We talk a lot about how the industry has had to rapidly evolve in the last two years- and the resulting technological revolution. In our blog, we’ve tried not to get lost in cyberspace and conceptualizing the future; it’s been our mission to keep the focus on helping individual businesses adapt to the changes as they quickly come about. However, there hasn’t been enough discussion about training and the ways in which it’s been fundamentally altered. As Howard Givner, CEO of the Event Leadership Industry, the turn to online events during the pandemic required the entire industry to be reskilled. As you can surmise, it’s an ongoing process.
New Insights in the World of Training
Over the last couple of years, Givner has seen an unprecedented rise in enrollment in virtual events. Courses developed by a partnership between the Event Leadership Industry and Meetings Professional International (MPI) during the lockdown saw about 4,000 participants in skills development. And needless to say, the industry lost a lot of employees to the pandemic. Instead of waiting or enticing them to come back, many businesses smartly turned to upskilling. That is, workers were trained to do work that was originally delegated to other, specialized employees.
The hotel sector, for example, was notoriously short-staffed before the pandemic hit; when COVID hit, the longstanding problem escalated into a full-on crisis. To avoid issuing even more layoffs, the industry began training workers to learn skills previously associated with other positions. The new skill sets inevitably required pay increases, but made workers more well-rounded within their field. This was ultimately a benefit to individual workers, many of whom received pay raises and became more valuable as employees. And of course, it saved companies from having to lay off hundreds of workers.
The pandemic has led to a lot of changes. It’s theorized that many workers who desired more flexibility, higher pay, and shorter hours left the hospitality industry after losing their jobs to the pandemic. Travel companies have also adopted new technologies, such as apps that allow for automated check-in. Decreasing the need for some jobs frees up more employees to fill positions where they are desperately needed.
The scope of work has changed so much that Jessie States, vice president of the MPI Academy, advises event planners to equip themselves to perform any task well. For perspective, he reminds that event planners previously only had to be prepared for one type of event: an in-person experience. Now other event types of events are emerging as mainstream. There are broadcasts, live streams, hybrid, digital, and on-demand events.
Industry Initiatives are Also Evolving
In addition to new technologies and event types, there are also new industry initiatives that event creators need to stay abreast of. For example, the industry is collectively working to improve sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Unsurprisingly, new jobs have arisen from the fact that people in power are finally trying to solve these longstanding problems. Givner cautions that the need for core skills is just as present as ever, but “there is a new layer that is getting attention”. Training courses like Event DEI Strategist, Event Wellness Design, Sustainable Event Strategist, and Advanced Event Design are cropping up. These courses represent roles that need to be fulfilled within the industry. There are even some specialized degrees that include modules such as sustainability, hybrid event management, pandemic risk management, and sponsorship.
Interpersonal Skills Are More In Demand than Ever
Not to be overlooked are interpersonal skills. Now more than ever, when immersive remote events are so in demand, personalization is the key to satisfying an experiential audience. If the attendees can’t really be there in the physical space, event creators must make them feel as if they are. Yes, this is often done through increasingly advanced VR, AR, AI, and metaverse-related technologies. People can now create an avatar and interact with products, games, and other people from the comfort of their own home. But personalization is also achieved through the interpersonal skills of event creators and staff.
Knowing your audience and what kind of experience they want and need is an invaluable skill. That’s especially true now; as technology rapidly advances, so do possibilities, and attendees are exploring them. What they want from events is shifting and changing, so keeping up with your audience is imperative.
Notably, event pro Naomi Anderson Wong completed the Event Management program at George Brown College to gain deeper insights into the interpersonal aspect of event planning. She says that the course reminded her of something important: “It is a people business, and we should always treat those we work with like we want to be treated ourselves”, she said.
That may sound simple enough to grasp without enrolling in new skills training courses. However, it’s easier to understand in theory than it is to put into practice. To truly embody these principles, event creators need to be well trained in leadership excellence, employee engagement, quality service, customization, and more. Furthermore, implementing these skills across virtual mediums means learning exactly how to utilize specific technologies to connect interpersonally with employees and consumers. “Old standbys” like leadership excellence, engagement, and quality service take on new meanings in the hybrid world we’re living in. The Disney Institute has responded to this need by offering a variety of relevant professional development courses.
Event creators indeed have options when it comes to continuing education. They can enhance their professional development and stay competitive by taking online courses or obtaining a CMP or other relevant degree. Although sometimes taking a formal course and learning specific skills is necessary, you can also glean a lot of information from reviewing event and meeting industry blogs for several hours per week. At the very least, you’ll learn what skills are at the cutting edge of the industry, and gain an idea of what you need to be studying.
As always, being familiar with the demographic and psychographic profiles of your key consumers is tantamount to building relationships. This hasn’t changed in the hybrid age. For example, if your target audience is millennials, you’ll want to know that they:
Value experiences over material goods
Have higher technological proficiency (and expectations)
Want avenues to share their experiences on social media in creative ways
Are 62% more likely to travel than Gen X
If this is your target audience, you’ll also want to become an expert at polling, social media marketing, customization, and the technology involved with creating high-quality hybrid events. That’s just to start with! As the industry continues to evolve at a clip, staying current means more than just keeping abreast of trends. It means developing new skills sets and expertise that is relevant to your niche and makes you stand out in a crowd.
For example, we’ve known for a while that today’s audience typically likes to have some control over their experience at an event. In-person, that could mean breakout sessions, interactive experiences with exhibitors and products, live polling, and quiet, reflective spaces where they can talk in smaller groups or be alone.
But for a virtual or hybrid event, personalization could also mean: curating high-quality live streams, knowing which digital platforms are compatible with your broadcast, creating ads to target niche audiences, and creating interactive presentations that connect remote and in-person attendees. It’s also imperative to either hire excellent tech support or have knowledge of how to troubleshoot problems with old and new technologies. You can see why formal training is often the route chosen by event creators!
Technology was already advancing before COVID, but the pandemic really forced the industry into a hybrid reality. The result is an ever-evolving landscape that event creators have to navigate to stay on the cutting edge of their niche. That said, knowing one’s niche and target audience is really half the battle. Once you’ve identified the key aspects that are important to your attendees, you’ll understand what skill sets you need to be focusing on.
From there, don’t try to cram it all in and make the necessary changes overnight. Don’t procrastinate, but do it at your own pace and with your attendees’ evolving needs in mind. Your audience will pick up on your sincerity and desire to give them the highest quality experience based on their individual needs and preferences. Personalization is still key. We know it’s overwhelming. But as long as you’re keeping up with your audience and the top industry trends, you’ll have the information you need to create an updated strategy.
Remember, event creators already have a unique combination of creative and practical talents that are unique to people who work in this industry. And as new trends arise, relevant continuing education becomes more accessible and affordable. Happy training!