On September 30, BizBash and Bevy partnered up to host Meeting Masters: Insights from BizBash’s 10 Most Innovative Meetings. Event host and Executive Editor at BizBash, Claire Hoffman, sat down with some of the imaginative minds behind the year’s most creative meetings, conferences, trade shows, and other business gatherings. Featured in the latest issue of BizBash magazine, 2021's 10 Most Innovative Meetings list showcases the brands and agencies behind events that inspired us all during an unprecedented year.
The panel event was broken down into three talks: Creating Virtual Worlds, Secrets of Audience Engagement, and The Power of Community Events. Through the Bevy platform, audience members were able to interact throughout the event via Chat, submit questions for the panelists through the Q&A functionality, and connect post-event with facilitated Networking Tables.
For the first session, the panelists were Shannon Gurley, Sr. Director of Design & Business Development at Blueprint Studios, and Sean Parsons, Creative Director at Shiraz Studios. The two were paired together because their best events of the year shared common themes of “discovery” and “choosing your own adventure.”
Shannon and her team dedicated a lot of time towards understanding their audience. With the global pandemic and the increased amount of screen time and video calls many people are facing, it’s important to meet people where they are–and many are at home.
With their event, the Blueprint team was able to find the balance between allowing the audience to make their own discoveries within the event, and giving them some guidance and direction with clear navigation.
Before the event even started, the team took the time to send out “family friendly” collateral; they included items that would appeal to every member of a household. This way, the attendee journey started before the doors opened.
Sean described how they approached their event with an attitude of providing elements of the unknown, and giving the audience a new and engaging experience. To do this, he and his team took it back to the roots of behavioural psychology through incentivization; they included hidden gems and artifacts throughout the event.
Now that the audience knew to stay alert and on their toes, Sean and his team decided to keep the content available on-demand for a month afterwards. In his view, this is best practice for physical events, so why not apply it to a virtual event that’s trying to offer the interactivity of an in-person experience?
With virtual events, there lies the opportunity to store and remember these virtual event experiences, provide a consistent brand experience, and measure attendee engagement during and after the event.
Session 2 included Mike Kitson, Chief Production Officer at INVNT, Judy Lee, Global Head of Experiential Marketing at Pinterest, and Heather Odendaal, Co-Founder and CEO of WNORTH.
No matter what type of event it is, not all events are created equal. In Mike’s world, there is a shift towards in-person events happening, but even still, there was the option for people to attend virtually.
In between sessions, they held air guitar contests between those attending in-person and those coming in virtually, as well as madlib contests. Although attendance methods were different, people were still able to come together and share a specific moment.
Mike believes that hybrid is here to stay, especially with differing comfort levels around travel, and overall accessibility to events that may have been too far away or too much of an expense previously.
He encourages event organizers to “embrace the ordinary” with virtual platforms. Don’t try to duplicate spaces that already exist (like the sign-in table that sits in a hotel lobby). Instead, create something new and exciting for your audience that’s choosing to attend your event virtually or in a hybrid capacity.
Judy says that all event organizers need to be thinking about two things when planning an event: The audience they are serving, and how to inspire and motivate the team that’s along for the ride.
Honour your audience’s time by giving them engaging, short, and snappy content. Thinking about the context of the digital workplace as it stands today, this is more important than ever. As well, think about the fact that your attendees may have special circumstances that you may not be aware of. Judy and her team proactively hired a disability activist and sign language interpreters to ensure that all creators could have a great event experience.
Have empathy for your audience, create team building experiences for your team, and be mindful of making sure the events you host are both inclusive and accessible to all of your attendees.
Heather is a big fan of physical accompaniments for virtual events. She advises event organizers to include some sort of tangible touch point. For example, her team sent out experience boxes with ingredients to make dinner together, and everyone was able to network and share a meal together during the event.
In the case of her community, there is a mix of corporate members and entrepreneurs. No matter what space a person subscribes to, the biggest thing people seem to want (aside from the keynote) is networking. After realizing this trend, Heather and her team began thinking about what pre-event materials they could provide attendees with that relate to learning and development once the event actually rolls around, as it gives people something to discuss right away.
For this last session before the Q&A portion, David Spinks took to the stage. He is the VP of Community at Bevy, Co-Founder of CMX, and author of The Business of Belonging.
When it comes to community-led events, David believes that it’s important that community organizers find ways to facilitate and create opportunities for smaller discussions to occur, because this creates the opportunity for people to connect more deeply.
Event organizers need to understand that they can’t be experts in everything, especially when their community is made up of multiple chapters. It’s best to leave the heavy lifting to local chapter leaders who better understand the nuances of the physical community that they’re a part of.
David’s advice for keeping your audience engaged with your brand after an event is to continuously provide value, and create opportunities for connection with the community to continue.
An event on its own is only one single touch point in an ongoing community experience. Not everyone wants to (or is able) commit to a multi-day conference or event experience, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want an equal opportunity to participate.
Your brand may only be a common interest that brings people together initially, so give people options to engage in different ways so that each member can find what works best for them. Think Slack channels, Facebook groups, courses, and resources that empower community leaders to self-organize.
By providing a diverse range of experiences for people to engage in, you have the opportunity to turn community members into ambassadors because your brand is offering something that brings them value personally. They may be able to use their involvement in your community to pivot into a new leadership opportunity, improve their response, or drive their community forward, amongst many other things.