Navigator Thought Leadership

2020 is Truly Hindsight

Remember January 2020? It seems like eons ago. A kinder gentler time, full of hope and optimism. New events on the horizon. More opportunities to meet, collaborate and learn with our friends and colleagues.

CE21 entered 2020 with great anticipation and a positive outlook. We had just launched CE21Lighthouse, our new platform that combines LMS+AMS into one system. Our LMS was well established and garnering great reviews in the marketplace. Our Virtual Summit product had been rolled for two years and our customers were having great experiences using the system to create more value for their members and customers while increasing revenue. Yes, we had big plans for the year and then COVID-19…

Like most businesses, associations and education providers were not exempt from the negative effects of COVID-19. As we entered the Spring in-person events were put into question and it soon became obvious that it was going to be impossible to hold those events face-to-face. Reality set in, mass gatherings were restricted by state and local governments, and virtual events became the go-to solution for many organizations.

For CE21, we experienced the impact of COVID-19 in multiple waves. The first wave started in early March as organizations went into panic mode trying to do what they could to salvage their impending in person events. We helped many organizations transition from in person to virtual events. For some, this would be their first exposure to hosting a virtual event. Frankly, for some they had to go through a Mindshift to look at virtual events with a positive expectation.

CE21 was already invested in virtual events, having help organizations host them for over two years. Our experience showed us this was a big part of the future of education meetings for associations and continuing education providers. While we believed there would always be a strong desire to hold face-to-face meetings (pre COVID), we realized the benefits of a virtual event, or a virtual component of a face-to-face event could not be ignored. COVID-19 almost instantly brought that all into focus.

While working with one association to quickly convert their event from F2F to virtual, the meeting planner commented that only 25 percent of their members regularly attended. That posed an immediate question: if only 25 percent of their members attend their premier education event, what does that say about the value of the meeting or of overall membership? Is that really a sustainable model with for-profit companies actively competing for your member’s attention and dollars?

Organizations can no longer afford to exclude members from these events and should be focused on removing the barriers to participation due to travel, health, financial or time constraints. Membership organizations are facing shifting demographics and should be making it easier to not only join, but to gain access to content and education has never been more important.

According to Association Laboratory’s Thinking Forward 2021 study, more than 50 percent of the 600 association professionals responding stated the cost of adapting to COVID-19 related issues as one of their top five concerns coming into the year. In addition, the same percentage stated that the fears that reduce member’s desire to congregate will have an impact on their organization over the next three years.

A recent report by Reed Exhibitions, COVID-19 and How it’s Changing the Event Industry , found that COVID-19 has not diminished the value of in-person events for participants who are committed to returning as soon as restrictions are lifted. More importantly, customers are increasingly open to the idea of engaging with digital alongside F2F.

Many meeting professionals are convinced hybrid meetings will be the future, and we couldn’t agree more. What that will look like will most likely change over time as organizations get more innovative in how they host their events.

There is no doubt that everyone is anxious to know when things will be “back to normal.” More than likely it’s going to be a while. The vaccines are here, but it will take time to get them into the population’s arms.

In the meantime, you can keep moving forward with your organization’s continuing education initiatives. Solutions like CE21’s Virtual Summit platform, are available to help you keep your meetings alive and valued as we move through 2021 and beyond.   

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Rick Rutherford