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Embracing Digital First

We can build a better future by embracing and supporting a digital first mind set. What is a digital first mindset? As defined by Wilson Fletcher Consultants, “digital-first means approaching any new opportunity, or problem, with the assumption that the solution should be as digital as possible”. It sounds scary and some are opposed to this theory, but most of our daily lives already revolve around digital technology! The opposition is change and change is good.

Thinking back to the March 2020 shutdown, there were thousands of events unable to host in-person and being unfamiliar with the virtual alternatives caused a ripple effect of devastation. Associations and organizations who pivoted survived, while others closed indefinitely. Learning from our mistakes, our industry is now making the transition to hosting hybrid events and rebuilding our risk management plans. It is important that we adopt the digital first mindset as it will future proof our business by forcing us to prepare for all possible outcomes.

If we have learned anything over the last seven months, its that nothing can fully replace the in-person experience, but technology can certainly keep us connected and moving forward. Let’s continue to innovate and find creative ways to improve our industry through the use of a digital first mindset. It can be as simple as always having a webinar scheduled as back-up, digitizing all files or utilizing online tools for marketing and communication. There are many steps we can take. Its important that we just start.

Bonus Definitions As we find more ways to support this mindset beyond beyond the zoom room, here are three acronyms that are used interchangeably yet are very different.

  1. Virtual reality (VR) is when a person is completely immersed into an artificial world. Think about being in your living room then putting on VR goggles to be in the rain forest. All you see is the rain forest with no signs of your living room.
  2. Artificial reality (AR) is when technology overlaps the real world. Pokemon Go is the perfect example of AR. You can be hiking up a mountain and be next to Cubone…even though you can’t touch it. If Pokemon Go wasn’t your style, think about when you are looking for furniture online and can “place” the couch in your living room to see how it looks.
  3. Artificial intelligence (AI) on the other hand is technology that can think like a human. It can answer questions, solve problems, make predictions and replace mundane tasks. Siri and Alexa are examples of AI. How many times a day do you ask Siri a question because you don’t want to research it yourself? The greatest event AI I have seen over the last few months is translation AI. This allows anyone to translate the presentation into their native language. This is fantastic for event producers as they can now reach a much greater audience, have a more diverse group of presenters and create a more inclusive experience.

Hope these bonus definitions help clear up any confusion!

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The Future of F&B

The food and beverage industry pre-pandemic had been continuing to culminate as chefs around the world were pushing the envelope on ingredients, preparation and presentation. Now those supply chains that chefs relied on for the best ingredients have been broken and new safety requirements have been established to keep associates and guests safe. The new question we are all asking ourselves is “where do we go from here?”.

Virtual Eats Connecting virtual attendees to a food experience is a great idea! Whether you are sending snacks, wine and cheese or dinner it makes guests feel appreciated and connected. The question has come up in my MPI community asking if its worth it. I say yes. Think about that feeling you get when you receive a package or a gift, it sparks so much joy. If an Amazon package can do that, I am 100% confident a curated gift from you to your attendees will do the same. Here are a few box ideas: local snacks from a specific destination, chocolate tasting and cookie decorating. You can even turn some of these into a team building/networking session!

Buffets Buffets have always been my least favorite (even before the pandemic) as I never liked the idea of multiple people touching the same serving utensils and food sitting in chafers. Safe to say I LOVE THAT WE ARE RETHINKING BUFFETS! Before the shut down, many venues were moving towards single serve displays in lieu of classic giant hotel pans and serving bowls. This helped the lines move faster and kept the stations cleaner. As events begin to re-emerge, I believe this trend will continue and we will see more pre-packaged or pre-plated stations with plexiglass barriers.

Cocktail Service Cocktail or butler service is when a server roams the event room with a tray of food or drinks. As much as I like this style of service, it seems to put the server at the most risk. An idea to keep your team safe while still providing the same variety of appetizers is to make individual small plates with the selection of hors d’oeuvres. This can be set-up as a self-serve or server staffed station with plexiglass. You should consider your staff’s health just as much as you do with your guests. Everyone’s health and safety is important.

Floor Plans & Rotation Think about the last conference or gala dinner you planned, worked or attended. What did the rooms look like and how did they feel? Maybe for you, the rooms are packed, sometimes almost shoulder to shoulder, and there is an enormous buzz from the chatter and the energy. Now think about planning, working or attending that same conference today. Probably not going to happen. If you are starting to plan your annual conference for 2021, think about what will need to be different and speak with your venue regularly as mandated restrictions may effect your expected event revenue and contract obligations. Here is a crowd density calculator to assist when it comes time to create your floor plan.

Your floor plan will greatly impact your food & beverage service as the number of guests permitted in a space will be limited. It may mean moving towards meal rotations or shifts that would extend your food & beverage service times and increase staffing costs.

Sustainability & Cost Even though pre-packaged items will be the leader of food service, it is extremely important that we choose sustainable packaging. This could be re-usable glassware, recycled paper, bamboo or seaweed materials. Sustainability doesn’t stop with packaging. It goes deeper to where the food is sourced, how it was farmed and the used labor practices. When you have the choice, speak with your venue chefs to see where your food is coming from. Supporting local farms reduces carbon admissions by reducing delivery distances, ensures better & healthier in-season produce that has not been artificially ripened by chemicals, and keeps local farmers and their teams employed. Eco-friendly products may be more expensive; however they are the right choice for the environment and our communities.

If I have learned anything from the food, beverage & events world, its that those in this industry never pass on a challenge. Yes the industry that we know is in jeopardy, but I am confident these talented minds will recreate and elevate the guest experience.

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The Core of What We Do

During the last few months, the hospitality, meetings and events industry has taken a huge hit with many individuals losing their jobs and even closing their businesses. Being apart of an industry that never seems to have a slow season then abruptly shuts down can shake even the most organized and veteran meeting professionals. Prior to COVID-19, we were busy planning in-person meetings at hotels, huge conferences at convention centers and maybe even a few video calls; but in the back of our minds, we knew that hybrid events were slowly entering the market and would eventually become the norm. Ready or not hybrid events were the future…COVID-19 only helped speed up the process.

By being thrown into the fire, most of us learned on the fly adapting and making changes along the way. However, change can be hard to accept in any situation whether in your personal life or professional career. YOU have to decide how you are going to move forward. Will you rely on returning to the past or what we think of as “normal”? Or will you refocus your energy, learn a new skill and develop a creative strategy that will lead your team and clients into the future? When I see these two questions, there is only one answer.

As meeting and event professionals, what lies at the core of what we do is bringing people together. We bring people together to celebrate, collaborate, decide, educate, network and inspire. Whether it is through an in-person, virtual or hybrid event, it is our mission to deliver an experience that brings people together. Yes, it may be a challenge to pivot to virtual especially when we have postponed taking the time to educate ourselves and even have these conversations with our clients; but, we are the kings and queens of problem solving! This is what we do! We are constantly planning, recreating and finding solutions based on our clients needs. Yes its a challenge, but its nothing we can’t handle.

Stay positive. Stay focused. Stay true.