Specialized in helping companies to develop their middle management to become effective leaders and drive business growth, Ashanti Bentil-Dhuehas a vast event planning and management experience gained over the last 12 years.
Serial entrepreneur, virtual host, creator, inclusion consultant and talent developer, she aims to reach and advise those who might feel overwhelmed with the amount of information available online – oftentimes with a very questionable quality – about how to be noticed as an expert in the events industry.
1. Virtual events and online conferences seem to be the only way out for the MICE industry at the moment. What exactly is an online conference? How does that differ from a video call or a webcast for example?
There are varying viewpoints on the definition of online or virtual conferences. To be honest, the definitions and perceptions are all fairly similar.
Essentially, a gathering of two or more people in a virtual setting can be considered an ‘online event’. Video calls, webcasts, webinars, breakout sessions etc can be included in and make up part of an online conference experience.
Conferences traditionally include high guest or attendee numbers and a variety of speaker sessions and talks. So, yes, you can say they are different to a webinar or video call.
2. Conferences are going virtual, but expectations of stakeholders remain real. How can an event organizer manage these expectations from guests, sponsors, etc?
First of all, we all accept it’s impossible to replicate every element of an in-person conference online. For example: face to face interactions and introductions.
Organizers need to accept this new reality and come up with creative alternatives. Any online conference needs to be presented and positioned as an entirely new value proposition for sponsors, guests and partners. It has to be done rather than as the second best alternative. Organizers need to decide and list the top priorities and objectives for an online event. And it all has to be with their intended audience in mind.
This will guide how they structure the content, flow and activities included in the event. Therefore, it enables organizers to manage expectations and choose suitable event tech.
If organizers are creative and collaborative during the concept and strategy stages, they can work together with their sponsors to plan a mutually beneficial and potentially profitable virtual event.
3. During these last weeks I got impressed with the number of people who are not familiar at all with virtual interactions. How do you see event pros adaptation to this moment? What’s the community doing right and what do we have to change / improve ?
Many event pros were initially skeptical, cynical and pessimistic about the current situation and the need to pivot to virtual in some way or another. Prior to this crisis, the industry didn’t have to explore or exploit the potential of digital and virtual events. Most business models heavily relied on the value of face to face, in-person interactions. Thus, revenue was inextricably linked to physical venues and locations.
As an industry we need to be solution focused, collaborative and positive. Fortunately, we’re now seeing more of the larger B2B conference producers actively reviewing various event technology platforms they can use to deliver virtual experiences for their customers (given there is no end date of the current crisis).
The reality is: the crisis is and will continue to have a long lasting impact on the ability for people to meet in-person well into 2021. So event pros have no choice but to come up with creative solutions for their stakeholders, clients and communities NOW. There are plenty of examples and case studies in parallel industries demonstrating experiences can be delivered virtually in a profitable way. We need to be more open minded and look at what we can learn from those examples.
4. A lot of people reading us right now are worried about their financial life over the next few months. How can the event pro make money at this moment?
Individual event pros should go back to the drawing board. Firstly, to take a critical look at the current skills, talents and strengths. They can turn these strengths, skills and talents into services which are relevant and needed right now. Some of these services might be demanded within and outside of the event industry.
If income is at risk, and they are in a position to work (and not on furlough etc) then they should be showing up online consistently with value, and selling their services. In addition, they should honestly reflect on areas in which they can develop and improve. Do they need to understand more about digital marketing and transformation? Do they need to brush up on their event marketing skills?
Whatever competencies and skills they need to work on, now is the time to invest time (and money if needed) into doing that. This will not only create income in the short term, but prepare them to re-enter the job market.
Event companies and businesses should first ensure their current clients are taken care of by remaining connected and visible with helpful insights, research and support. This will go a long way to enabling them to retain some of their current income.
Next, they should seriously consider creating appropriate virtual services, experiences and events for their community. Some of those may well be ways of staying connected and visible in the industry, others can be great lead generators and some can absolutely be profitable. Creativity, collaboration and a willingness to experiment is needed to adapt to the current landscape.
5. The impact of this social distancing in the short term is quite evident. But what can we expect in the long run? You think experiential marketing is ever gonna be the way it was or the world we left behind doesn’t exist anymore?
It’s impossible to predict how social distancing for an extended period of time will impact the industry and specifically experiential marketing. But in my view, we will see hybrid experiences and events become a standard way of doing things.
Investment will go into premium high quality in-person events. Meetings which were fillers and wasted time and money will probably disappear or be conducted in a virtual setting.
Yes a lot of things will change forever but some of it will be for the better. Not only are event pros talented, they are resilient and those two things combined will mean we can adapt and make the best of whatever the new normal will be.
- How to pitch solid Virtual Events for brands and sponsors [with slide presentation plan]
- Why a video call tool alone isn’t enough for your online conferences.
- The 2020 guide for perfect online events [and how to migrate your live event to webinars, virtual meetups and live streaming]
You can also check out the latest projects Ashanti has been working on. Visit her LinkedIn profile.