The 2022 Strategic Event Planning Bible

The ultimate event planning resource for virtual, live, and hybrid events. 

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Introduction

The past two years have been a period of unprecedented change and adaptation across the events industry. When the world shut down in March 2020, event planners were forced to learn how to execute virtual events to stay afloat. As the pandemic has shifted — curbing for a time before escalating again with new Covid-19 variants — so, too, have events. We’ve seen hesitation on virtual events move into mastery of the virtual strategic event planning process, and now, even as some in-person events return, the rise of a new format combining the two: hybrid events. Through it all, one theme has been constant: Strategic event planning technology is a crucial part of events.

Allied Market Industry Research predicts the event industry will reach $1.55 billion by 2028, with virtual and hybrid event strategy driving an anticipated 11 percent compound annual growth rate between now and then. This summer, a PCMA survey reported 54 percent of event planners are focused on designing digital experiences. About a third of respondents were planning a digital-only event for the first half of 2022, and about half of those reported planning a hybrid event over that same timeframe. MeetingPlay’s own report, “What Attendees Want from Virtual and Hybrid Events,” created in partnership with BizBash, found that a vast majority of survey participants in the event industry (88 percent) predict virtual and hybrid are the future for at least some events.

Event pros are getting more confident in planning events in these two formats, along with in-person events. American Express’ 2022 Meetings & Events Global Forecast reports that more than 80 percent of global survey respondents expect to have an in-person event element in 2022, and 64 percent cite increased budgets for the year. It’s clear that strategies of event management have shifted greatly and permanently since 2020, however. Experts echo that the return to live events will not be linear, and the future for the industry lies in the continuation of both virtual and hybrid events.

If you’re new to virtual and hybrid or contemplating a cautious return to live events and wondering, what is event strategy in 2022? You’ve come to the right place. In this event strategy guide, we’ll dive into the event planning process, including what’s changed since the pandemic and how to plan virtual and hybrid events while maintaining good financial control in the event management process.

Chapter 1: Evolving Event Formats

If you were resisting high-tech events before 2020, you quickly learned through the pandemic how pivotal technology is and will be for events going forward. In 2021, we saw the cautious return of some in-person events, and we expect that format to grow in 2022, pending the spread of more COVID-19 variants. Yet even with more people looking forward to and feeling comfortable with getting back together in person, the strategic event planning process is evolving.

Virtual events will continue to serve an important role — especially with their ability to bring together wide audiences for a much smaller cost and impact on the environment. The global reach of virtual events has been exponential, and many companies will continue to move forward with robust virtual event programs for this reason. Hybrid events are a growing option as well, combining virtual and in-person audiences and connecting them through content and experiences. With ongoing uncertainty around the pandemic, it’s critical to have a virtual event platform you can fall back on at a moment’s notice, if you’re forced to cancel an in-person event. You’ll need to consider your audience, event type, event objective and budget — among other factors — to help determine which format is best for your audience and events. In these ever-changing times, event planners must have not only a plan B, but a plan C and D as well.

Chapter 2: Budgeting Shifts

The pandemic forced us all to take a closer look at the event planning budget — not only at total spend, but at allocation and ROI of each individual event. You may have realized that what you saved in on-site costs (event space, hotel, travel, speaker expenses, F&B) by taking an in-person event virtual could be reallocated toward a top-notch event technology provider to help you seamlessly deliver digital content to your audience.

When you’re budgeting for event management in 2022, production and audio-visual will play a much greater role than in years past. In a hybrid event strategy, there are many factors to consider in your budget, such as lighting, staging, sound, visuals, effects, presentation equipment, and what’s available to you at your venue. In planning virtual events, you want to ensure you’re investing in an event platform that will enable all the features you wish to add for your audience, including engagement and gamification tools.

 

Here are more ways budget allocation may shift:

  • Instead of printed event materials -> Investment in event apps
  • Instead of single-use physical signage -> Recyclable or digital signage
  • Instead of serve-yourself food and drink stations -> Staffed F&B and/or order-ahead meals for each attendee
  • Instead of on-site registration booths -> Digital registration kiosks or apps
  • Instead of printed badges -> Digital badges with QR codes
  • Instead of full speaker travel expenses and meals -> Reduced costs for digital speakers

 

Before beginning your event budgeting for 2022, be sure to develop a keen understanding of your event goals and your event audience to help determine where your budget should be allocated.

Your 2022 Event Budgeting Template

Chapter 3: Reskilling the Event's Workforce

While so many people in the events world were masters of multitasking pre-pandemic, now, more than ever, it’s key to be able to adapt your abilities to produce digital, hybrid, and in-person events — sometimes in a very short timeframe. Event lead times have gotten shorter, and we’ve all learned the importance of the word “pivot.” That’s not going anyway anytime soon.

Being able to master virtual and hybrid event strategy will be critical to success in 2022. Case in point: PCMA and Marriott International collaborated on a new Digital Event Strategist certification as part of a broad movement toward reskilling the industry. Event pros need to hone new skills to plan, produce and measure all types of events, as well as rethink areas such as registration, sponsorships, exhibitors, and pricing to learn what works best for each respective audience. Then there’s the whole engagement puzzle, too: How can you create content to keep attendees captivated, whether they’re watching from home or from a seat in your venue? Technology is another huge part of an event pro’s needed skill set. From choosing the right event tech provider to managing crises as they occur, there’s no separating “techies” from event pros any longer.

Workforce shortages putting a squeeze on event staffing, including teams at venues, it becomes even more important to ensure you’re building a team of people with diverse skills who can easily shift from virtual to hybrid to in-person events. Some of the most important new skills to look for and/or train teams on include:

 

  • Knowledge of government restrictions and guidelines, and how to adapt events accordingly as those evolve
  • High safety standards and ability to implement them, as well as social distancing requirements
  • Risk management and communication skills
  • Knowledge of how event technology works and what is needed for planning virtual events as well as hybrid event strategy
  • Savvy marketing skills to reach new attendees

Chapter 4: Great Technology is Essential

If 2020 was the year of experimenting with planning virtual events (aka, survival mode) and 2021 was the start of developing a virtual event strategy framework, 2022 will be the continuation of that strategic event planning technology and pushing the envelope for how virtual events and what they can deliver.

Incorporating the latest technology is crucial to successful meetings and events of the future. It doesn’t have to be daunting, however. Event technology can make planning less stressful, streamline your operations, improve your attendee experience and your ROI, and make post-event data analysis easier. Feeling confident and comfortable using your event tech to its full potential starts with choosing the right partners, then identifying the right tools to fit your needs. You don’t need to use every tool out there and be on every possible platform that exists; instead, you’ll want to curate your event tech around your event objectives to help maximize your ROI.

One limiting factor is not having a dedicated “tech person” on your team to evaluate all the event technologies available and be in the know on the latest offerings in this space. Since mid-2020, we’ve seen the rise of event technologists in the field who fill that tech-savvy role on events teams. If you have the budget, it may be worth adding someone with these skills to your team. The ideal candidate is a professional who understands both event operations and technology, has strong project management skills, and is comfortable diving into data and doing deep research.

If you’re not ready to add an event technologist yet, lean into your event tech partners, who can help you identify your tech needs and the best tools to support those. Here are some basic event tech guidelines to consider, depending on what type of event you’re planning:

 

  • In-Person: Registration, app, event diagramming, event production
  • Hybrid: Registration, event diagramming, full-service event platform, live streaming, content delivery tools, event production
  • Virtual: Registration, full-service event platform, gamification tools, social tools, exhibit hall

 

Don’t forget: Regardless of format, event production is more important than ever. For 2022 and beyond, we’re seeing virtual and hybrid events equipped with all the bells and whistles, including completely customized event platforms with full branding that create an immersive experience for your attendees.

Chapter 5: Increased Focus on Sustainability

The industry took a few steps backward in this realm during the pandemic as we turned once again to single-use plastics to help curb the spread of germs. However, as we learned how effective virtual events can be, we greatly reduced emissions by nearly eliminating business travel — and benefiting the environment.

As we’re seeing in-person events return in greater volume, event professionals have a renewed focus on sustainability, taking learnings from the pandemic into account from the early planning stages. Event pros must take time to closely evaluate the environmental impact of their meetings and events — and, rather than engaging in carbon-offsetting practices, instead making use of tools like event impact calculators to determine carbon emissions and identify areas in which those can be reduced. You can use that information to make informed decisions around the format of your event (i.e., choosing virtual for those that are effective in that format), location, transportation, food and beverage, and more to help reduce impact.

We’ll also see more corporate social responsibility projects built into meetings and events in 2022. That may take the form of planning F&B menus to satisfy local nonprofit guidelines for donating leftovers, building an open afternoon into your agenda for your attendees to give back to the community in which you’re convening, or hosting a donation drive to help gather important provisions for those in need.

Chapter 6: Greater Partner Collaboration

After nearly two years of uncertainty for the industry, reliability and stability take center stage when it comes to partner relationships for events in 2022 and beyond. Developing trust among partners will become even more critical to successful events, and more firms will engage in cross-company collaboration to consolidate or leverage those supplier buys.

The pandemic unavoidably compressed the event supply chain, as mom-and-pop shops as well as larger agencies closed amidst challenging financial times. In turn, many event teams were also downsized. Looking ahead, these realities mean internal meeting teams will be working with fewer suppliers overall to save time and money and collaborate more closely with these suppliers as partners.

In 2022, we’ll see more events teams build out preferred programs and streamline the suppliers with whom they work, developing stronger partnerships to help execute a variety of event formats. This includes on-the-ground partners, such as DMCs, for live events, as well as crucial technology provider partners for virtual and hybrid.

As you’re evaluating providers in the event tech space, contemplate how each potential partner will be able to provide the support and knowledge you need to be successful. Companies such as MeetingPlay have a reenergized focus on customer service, helping event teams make important decisions around event technology and providing behind-the-scenes support.

Chapter 7: More Scrutinized Venue Selection

As in-person events return, planners must prioritize duty of care — and that includes selecting an event venue that is taking all necessary precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 within its facilities. Numerous certifications have sprung up since the pandemic to help planners make their event management venue selection with health and safety top of mind. For instance, the Global Biorisk Advisory Council has the STAR Facility Accreditation Program, which provides a handbook, training programs, and a review of the facility’s health and safety policies; similarly, SafeGuard by Bureau Veritas involves a third-party audit of the venue.

These certifications can offer reassurance to your attendees and are useful to consider in venue selection. However, you must also do your own due diligence in evaluating the health and safety measures of a site. In addition to coming prepared with your own site inspection checklist — to include location, parking, meeting space, food and beverage programs, audiovisual equipment, cleanliness, and cost, among others — you must also be prepared to ask the right questions to determine whether the venue and staff will prioritize health and safety for your guests.

Space and layout for registration or check-in is a strong point to consider, as that will likely look different than pre-pandemic events. Is there enough space for all check-in pods that will be needed for your attendees that will also allow for social distancing? Will you keep registration in one area, or spread out to satellite locations to avoid overcrowding? If you’re spreading out, where will those check-in pods fit, and how will you direct attendees to them? These are all questions to ask as you’re deciding on a venue.

You will need to reevaluate your process for venue contracts when returning to in-person events. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent variants of the virus have demonstrated, more than ever, the importance of having a solid contract to protect you from legal action. Previously, many venue contracts did not include force majeure clauses; now, this is a must-have. The scope of this clause should define what specific circumstances may warrant suspension of the contract, including possible event cancellation due to a pandemic. You may also want to add a deposit refund clause into your contract, or a rebook clause that specifies how your deposit may be used toward a future event if you are forced to cancel. It’s always smart to review contracts with a licensed legal professional to ensure you’re entering into an agreement that is appropriate for your event.

Hosting a hybrid event involves evaluating your venue on a few different points, a well. You’ll need to ask about internet and bandwidth capabilities to ensure a strong, uninterrupted live stream to virtual viewers, as well as check on the quality and reputation of the on-site audiovisual team or external production company you plan to use. Ask them about their experience in creating content for your desired format, whether that’s pre-recorded, live stream, simulive, or on-demand. Also think about how you’ll be connecting the experience for virtual attendees and in-person attendees, and how affects your agenda, layout, and content.

Chapter 8: Enhanced Opportunity for Branding and Marketing

While event pros initially faced challenges with engagement in planning virtual events, this format has evolved greatly over the past two years, and subsequently, more have figured out how to create high-touch, experiential virtual events that align with their brand values and goals and are anything but boring. Your event tech provider plays a huge role in the engagement puzzle. Look for companies that offer enhanced opportunities for designing, branding, and marketing your virtual and hybrid events to stand out from the crowd.

When an attendee walks into a live event, they know exactly where they are. From signage to registration booths to audiovisual elements during sessions, the event is branded with your company’s logo, colors, and style. Branding throughout an event brings a cohesive look and feel as well as a sense of unity to attendees, reminding them of the reason they’re there — and your virtual event strategy shouldn’t be any different. Customizing your event platform offers myriad ways to wow attendees with your event, whether through graphics and visual elements, customized navigation (including a 3-D look that gives the feel of walking into an actual event or exhibit hall), incorporating gamification to drive participation, rethinking content session formats, and collecting feedback post-event.

Your 2022 Event Budgeting Template

Chapter 9: Increased Focus on ROE

The pandemic helped solidify the importance of building a solid business case for event programs. Return on event, or ROE, has come to the forefront in evaluating the value that events bring compared to the cost. When evaluating ROE, look at the return for all parties involved in an event, including attendees (virtual and/or in-person), suppliers, exhibitors, speakers, and presenters, as well as the organization putting on the event.

Virtual events taught us that it’s possible to greatly expand an event’s reach, even globally, without adding exponential cost. It’s much cheaper to have 1,000 attendees attending a virtual event from their laptop at home than flying those same 1,000 people into one location and booking meeting space and hotel rooms to accommodate them. The key is now, for event planners, to determine where virtual events are effective, and where in-person events still make sense.

For instance, if you’re running a virtual national sales meeting for a team, it’s possible to invite more people who were involved in the sales process but couldn’t attend in the past. The content you create for them virtually can be highly beneficial while keeping costs low, meaning high ROE. Similarly, if you’re doing a customer program for a new software launch that’s open to the public, it’s inexpensive to do it virtually while enabling a huge reach with thousands of potential customers who can learn, test, and walk through a platform. Doing the same event on property would be cost-prohibitive.

Other types of events may make more sense to do in person, making the higher cost per attendee worth it because of the added value it brings. Event planners must dive deep into understanding their audience and the specific objectives they’re trying to achieve through an event to help determine its best format based on potential ROE.

Planning virtual events also enabled us to gather much more data from attendees that illustrates what content is interesting and relevant. Using virtual event platforms enabled us to see, for instance, not only what sessions a person visited, but how long they stayed and to what degree they engaged with the content. As more in-person events return, we’ll see more of these tools from the virtual space being incorporated into live events. Though this was already occurring to some degree pre-pandemic, digital tools such as session tracking and lead generation for exhibitors will be more widely used going forward. After gathering that data, it becomes about analyzing it in the right way to inform insights you can use to improve future events. Working with a trusted event tech partner can help you accomplish this.

Chapter 10: Safety is Paramount

Hybrid events offer a virtual option to attendees who don’t feel comfortable gathering in person and an in-person component that comes with added layers of precaution. Since events slowly began returning in 2021, many new measures and protocols have emerged that are designed to keep on-site attendees safe. By this point, we’re all familiar with social distancing, mask-wearing, and regular handwashing, all of which are here to stay for events. Increased communication with staff and attendees is also imperative to ensure all are adhering to protocols and keeping safety top of mind. Event planners also have the option to require negative Covid tests for attendees to enter venues, or to show proof of vaccination. If budget permits, on-site testing may be an option.

 

Seating is one area of live events in which we’ll see many changes, including:

  • Pushing back first rows from speaker stage
  • Spreading out seats
  • Enabling attendees to select their own seat
  • Offering seating in overflow rooms for those who don’t feel comfortable in a larger session
  • Setting up crescent-shaped seating arrangements for smaller groups
  • Increasing seating for meals to enable spreading out

 

Offering flexibility and options for attendees is key to enable them to consume event content in a way that feels safe to them. Remember, different regions and guests each have their own definition of “safety,” and to help them feel comfortable attending your event — in-person or virtually — you must meet them where they’re at.

Your 2022 Event Budgeting Template

Chapter 11: Food and Beverage

Making up 25 to 35 percent of the budget for traditional in-person events, food and beverage is a major expenditure that’s been changed by the pandemic. With the shift to planning virtual events, the F&B line item was eliminated. As we return to in-person events, menus are back, but in different formats. Long, serve-yourself buffets are out; individually styled, ready-to-enjoy dishes that guests can pick up on their own, using appropriate safety precautions, are in. Presentation will get creative for both visual appeal and safety reasons: think trays styled as dresser-style drawers or stacked vertically to separate one from the next.

Say goodbye to bland, basic rubber chicken for good, too. Coming off two years of staying in and cooking at home, attendees are looking for bold flavor, new twists on traditional dishes, and items they can’t make themselves. We’ll see planners incorporate more international cuisine, such as African and Asian flavors, that may have been too risky to serve before, but are a welcome treat to more open palates post-pandemic. You can also turn to TikTok for menu inspiration — items like the famous salmon rice bowls or baked feta pasta will be a hit among attendees who’ve been following along. While comfort food and nostalgic dishes are hot for 2022, there’s also a widespread movement toward lighter options, with plant-based everything a continuing trend that will infiltrate event menus.

When it comes to beverages, specialty cocktails are in. Handcrafted drinks with fancy garnishes, seasonal ingredients, or new spins on classics, such as an Old Fashioned, will be popular at happy hour. Mocktails are also having a big moment, offering those avoiding alcohol (for any reason) a more exciting choice than juice or soda water.

For hybrid events, virtual attendees don’t have to feel left out of F&B. You can turn to options such as food delivery boxes, gift cards to gourmet food services like Goldbelly, curated meal prep boxes for guests to cook at home, or even cookie delivery kits to help them feel included in the main event.

Chapter 12: Diversity and Inclusion

Social justice movements over the past two years have reinforced the importance of creating an inclusive environment for any event format. This includes not only incorporating conversations on diversity and inclusion into your content but ensuing equal opportunity and diverse voices throughout your events (for attendees, speakers, suppliers, presenters, exhibitors, and staff) to work toward this goal. One way to be intentional about this is to actively recruit suppliers owned by an underrepresented group. For instance, a major show taking place in 2022 will incorporate an Equality Lounge, a space that hosts sessions around workplace diversity, leadership, and brand building.

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More on diversity and inclusion:



Chapter 13: Year-Round Touchpoints

More companies have realized the value of engaging with their audiences at multiple smaller events throughout the year, rather than one large annual event. The rise of virtual events has made this easier and more cost-effective.

Technology gives us the ability to create a strong community that engages with your content, your brand, and with each other year-round. It makes sense to align your virtual event strategy framework with marketing efforts to strengthen your overall message and develop strong audience awareness. Through new event tech tools, you can design a strategy that helps you engage with your community through many virtual touchpoints throughout the year.

Chapter 14: Wellness is Essential

The pandemic heightened awareness of health and wellness for everyone. While wellness activities like meditation rooms and fun runs were already part of events pre-2020, we’ll see an increased focus on building more wellness into event agendas going forward.

For in-person events, choosing an event venue that has a well-being focus can help make this easier. Guided meditation sessions, yoga workshops, dedicated “brain breaks” to inspire creativity, tech-free zones, outdoor activities, and massage stations are all ideas you can consider incorporating in your event with the help of your event partners. When planning physical activities, it’s key to coordinate exercises that can accommodate all skill levels without making anyone feel out. For instance, a 5K run may sound too daunting, but a 1-mile group walk to serve as reflection time post-session is more doable.

You can also incorporate wellness into virtual and hybrid events by encouraging at-home attendees to partake in a variety of activity ideas on their own. That could include joining a virtual movement class together, participating in a step challenge using a fitness tracker, or starting each event day with a guided meditation followed by mindful journaling that both in-person and virtual attendees can participate in together.

If you’re looking to take your event wellness to the next level, MPI last fall announced a new certificate course called Event Wellness Superhero that educates planners on placing wellness at the center of designing events post-pandemic. This course was developed after an earlier report revealed that more than 63 percent of event pros are now interested in including more wellness-specific content at their events.

In addition to wellness within events, it’s also important to also prioritize the wellness of your event staff — and yourself! Don’t forget to take breaks, define your boundaries, get enough sleep, lean on your event partners, and remind your team to do so as well.

 

Chapter 15: 2022 with MeetingPlay + Aventri

At MeetingPlay + Aventri, everything we do revolves around innovating and creating. What drives all of our technology is the experience it provides, including virtual events and connecting in-person and virtual experiences together in hybrid events.

Get in touch today to schedule a demo and learn how MeetingPlay can help you achieve your event goals and design the ultimate virtual or hybrid event experience.

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