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| Written by Veronica Mickley

Planning an Interactive Hybrid Experience: The 2021 M&IW Summit

Hybrid Event Emcees on Stage

The 2021 M&IW Summit truly captured the best of both worlds: For the first time, the annual event was held in a hybrid format after being virtual in 2020 and in-person in years prior. Over two days, industry leaders and suppliers along with the M&IW team came together digitally and physically to re-connect, re-explore, and re-build after the pandemic turned the meetings and events industry upside down.

“One of the most frequently asked questions we receive when it comes to planning hybrid experiences is about the event design and show flow,” said Nicole Raudabaugh, CMP, CIS. This is the fifth consecutive year that Nicole has taken the lead in designing, planning, and producing our signature event. She went on to say, “our clients want to know what the best practices are to prioritize all attendees, foster real-time interaction and engagement, and provide an immersive experience to virtual attendees.”

We thought one of the best ways to showcase what it takes to produce a successful hybrid experience was to share our work. Below is a detailed recap of the 2021 M&IW Summit.

Summit Day 1 – All-Virtual Format

Samantha Steinkeler, CMP-HC, HMCC, and Carlos Sandoval kicked off the virtual portion of the 2021 M&IW Summit, welcoming suppliers, customers, and colleagues alike and highlighting new and exciting elements of the event, including the Global Giveback program—more on that in the Day 2 coverage!

Industry Expert Panel Discussion

Shauna McNaughton, HMCC, then took over as moderator of the Industry Expert Panel discussion, whose panelists included Jonathan Howe, Esq., of Howe & Hutton, Ltd.; Frank Passanante of Hilton Hotels and Resorts; and Steve Ross of United Airlines. These leaders discussed how their industries changed and reinvented themselves and how that impacts the events industry. All three panelists stressed the importance of flexibility and adaptability moving forward, emphasizing that there’s no such thing as the so-called new norm. “Nothing is back to what the norm was,” said Jonathan. “We’re in a situation of new realities, of reinventing ourselves.”

For Hilton and United, those changes involved not only technological innovation focused on health and safety, including United’s Travel Ready Center where you can view travel requirements by country and schedule COVID tests as needed, but also increased dedication to sustainability. “Now more than ever,” said Frank, “sustainability metrics are increasingly factoring into buying decisions.” Two examples of how suppliers are rising to the challenge? Hilton’s LightStay platform includes a meeting calculator allowing Hilton to “provide a detailed estimate of the environmental footprint of every meeting and event,” and United Airlines has a goal to be net carbon neutral by 2050 through a combination of biofuel usage, electric aircraft, and other initiatives.

As Frank put it, “travel is an unstoppable force,” and meetings and events are already seeing a thrilling return compared to this time last year.

Flash Point Presentations

Next, attendees chose between one of two 15-minute Flash Point Presentations. In “And Then the Pandemic Happened,” Kevin Iwamoto, GLP, GTP, of Bizly, Inc., shared that, while devastating, the pandemic led to increased productivity and creativity, which in turn led to increased industry collaboration. On a personal level, work-life balance and self-care became top priorities, complemented by hybrid and remote work models. Most importantly, we learned that the basis of our industry is a combination of resiliency and creativity, which will be key to moving forward through the pandemic and beyond.

In the second Flash Point Presentation, “Health Security at Meetings 2.0,” Jonathan Spero, M.D., of InHouse Physicians shared how the events industry can become leaders in health and safety. It comes down to the three Principles of Health Security: prevention, detection, and response. Here’s what those look like in relation to COVID-19:

  1. Prevention: social distancing, disinfecting, and PPE
  2. Detection: daily health surveys, temperature checks, and COVID testing
  3. Response: sick attendee protocols, access to medical care, and crisis management plans

Small Group Supplier Appointments

Within the M&IW Summit Digital Platform, we hosted the small group supplier appointments for our event sponsors and exhibitors. While virtual appointments cannot replace the benefit of face-to-face, we knew that all of our industry partners would not be able to join us in person this year, so we created a vehicle for them to re-connect with our clients and our team members.

Supplier Partner Moxie Awards Cermony

After the Flash Point Presentations and another round of small group supplier appointments, Day 1 ended with the Supplier Partner Moxie Awards celebrating our supplier partners who exhibited excellence and made a positive impact on the meetings and events industry in 2020. We were thrilled to share the following awards:

  • The Collaborative Spirit Award – ACCESS Destination Services
  • The Agile & Innovative Partner Award – SpotMe
  • The Pandemic Safety Award – InHouse Physicians
  • The Industry Lifeline Award – Michael Dominguez of Associated Luxury Hotels International
  • The Trifecta Partner Award (Collaboration, Innovation, and Flexibility) – Stamm Media
  • The Hotel Partner Award – Meliá Hotels International

As Samantha Steinkeler said in the day’s closing remarks, “we are truly in the business of relationships,” and we loved virtually building those relationships with our clients, our suppliers, and each other as we re-connected, re-explored, and re-built on Day 1 of the M&IW Summit.

Summit Day 2 – Hybrid Format

Summit Walk Experience

After a day off for travel, Day 2 of the 2021 M&IW Summit started with the Summit Walk Experience. While in-person attendees explored on their own, roving reporters Liz Graves and Jeff Naue took virtual attendees on a tour down the hall featuring expert expos, interactive tech experiences, silent auction displays, and more. We’d be remiss not to take a moment to thank Alexander deHilster, M&IW Event Designer, in partnership with ACCESS Destination Services for the stunning, travel-inspired décor and Stamm Media for being the day’s technology providers (technology heroes would also be accurate).

Opening Session

Following the Walk, hosts Paquita McCray, HMCC, and Bridget Wagner shared a moving photo mosaic of how attendees reconnected during the pandemic before giving the floor to M&IW’s Co-CEO and Chief Customer Officer Tina Madden, whose enthusiasm and optimism for the future of M&IW and of the meetings and events industry as a whole was evident. “It’s very exciting to be in this industry at a time when people are looking forward to reconnecting and looking for creative ways of doing so,” said Tina. “We [at M&IW] are more grounded than ever on our purpose of transforming organizations through the power of human energy. We’re more passionate about our core values: quality, innovation, agility, flexibility… We remain committed to moving our industry forward.”

Panel Discussion

That commitment and excitement were also evident in the panel discussion that followed, Rebuilding your Meeting and Event Strategy for the Future, moderated by Lisa Palmeri. Kraig Stabenow shared that his company, Merck & Co., Inc., plans to start an innovative new strategy focused on building and enhancing partnerships. As Lisa noted, a partner is more than just a vendor or supplier; “a partner shares your passion.” Merck is “trying to put [partners] in direct contact with all of the stakeholders throughout the organization,” said Kraig, through initiatives including a partner town hall. The goal of any strategic partnership should be to be “one organization working together to fulfill the needs of the customer.”

As discussed in Day 1’s Industry Leadership Panel, one of those customer needs is sustainability. Lisa continued the discussion with Ann Dery of S&P Global, Inc., who emphasized that “sustainability is that singular topic that [travel and events] can work together on.” Sustainable travel can also be viewed as purposeful or mindful travel and comes down to three main considerations: people, profit, and planet. Start by looking at the attendee base and how that affects travel to and venues for the meeting. “Do you need to bring people together in one location?” asked Ann. “Or can you have a hybrid meeting?” No matter the type of meeting or event, sustainability comes down to “mindfulness about every aspect of the meeting,” said Ann, “from ideation to execution.”

Industry Trends

Following that insightful panel discussion, Michael Garcia kept the ball rolling with Industry Trends to help you stay ahead of the curve:

  • Enterprise-level trends
    • Develop dynamic skills – “Cross-train your teams. As expectations and needs increase, so too skillsets need to increase.”
    • Evaluate vendor network – Ask yourself, did your network maintain the number of team members as well as the institutional and industry knowledge needed to best serve you?
    • Diversity, equity, and inclusion – “The events industry can inspire and advance social impact… Integrate DEI into all aspects of your event.”
    • One size tech does not fit all – “Best-in-class organizations need multiple platforms to meet the needs of their enterprise and event stakeholders.”
    • Prioritize your resources – “[Evaluate and] prioritize your resources where they are most needed so you can have the biggest positive impact in your organization.”
    • Mine attendee data – Ask yourself, how can you adjust your future event specs based on past behavior to protect your budget?
  • Event-level trends
    • Manage expectations proactively – “The labor shortage and supply chain issues that we’re experiencing are here for a while.”
    • Convergence of events and marketing – “To achieve greater event impact, sustain information sharing, and provide value, integrate a marketing approach to your events.”
    • New reality of venue sourcing – “Define your agenda and space needs clearly… Organizations who review and sign a contract quickly are at an advantage.”
    • Sustainability – “Corporations and individuals are making different choices [regarding sustainability]… Your attendees’ expectation is that that carries over into events.”
    • Continuous engagement – “Create a community before the event to promote discussion and networking [and] share key learnings.”
    • Attendee participation options – “In-person, virtual, or hybrid options… have a cascading impact on the event ecosystem. [Everything] is impacted and will fluctuate.”

Gamification

Now, we all know it wouldn’t be an M&IW Summit if we didn’t have some fun, and Tech-Tac-Toe was the perfect interactive game for our hybrid event! Two in-person players and nine virtual experts came together to explore the latest and greatest in event technology. While the game officially ended in a draw, players and audience members alike came out as winners with their newfound knowledge. Stay tuned for a fun upcoming Game On session where we will share the best-of-the-best gamification experiences.

Peer-to-Peer Discussions

Following the popularity of the peer-to-peer discussions at the M&IW Forum this spring, we knew we had to bring them back for the Summit. We’re pleased to report the networking opportunity was just as successful the second time around!

Breakout Sessions – In-Person and Virtual

After a variety of breakout sessions—Consulting Event Stakeholders and Hybrid Best Practices, Marketing and Strategy in Events, and Planner Stories from the Trenches for our in-person attendees and How to Achieve a Return on Your Investment, Integrating Your Live & Virtual Audience in a Hybrid Setting, and Recognizing and Coping with Workplace Burnout/Fatigue for our virtual attendees—it was time for the most emotional and inspiring part of the Summit: Global Giveback.

Global Giveback – Art of Travel Auction

Nicole Raudabaugh kicked off the Global Giveback by introducing the Silent Auction, dubbed the Art of Travel auction, as “the perfect example of experiencing a culture with a personal connection to art and a great way to give back to a community that welcomes you.” Before the bidding began, Co-CEO and Chief Customer Officer Tina Madden shared the story of her recent, life-changing trip to a top incentive travel destination: Rwanda. She saw mountain gorillas up close, toured the Kigali Genocide Memorial, and visited the Verkanos Art Center, where she sourced the custom paintings and hand-woven baskets for the Art of Travel Auction… and for a surprise live auction featuring paintings from children studying at the art center! Both auctions are a perfect example of how to extend a memory or experience for your travelers while also including a giveback element. We were thrilled to raise $8,240 through the live and silent auctions, all going back to the Verkanos Art Center.

Supplier Showcase

The virtual portion of Day 2 of the 2021 M&IW Summit ended on that high note. The in-person attendees then started their gourmet charcuterie lunch experience before moving on to the biggest event of the day: the Supplier Showcase. Throughout the afternoon, M&IW’s clients and team members were able to re-connect with supplier partners, re-explore their offerings, and re-build those key relationships. Thank you to all of our supplier partners, particularly our host sponsors—ACCESS Destination Services, Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel, Stamm Media, and wet paint group—for making this showcase possible.

Final Farewell & Industry Toast

The day closed with a Final Farewell and Industry Toast from the M&IW Executive Leadership Team, made interactive through the ingenious use of different colored flashlights for suppliers, customers, and employees. The room lit up with everyone’s flashlights, symbolizing the collaboration and interconnectedness inherent in the meetings and events industry, was truly a sight to behold and the perfect way to end the 2021 M&IW Summit.

What’s Next?

Learn more about our hybrid experiences and virtual event planning and management services. Our talented team of M&IW experts in partnership with our strategic industry and technology partners continues to elevate attendee experiences through innovative solutions whether they are in-person, virtual, or hybrid formats. Interested in working with M&IW? CONTACT US.

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