By Natasha Jackson. According to the HBAA (Hotel Booking Agents Association) a “recent market survey by etc.venues confirmed that hybrid events will have a major place in the market in 2021 with 73% of event planners now saying that hybrid events will continue to be more commonplace in future, up from 67% when asked in May 2020.”
This being said, it is hard to envisage if, and to what degree, corporate meetings and events will ever return to some semblance of pre-Covid normality, even if the entire population of the UK is vaccinated by September as projected by the Government. What does seem certain is the continued rise of the hybrid event; a combination of the traditional elements of a function such as in-person delegates, speakers and caterers etc. with an increasingly inclusive and creative use of technology and virtual reality. Any venue that has not already embraced and incorporated even the most basic technological advances in this arena, is bound to be passed over.
It is essential, before planning the event even starts, that there is measurable reassurance by the venue that increased Covid-safety measures are in place and ongoing. This will be the premier concern of any meeting booker on behalf of clients and delegates. Ask what new systems are in place and which independent Covid-safety approval badges have been awarded – some of the more well-established include the MIA (Meetings Industry Association) ‘Secure Accreditation’ Certificate, and Visit Britain’s ‘Good To Go’ Certificate of Assurance by Visit England. Be sure to include these measures and logos, where appropriate, in all promotional literature to potential attendees.
Another important consideration is the flexibility of the venue hire charges – possible postponement and format amends without penalty is being offered more regularly in the current climate as venues seek to gain and maintain client loyalty. Despite increased costs to venues for hosting covid secure events, many are honouring agreed rates for events that have been postponed and a price guarantee is certainly something to consider when negotiating.
The selection of the venue for meetings and milestone events has frequently played an important role in the attendees’ decision-making process. Early engagement with potential delegates is even more critical these days and this is an area where the venue could be called on to provide ideas and assistance. Is there an interesting behind-the-scenes story relating to the venue that can be imparted to pique early interest and maintained, perhaps, over several communiques? Whether this relates to the history of the building, unique construction, decoration details or its location, if the venue manager doesn’t provide this voluntarily, research this aspect independently.
Organising a hybrid event requires more effort and planning to secure on-going guest interest and engagement than in the past, especially as many of these events cannot be charged and costed to the same degree – and ‘free’ or reduced attendance fees tend to dilute commitment. Thus commitment needs to be encouraged in other forms – via a strategy of direct promotion and marketing, perhaps with incentives such as competitions, games or tokens sent in the post. Ask the venue’s event management team whether a ‘virtual treasure hunt’ of the venue prior to the event would be viable to build interest and promote early familiarity.
While venue hire charges, a corner-stone cost to most events, will have remained largely unaffected by Covid, catering numbers and related charges should be a little lower due to reduced capacities and social distancing, which is likely to remain in place to some degree in 2021.
In order to keep virtual guests engaged and not distracted during the event itself, punctuate the timetable with more break-out sessions than normal with visual vignettes and points of interest – verbal asides on the interior, views, or perhaps recipes for the dishes being presented. To discourage virtual attendees from tuning out and leaving the session remotely, provide them with an incentive to stay for the duration – perhaps responses to a quiz in real-time (and an attractive prize).
One possible advantage of the hybrid event is the opportunity to secure more appealing in-demand headline keynote speakers who might be more easily secured if actual attendance (and all the time and effort that that requires) is mitigated by the sufficiency of a virtual appearance. Leverage this engagement, whether actual or virtual, as much as possible – post-session recordings and commentary will extend the life and value of the event.
There are numerous event management agencies who are adept with the increasingly sophisticated technology supporting hybrid events to ensure a seamless integration of actual and virtual attendance. What is critical is to ensure that the venue has the capability to host these in the form of high-speed broadband (5G a must) and wi-fi. Even an aspect as location (or lack of) electrical sockets can trip up the efficiency of a presentation.
Apart from a venue’s tech support capability, ask the event management team what can be included in the charges – do they have tables and chairs, for instance, that belong to the venue and which can be included at no additional charge? Is there a venue ambassador or historian who can provide historical background – virtually or in person – for a nominal charge? Are there any gifts or giveaways – including the customary goody bag issued at the end of the event – that can be delivered virtually to enhance or extend the delegate experience?
Another serious consideration in venue selection is a track record for sustainability – in a time of climate change and recycling, ask the venue management what their practises are in this regard. Waste management (of unconsumed food and beverages) should be undertaken responsibly i.e. food waste delivered to registered charities or industrial agencies who employ ‘anaerobic digestion process’ to convert waste into biofuel or fertilisers. Perhaps offer guests an ‘opt in’ meat dish instead of automatically including it as an option.
GDPR considerations aside, liaise with the venue and explore the possibility of sharing suppliers of other events scheduled to take place at the venue just before or after yours – is it viable for the caterer, florist, musicians or technical support to deliver for your event at the same time? If the same floral arrangements can stay in place for more than one event, with the shared costs helping all participants, solutions like this helps the bottom line as well at the eco-footprint of every event – an ideal ‘win/win’ scenario.
Natasha Jackson – Senior Events Manager, Trinity House
Natasha joined Trinity House in 2018 in the newly created position of Senior Events Manager, assisting Head of Events, Zoe Turner. Jackson’s previous experience included managerial roles at Painter’s Hall, Pewter’s Hall and BAFTA, and more recently Events Manager at party design and catering stalwart, The Admirable Crichton. While undertaking the supervision of corporate meetings and events, her area of expertise at Trinity House is the management of wedding ceremonies and milestone social occasions.