In the past three weeks, I was lucky enough to participate in two very different industry meetings: the Corporate Event Marketing Association (CEMA) Summit in Phoenix, Ariz., and Cvent Connect in Las Vegas, Nev. It was terrific to reconnect with colleagues I have known for years, make new connections, and meet a few people in person for the first time who I worked with virtually for over a year! The power of meeting face-to-face is something that we all cherished at these events—the opportunity for spontaneous discussions should never be underestimated.
CEMA Summit took place at the Arizona Biltmore July 26 and 27 for about 175 in-person attendees, and Cvent Connect was held at the new Caesars Forum conference facility in Las Vegas for about 1,500 in-person attendees. While both events emphasized on-site health security and offered a virtual component for a remote audience, there were interesting differences in how the hosts addressed these elements. Here are some of the things I noticed about each event’s return-to-live approach.
CEMA Summit: The association required attendees to show proof of vaccination using the Health Pass by CLEAR app prior to picking up their credentials at the registration desk. Alternatively, attendees could take a rapid Covid test on site and enter the conference with a negative result. I did the CLEAR app process, which was easy and free. Masks were not required in the meeting rooms.
Cvent Connect: The meeting-technology company sent a text via a third party each day that asked attendees six questions about their health (for example: Do you have a temperature? Have you been exposed to Covid?). If all questions were answered in the negative, participants received a green symbol on their phone that had to be shown to security to gain access to the meeting space. Nevada had instituted an indoor mask mandate a few days before the event, so wearing one was required.
Despite these and other health protocols, both meetings had to issue post-meeting Covid alerts. Attendees of each event got a notice a few days afterward informing them that two participants tested positive for Covid.
Virtual Audience Engagement
Here’s a question that will be part of planners’ jobs from now on: How much or how little does a conference focus on the virtual audience compared to the in-person audience, and how can we tie the two audiences together? CEMA and Cvent took different approaches.
CEMA Summit: Organizers were heavily focused on the in-person audience. They livestreamed general sessions and took questions from the virtual audience but, in essence, participants in the room were the main focus.
Cvent Connect: This one was designed for more engagement with the virtual audience throughout its programming. In addition to livestreaming the general sessions, there were virtual networking sessions and virtual product demos. Also, they recorded some of the breakouts (including one I led, titled “How DSM Leverages Technology to Drive SMM Satisfaction”) to be available later to on-demand audiences.
Although quite different from each other, both events were great experiences. They taught me that there are many ways to design meetings that satisfy the needs of both face-to-face and virtual attendees.