A Conference Manager’s Reflections on 2021

Virtual event gathering

Meeting planners have weathered a range of global economic situations over the years, from the 2008-09 recession to explosive surges of strategic meeting management to a worldwide pandemic. On the heels of a rollercoaster year, we decided to ask one of our seasoned meeting planners about her experiences to reimagine the meetings and events industry. Our Darnette Holbert, senior conference manager, lived and breathed virtual conferences for nearly two years. Read on to learn about her personal reflections and lessons learned to gear up for the year ahead. 

We learned that virtual events have unique challenges. How did you set your clients up for success? 

In 2020, most meetings basically came to a stop, and we all quickly became Zoom or Microsoft Teams experts. Organizations from all industries launched into a flurry of webinars to connect with their communities. On-camera burnout unfolded, creating a new set of considerations for meeting planners. During this period, I had both the challenge – and the opportunity – to identify new ways to invigorate our clients’ online events, including internal and customer presentations. So, I – along with the full team at Meeting Expectations – rose to the challenge.  

It’s been said that people have the attention span of a goldfish during video meetings and that time is often used to multi-task. Knowing this, I fell into a rabbit hole, examining options to keep an attendee’s attention and keep them focused on the meeting to increase session engagement. We also considered the essential social factor, because many people felt isolated working remotely from their coworkers. 

Every client has a different vision or need for their virtual meeting, and based on these needs, our information technology team was integral to the development and successful execution of their programs – test, test, test!  

In the end, we chose platforms that put the customer first with an easy user experience, and in many cases, went with the most streamlined option. You don’t always need all the bells and whistles to make it successful. 

Tell us about some memorable moments you produced. 

Virtual events don’t have to be all the same! The events I created included innovative and creative components, including dueling pianos, a cooking demo with a two-time award-winning celebrity chef, the chance to design your own Nike shoes, a private tequila tasting, a chocolate and wine pairing, and a gourmet ice cream tasting. All of these created moments that attendees won’t soon forget.  

Looking ahead, there will be a deeper focus on education and content design. What advice would you give to clients planning for 2022? 

I would love to say, “be prepared,” but no amount of preparation could have protected us against the unknown these last two years. During this period, my team live-streamed a latté artist who created images in time with the presentation – something we never thought we’d say during earlier times.

Times like this push us outside our comfort zone to uncover new ways to connect with the clients’ audience. Tenacity, perseverance – and adaptability – are qualities that clients should look for in the teams they hire, and that meeting planners should cultivate and enrich to have in their back pockets at a moment’s notice. 

Whether live or virtual, no attendee wants to watch a talking head as the event itself…they want new experiences and interactions. This could be a presentation that includes live demonstrations, a session that opens with an unexpected drumline, or breaks where attendees hear a curated playlist based on their suggestions. 

What strengths do you think you’ve developed as a meeting planner over the last two years? 

I never knew what a new day would bring. At any time, I could have a speaker switch from presenting live to virtually, a live meeting transition to a hybrid event, or a live meeting ultimately cancel. Any of these scenarios forces a planner to develop their flexibility, agility, and communication skills. You must constantly keep your teammates, vendors, and your client informed of the impact the latest change will have on the overall event. 

I never thought I’d add “virtual event producer” to my list of skills in my wildest dreams. It takes careful planning, reliable data, and agility. Meeting Expectations has the tools to take your upcoming event – virtual, hybrid, or in-person, to the next level. Contact us to learn more. 

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