By Julia Hawkins and Chris Garner 

2020 and a large part of 2021 were clearly a disappointment for the events industry and those who attend in-person events. Everyone in the industry had the challenge of adapting to new ways to bring people together. While some strategies were successful, there is just something to be said about the value coming together in-person provides. And, now that vaccines and booster shots are now more readily available, in-person events are returning.

We recently returned from the Canadian Meetings + Expo (CMEE). This two-day event is designed for business professionals to meet suppliers, network, learn, and be inspired by the latest technology and trends. It was a fantastic time, and we hope to help other sales executives with the lessons that stuck with us.

Lesson 1: Relationships, Relationships, Relationships

What was most evident was how excited people were for networking and peer-to-peer conversations the moment we arrived. Perhaps this could be partially blamed on the lack of quantity and quality of networking at virtual events, but the common desire to mingle was a top priority. The events industry is already an extremely tight-knit group, and the conference seemed like a reunion for everyone.

The pandemic brought even more of a shift towards online meetings thanks to software like Zoom and Skype, but while that can make things more convenient, it is not a substitution for being in the same room. Meaningful relationships are strengthened by being face-to-face, and this conference was a great reminder of that. The desire to continue conversations was powerful, and this isn’t always the case with virtual gatherings from our experience.

Lesson 2: Quality Trumps Quantity 

We know, we know what you are thinking. Our job as sales professionals is to go to conferences and trade shows to gather leads. But, in today’s environment, you have to temper your attendance expectations. Crowd sizes may never revert to their previous numbers, and that’s ok. 

In theory, it’s not a bad idea to focus on the quality of attendees as a driving factor rather than trying to fill an exhibition hall to the maximum quantity. And as cliché “Quality over quantity” is, it’s a cliché for a reason; with fewer attendees (and not lines of people), you can have more in-depth conversations and identify their specific needs without worrying about scanning everyone’s badges that walk by.

With fewer attendees, you remember those conversations too, making follow-up much easier and more focused. You can pick up the phone and have a meaningful conversation right where you left off.

So don’t be discouraged if a conference or tradeshow doesn’t have the crowds you remember. Step back and commit to having deeper conversations which could ultimately pay off in the long run.

Lesson 3: In-Person Events ARE Safe

Participants could communicate their comfort status in terms of elbow nods to hugs on their badges, and masking was also required at the event. Six feet separation during sessions was required for any person who entered a room with an open door–greatly reducing the table seating space available. And hand sanitizer supplies were readily available so everyone could stay healthy!

You could really get a sense of CMEE’s careful planning of every part of the onsite experience, from finding and managing the physical space of the venue to how attendees checked in. And from what we are hearing, this is the main priority for event organizers, which certainly makes us feel more comfortable returning to in-person events.

Final Takeaways

The world has changed, and events continue to evolve. Meeting organizers still face new but not insurmountable challenges as they strive for a sense of normalcy in their industry’s ever-changing landscape. The value of in-person events is undeniable. While virtual events aren’t going anywhere, they don’t offer the same benefits as face-to-face interaction.

And event organizers understand this and have put the well-being of their attendees as their top priority. They are taking special care to follow the country, state, and local regulations, while not only providing a great onsite experience but a safe one.

While returning to in-person events is undoubtedly a personal decision, take it from two people who just got back from one; there will always be room at the table for those who value meeting each other away from screens.