Positive Planner Perceptions About a Return to Live Meetings

Business development expert and speaker Scott Steinberg shares some positive survey results regarding planner optimism about a face-to-face meetings revival by the end of 2020, with a few caveats thrown in, of course.

Meetings Today’s Tyler Davidson interviewed Steinberg about some of the statistics he’s crunched to come to his conclusions, and also how the meetings industry will be fundamentally changed by the rise of virtual and hybrid events.

The fact is the impact on the travel and meetings industry has been catastrophic, but is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Will the meetings industry rebound significantly within six months? What’s the outlook for large events? How will meeting planners do more with what is sure to be smaller budgets?

Steinberg answers these and other major questions during this Meetings Today Podcast. Listen now.

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Read the transcript below:

[Start transcript]

Scott Steinberg, president and CEO of Biz DevTyler Davidson: Hello, and welcome to this Meetings Today Podcast. This is Tyler Davidson. I am the vice president and chief content director for Meetings Today, and today we are joined by Scott Steinberg (pictured), president and CEO of Biz Dev, the International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships. Thanks for joining us, Scott.

Scott Steinberg: Of course, Tyler. How’s it going?

Tyler: Very good. Very good. Just waiting for all this shutdown business to end,  I guess as we all are, huh?

Scott: That’s right. That’s right. I like to refer to it as an extended vacation. Maybe not an intentional vacation, but a little time down, nonetheless.

Tyler: Right. It’s like a vacation, except instead of on the beach with an umbrella drink, you’re just like stressed out.

Scott: Right, you’re wearing an N95 mask sipping through a straw.

Tyler: Exactly! Well...you’re the guy to ask about what’s going on, I guess now and especially in the future, because you just released the “Future of Meetings and Events, What’s Next for the Event Planning Business,” and some really eye-opening findings in there. Why don’t you let our listeners know about this survey, how you did it and some of the key findings?

Scott: Sure, absolutely. So we looked at a cross section of meeting planners and event planners and hoteliers and hospitality pros from different industries and different areas of the country, and what we found was that actually folks are quite optimistic.

A lot of people think that by about September of 2020, live events will be returning in palpable force. Although what’s kind of fascinating is that seven in 10 meeting planners think that virtual and hybrid meetings really are going to be the future, so it’s not going to be an either/or scenario.

In fact, what’s going to happen, they say, is there’s probably going to be fewer of the large conventions and events that are over 5,000 people, and what you’re going to see is more and more hybrid events with smaller live components—could be 50 people in a room, 100 people in the room—but also a very robust online and digital presence.

So the good news is, I think a lot of folks in the industry expect meetings and events to bounce back very quickly, and in fact, most say that within about six months, we’ll be clear of the rubble. But what’s also fascinating is that trends and digital transformation are only accelerating. So things that started happening before the pandemic—the move to online and virtual events—are now being accelerated as a result of it.

Tyler: What do you think the rollout is going to look like? I’ve been curious as to what are we going to see in the first three months, then the three months after, and then a year—I don’t know if those that’s accurate time periods—but how do you think this is all going to roll out till we get back to maybe the old normal? I don’t know if that’s right, but what are you seeing in your crystal ball?

Scott: Yeah, I think it’s going to come in phases like you just described. So what you’re finding is that roughly about seven in 10 meeting/event professionals have actually rebooted live events as virtual and online programs. But at the same time, what you’re seeing is that about half of suppliers are still trying to adapt their strategies to operate in this kind of world.

So we all know that technology is the future; we all know that event planners will be increasingly embracing online tools. But probably what it looks like in the two- to three-month horizon are more and more of these bite-sized virtual events and online summits.

I haven’t seen one that’s actually taken more than about two or three hours’ worth of time in any given day, and eventually, six months out, 12 months out, we’ll roll out into bigger programs where you have multitrack conferences, breakout rooms and full-scale virtual events that will live alongside the actual real world events as well that will be something resembling a grand-scale conference.

But for the moment, I think what you’re going to see some halting efforts. They’ll have Zoom-style presentations, but they’ll also have workshops, keynotes and seminars and the like in a series or as a package, maybe even a roundtable—more and more of those happening in the next few weeks and months here.

But again, I think it’s going to take time because of that slow rollout, to getting technology expertise and getting expertise and running virtual events before we see large-scale programs the likes of what you might expect from a TED conference.

Tyler: Yeah, and I think one of the interesting aspects of all of this is everyone, including myself, has sort of been forced to just jump into the deep end of the pool on things like Zoom conferences, and breakouts in Zoom, and having even relatively simple conferences over the internet. And so I’m guessing people will be more prepared and will maybe more easily adopt to offering that sort of solution, even if it’s just as a hybrid function of a live event.

Scott: That’s right. That’s right. And I think that’s the big takeaway, is that things are going to have more and more of an online component to them. So we’re not getting rid of those face-to-face, live in-person interactions—we’re going to try and preserve those as much as we can—but more and more components of a conference or a meeting or seminar are going to shift to online learning and online presentation programs.

Although the irony in actually some of the other findings, for example, is that even though there’s going to be 42% less demand for in-person meetings—at least people seem to envision in the near future here—the trouble is event budgets are shrinking.

[View “Future of Meetings and Events, What’s Next for the Event Planning Business,” published by Biz Dev, the International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships]

Tyler: And I was just going to ask you about that. What are you seeing as far as the spend in the budgets?

Scott: Yeah, the budgets are definitely going down—I don’t think there’s any question about that—even as expenses are going up, right, because more and more planners are having to think about safety, having to deal with food service; how do you make sure that everybody’s adhering to best practices, you’re maintaining social distancing, while you’re attempting to gather large groups of people.

And, in fact, the other thing that’s kind of concerning for meeting and event planners seems to be that they really have to rethink best practices around their craft here, right? Because it’s one thing to build out an event where everybody’s getting together, there’s catering, you’re getting together at events, and you’re networking en masse, and now we have to think about how do we introduce some barriers between people for very practical reasons. But at the same time, we need to preserve that sense of connection and togetherness.

Tyler: Yeah, and I’ve been following this, of course, and engaging with our readers a lot and doing webinars, etc., and there just doesn’t seem to be concrete rules and protocols yet. I know a lot of the major hotels have issued very detailed procedures and protocols. I just finished a story about Las Vegas reopening and then the Nevada Gaming Commission has very detailed and stringent protocols.

But I just don’t get the impression that it’s anything that’s set in stone right now. What are you seeing there is? Is the government going to jump in? Or is it up to states or local jurisdictions? How can a planner go about planning in this environment?

Scott: Yeah, it’s not easy. It’s largely being left up to the individual venue and the individual event planner. So it would be my hope that governments and states would provide some guidance and regulation going forward. I think a lot of them are scrambling to play catch up just the same way that the rest of us are.

The challenge being, of course, that without much history to go on, and without much precedent, we’re all kind of having to figure it out as we go. So it’s becoming much more challenging for meeting and event planners going forward. But at the same time, if you think about it, this is one of the most resourceful inventive of industries out there, and what you’re seeing is that in individual areas of the country, people are coming up with novel ways to do this.

And actually, in fact, I saw the city of Miami Beach, Florida, they just introduced a program where hotels, restaurants, event venues could get certified as meeting stringent safety standards going above and beyond the baselines. And in fact, if they do that, you’ll get stickers and decals to place on the window and around the premises just like you might if you were to get an award on Yelp or Zagat, or from one of the other major food blogs.

Tyler: And I think with a lot of this, the key is going to be assuring potential delegates that it’s safe to travel and that they will be in a safe environment. So what you just mentioned [about] Miami Beach, I think it was, issuing some sort of accreditation is a good move. I mean, how do you think meeting planners should communicate to potential attendees and what issues surrounding that do you see?

Scott: Well, I think first and foremost, you need to remind them that safety is first and that all precautions have been taken to make sure that they’re getting together in a safe and welcoming environment. And I also think it’s important if you want attendees to be interested, to offer them more flexibility.

So you certainly want to have draws that will get them there onsite, but at the same time, you also want to provide opportunities for them to be able to go online and access digital learning or be able to pull up videos of programs, or maybe even some unique extras that you haven’t provided onsite.

So there are many ways to split the hairs, and I think part of it for meeting planners is going to be figuring out how can we make sure that we capture audience attention wherever they are. Whether that’s online or whether that’s in person—you certainly want people to be there—but again, more and more programs are going to be shrinking to 50 people or less. So maybe that onsite component isn’t going to be as important going forward.

Tyler: Yeah, but kind of the downside of that is a lot of times that onsite component is sort of what fuels the industry, especially when you’re talking about filling hotel rooms and sponsorships in revenue going into, say, associations. So there’s a lot of economics that are going to be sort of disrupted in the near future. And then hopefully, kind of returning to equilibrium, maybe, in how long would you think—nine months or a year, if we’re lucky?

Scott: I’m hoping. I’m hoping. I think what people are saying is basically they think fall is the soonest that live events will start to pick up. But the good news is actually what we found is that about 92% of folks think that live events are going to return in force before 2021. So this year, maybe a little bit rocky, but as a whole folks seem to be pretty optimistic about how resilient the meetings and events industry will be.

Future of Meetings...

Tyler: Yeah, and we actually just sent out a survey for our Meetings Today TALK poll, and I’m seeing the preliminary results come in, and they’re echoing what you’re saying there. There’s even a lot of folks, I think, that are looking to have meetings before the end of the year, some even said September, [or] in October. So, you know, maybe the situation is not quite as dour as people think it is.

Scott: Yeah, I’m an optimist, right? And I think a lot of people are very practical. They’re finding ways to work around whatever circumstances bring. And the good news is, at the end of the day they’re going to find ways to put bodies in seats, and they’re going to find ways to put eyeballs in front of screens. So meetings and events are only going to continue to be important.

In fact, if you think about it, we all need more and more a sense of human connection, because when you are in a remote- and virtual-working world, you really don’t get a lot of face-to-face time with people, and you really don’t get that chance to build the kind of relationships that you would in meetings and events.

So, I think we’re going to find some very clever and creative ways to work around whatever constraints there are, but I also think is important to keep in mind we don’t know what the future will bring. And it’s entirely possible you’ve got a lot of businesses reopening. They may have to close and then reopen again at a later date, and this may be the pattern going forward.

Tyler: Yeah, I guess everyone is just hoping...that if a second wave comes in washes ashore—all bets are off if that happens.

Scott: Yeah. You never know. Although I’ll tell you, the irony is we do a lot of keynote speaking and presentations and events, and it seems like there’s one theme that keeps coming back up. So pretty much you can be guaranteed from September to December, it’s all going to be navigating the new normal, the pathway forward adapting to change.

I think we won’t hear the end of this for quite some time, but the good news is, again, more and more meeting and event pros are working together and trying to find creative ways to work around the constraints, and also to come up with some best practices. I know a lot of associations are hard at work, trying to come up with just what can you do to make sure that people feel safe, they’re ready to go back to business, and that we can all pick up where we left off in an orderly manner.

Tyler: Well, great. Well, thanks for joining us, Scott. Where can people find out more about what you do?

Scott: Yeah, you can check out at bizdevassociation.com—lots of research and insights that we’re always publishing there. Or if you want to find out about me personally, it’s akeynotespeaker.com.

Tyler: Excellent. Thanks so much for joining us, Scott.

Scott: My pleasure, Tyler. Thanks again.

Tyler: And that was Scott Steinberg, president and CEO of Biz Dev, the International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships. Thanks to Scott for joining us and thanks to all of you out there in podcast listener land for joining us for this Meetings Today Podcast.

If you’re interested in more Meetings Today Podcasts, head on over to MeetingsToday.com and check out our podcast section. We have a wealth of information and podcasts from thought leaders on a variety of topics, and especially, as Scott mentioned, everything sort of COVID-19 and new normal right now. So lots of interesting thought leaders pontificating on that subject.

So, thanks for joining us and have a great rest of the day.

[End transcript]

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About the author
Tyler Davidson | Editor, Vice President & Chief Content Director

Tyler Davidson has covered the travel trade for nearly 30 years. In his current role with Meetings Today, Tyler leads the editorial team on its mission to provide the best meetings content in the industry.