The New Events Model: Think quickly. Think differently. Be open-minded.

By Dave Weil, Director of Engineering Events at SAE International

Those of us in the events industry feed off the energy from face-to-face conferences and meetings. It’s a fast-paced world that’s not for everyone, but for those of us who live it, not much beats the feeling we get from networking with our peers, exploring new and exciting exhibits, and celebrating the successes after months of running around making sure everything is perfect. Unfortunately, the events business, like everyone else, was turned upside down this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Events have been canceled, travel has slowed and hotels sit vacant.

It’s a stark shift, but we have to look further out beyond this crisis to assess our vision for where we’re going and how we can apply today’s learnings to the “new normal” of the future.

Thriving in the Current Environment

COVID-19 has forced us at SAE International to look at things differently and try new event and digital models—were forced to cancel many of our in-person events. Although it’s been disappointing, it’s also provided a chance to reevaluate and look at alternative options for how we present events, specifically as it relates to technology usage. By having a solid, tested team in place, we’ve been able to pivot to ensure that the programming and content already in development for in-person events isn’t lost. With virtual engagements becoming the norm this year, conference attendees are slowly seeing the benefits of this new form of knowledge sharing. Understanding what customers and attendees want is essential for navigating in this environment. As we planned our AeroTech® Virtual Summit (June 2-3) and WCX™ Digital Summit (June 16-18), we conducted voice of customer research to understand their current situation, concerns and needs, then adjusted content and pricing models to reflect these discussions.

It’s also important for organizations to recognize that we are all experiencing the same challenges this year. Collaboration and partnerships will be important for forward thinking companies and sustained success. With budgets being cut for key stakeholders and only so many dollars to go around, don’t be surprised to see events and organizations merge or partner for combined experiences. And when this happens, it will create new opportunities for the events and participants.

When we look back on 2020, I think it will be remembered as a tipping point for the events business where we shifted our focus to digital and hybrid events, partnerships and content that can shared and produced online and extended past the life of the event.

What is the New Normal?

We keep hearing about the “new normal.” But, what is “normal” and when will it happen? It’s unlikely that we will completely go back to the way things existed before COVID-19 hit because digital will now be integrated into our event offerings. While many people want “normal” back as soon as possible, the reality is that there will likely be a transition period that will be filled with uncertainties. What types of budgets and discretionary incomes will be available for companies and individuals? Where is the personal comfort threshold for safety, travel, etc.? And how many hospitality employees will be back on the job to properly execute events? These are things we will learn over time that will ultimately shape what “normal” becomes.

Event organizers are always looking for more people to attend their events, because, of course, more people equal more enhanced experiences. But this pandemic might end up realigning that thinking. It’s very likely that we’ll start to see new model of events that will include both live events and digital.

We also must consider what live events will look like as we start to re-open. Don’t be surprised if you see some noticeable changes and restrictions during the experience:

  • Plentiful amount of hand sanitizing stations
  • Stringent cleaning protocols from facilities, hotels and organizers
  • Further reliance on technology for check-ins and other daily tasks
  • Larger aisles during exhibitions and capped attendance to reduce foot traffic
  • Pre-set food and beverage options

At SAE, while we have shifted most of our 2020 events to virtual platforms, we will incorporate both live events and digital offerings which will be hybrid events for 2021 and beyond. During the planning process for these events, we are evaluating the look and feel of our events and how we can continue to prioritize the health and safety of all event attendees, exhibitors, staff and personnel.

Shaping the Future of the Events Business

This is a unique time in our history. It can also be a great learning experience. How can the lessons learned today be applied to future events?

Technological reliance has been thrust on our laps. We’ve all dipped our toes in the water, but now it’s sink or swim. We are exploring opportunities that allow us to reach out to new audiences and new subject matter. These new hybrid events can help organizations increase their global footprints and cast a wider net for attendees, many of whom in the past were restricted due to travel. The content and knowledge will also have a longer shelf life, living on a virtual, on-demand hub for as long as necessary.

It will also be essential for the events business to continue collaborating and partnering long after this pandemic has subsided. The convergence of topics and resources will benefit attendees and organizations in the long run.

Although there have certainly been lost opportunities, new opportunities will come from this situation as well. In the mobility space, SAE continues to look for ways to support our members and community at-large, providing new information and knowledge in new and familiar ways to enable long-term, sustainable growth.

About the Author

Dave Weil is the Events Director, for SAE portfolio of Engineering Events.   Dave is responsible for the global event portfolio and is focused on producing valuable and relevant mobility events both live and digital. Dave is dynamic leader with over twenty-nine years of experience in the trade show and convention industry.

He’s an expert in association event management, strategic planning, financial management and analysis, new market development, and client and vendor negotiations.  Dave brings outstanding communication, thought leadership skills, process improvement and revenue generation experience.  

Prior to joining SAE Dave was with Smith Bucklin since 1992 in a variety of roles with increasing responsibility.  Dave has held the positions of Vice President – Event Services, Director of Trade Shows, Manager of Convention and Trade Shows, Coordinator of Convention and Trade Shows as well as Strategic Account Manager.

Dave is an active member of International Association of Exposition and Events (IAEE),

Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA), American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and has served as a member on a variety of Convention Bureau Advisory Boards.

He has a Bachelor’s Degree from Indiana University, Bloomington in Business Management and has been published in variety of hospitality publications and speaking opportunities at industry events. 

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