Eight Characteristics of a Successful COVID-era Event

As event organizers, we’ve had nearly two years of experience dealing with COVID. We’ve dealt with the postponements, cancellations, and (with mixed results) the re-opening of face-to-face events. This hard-earned experience can be applied to our upcoming COVID-era events.
I have been asked to develop a list of the essential qualities needed to overcome the current challenges and thrive in the future. In no particular order they are:
1.   Closeness with attendee audience
The best events anticipate attendee needs in terms of content, format, speakers, and networking opportunities. How have they achieved this? The organizers are either part of the community they serve or they have invested in understanding that community and remaining current. These events have recaptured the excitement associated with learning and meeting with others with similar interests and offerings. Another test is whether your attendees know you are and whether they like you.
2.   Great negotiation skills
The COVID era requires you to go to the mat with hotels and convention centers regarding current and future event contracts. If you have existing pre-COVID agreements, you have some leverage. If not, you’ll need to determine the loyalty of your hotel and convention center partners. You will need to assess the long game for your company and ensure your business and legal teams can deliver the flexibility necessary to manage your future risk.
3.   Digital options for exhibitors
Do you have a digital strategy for your face-to-face exhibitors that complements your events, enabling you to offer leads to key customers as your in-person events return to full health? For event companies to thrive, they must not put all their eggs in one basket.
4.   Resilient event team
You and your team have gone through hell in the last two years. Ensure that everyone at your company cares enough to do the work needed to regain success and, if necessary, either reassign or jettison those who are just along for the ride. Nurture those relationships that may have gone without attention. Re-engage with people outside the company to spark excitement about the promise of re-energized shows.
5.   Great salespeople
Do your exhibitors trust your sales staff? Will they take sales calls? How well can your sales team position bad news and do the best for your event and your customers? The key to surviving COVID is having competent salespeople who can drive revenue both in good times and bad, rather than order takers who fold when times get tough.
6.   Great product
What are the nature and goal of your events? If you don’t know, you’re in trouble. Start by refreshing your mission statement to ensure it matches the show you are producing. Does your event team know what’s new and exciting in the market? Is that information incorporated in the event and its messaging? Are you trying anything new with the event format? Is your event worth 10x the amount that attendees are being asked to pay? Aspire to make your event a ‘must attend,’ a club to which only 5% of all events belong.
7.   Great marketing
You segment your lists and know the characteristics of your best attendee/visitors. You have the analytics to see the trends, supported by databases that are frequently cleaned, updated, and expanded. More importantly, you know your attendees personally.
Your messaging is engaging, tailored to the audience, and exciting, rather than trite. You offer valuable content that adds to your targets’ understanding of the market. Thus, you attract event attendees vs. engaging in marketing that pesters prospects. Your pricing policies further guide them to act in their best interest.
Your marketing staff is trained on the latest tools and supporting tactics – both analytic and communications – that can deliver the kind of scalable marketing necessary to capture attention and motivate prospects to respond and register for your event.
8.   A watchful eye on ROI when making decisions.
With costs increasing, make sure that every expense has a connection to revenue. Can you afford to hire the $8K cartoonist for your event? Look at how much you are charging to exhibit or attend and evaluate whether it’s too much or too little. Create new revenue streams by adding programs that are worthy of additional fees: workshops, certification programs, golf outings, etc. Sharpen your pencil regarding costs and get creative regarding programs.
You may have other attributes of success that I have not mentioned here. If so, feel free to let me know. Use this list as a guide and you’ll find it becomes easier to create and execute successful events.
As always, I wish you good luck as we all navigate 2022.

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