”
At the start of the meeting, PCMA Gulf States Chapter President Amy Brown, Visit Austin, shared her excitement at being back to an in-person meeting and thanked all attendees before thanking host sponsor Worthington Renaissance Hotel and its general manager Drew Hayden who greeted and thanked those in attendance.
“It went really, really well,” said Wells, of the inaugural in-person Gulf States meeting. “You set an expectation (of a facility), but this was above that. The Worthington was just outstanding and all their staff were excellent. It was a great experience.”