COVID Deja Vu
Molly Marsh, Director of Education and Events
Florida COVID Hospitalizations Break Record for 3rd Day
New Jersey governor announces statewide mask mandate in schools
California Covid Cases Jump 50% In 24 Hours
No, that’s not from April 2020, or even December 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Those headlines are from August 2021 – over 17 months into the United States’ pandemic response. Whether we want to believe it or not the fourth wave is upon us, as is an eerie sense of déjà vu as we evaluate the safety of in-person meetings for our associations.
The good news is, as disappointing as it may be, we face this reemergence with a confidence that was unimaginable a year ago. Why? Because we’re set up for this now! We’ve been through this before and we understand what it takes. So, how is this wave of COVID and evaluation of our events and educational programs different?
We’re comfortable being uncomfortable – Early in the pandemic, we were desperate to find the one tool, one platform, one model that solved all our problems and magically created a perfect virtual event. It was painful at times, but we learned there isn’t one checklist, blueprint, or template to give the “one” solution in this kind of uncertainty. What we can rely on though, are strategic models to evaluate the risks, benefits, and needs for association events and using that evaluation to make the best decisions possible. Throughout 2020, AMR’s Virtual Strategy Team observed clients, gathered industry research, and compiled a virtual strategy toolkit for clients. It’s not an answer for “what to do,” but a roadmap to navigate the myriad scenarios for an uncertain future…and it’s been getting significant additional usage in the last few days.
We’ve learned from our mistakes – Not just our mistakes, but the mistakes of an entire industry working to adjust to a new digital-first reality. Many organizations learned (sometimes painfully) that trying to recreate an in-person meeting experience in a virtual platform isn’t possible. In looking at potentially going digital first – or introducing digital components to smaller, limited in-person events – we’re ready to be crystal clear on what elements are most important and deliver those aspects with the online tools at our disposal. The rest can be left behind (FREEDOM!). Another “mistake” many associations made was trying to find the perfect virtual platform for a digital event. A perfect platform doesn’t exist! What’s most important is to identify the key features you can’t live without and then use them to their fullest. Whether that’s breakout rooms in Zoom, production tools available to create TV-style layouts in Socio, virtual “booths” in AccelEvents, or building on-demand content in a Learning Management System, we know how to prioritize what is most important and channel the energy of staff, volunteers, speakers, and participants on the most valuable elements of digital engagement.
Our baseline is different – For too long annual meetings and other conferences or educational events were simply assumed for professional associations and trade organizations. Limitations on travel during the pandemic accelerated the industry transition to a more comprehensive view of events and meetings as a part of an association’s year-round educational strategy. The Education & Events services model (rolled out in April 2021) is an evolution of AMR’s long-time strengths in conferences, meetings and educational events, designed specifically to adjust to new and emerging needs – in person, digital, or both. The services include complete digital event delivery, enhanced website and data analytics plans, multi-channel marketing plans, and content strategy, to name a few. These services are more easily adaptable and scalable to meet each association’s ever-evolving needs and priorities and the process for each event begins not with “what did we do last year?” but “what is the most important thing for us to achieve this year?”
Uncertainty due to COVID still reigns, but all that we have learned in the last 17 months is transformed into a grounded foundation. One that is already helping us overcome that dizzying sense of “wait, haven’t I been here before?”