Exciting times are ahead as we are now eighteen months into the pandemic and are finally starting to see the return of in-person meetings. The events are looking somewhat different now – everything from wearing a colored badge or bracelet to let people know if you want a hug, a fist bump, or six feet of space to technologies that reach more attendees than ever. As meeting planners adapt to these changes, they still need to focus on the ROI of the event, the attendee experience, safety, and how they measure all of these things.

Most people acknowledge that while there is a lot of pent-up desire to meet again face to face, some people are still concerned about in-person events while others love saving the money by being able to attend virtually. So we know the virtual component to an in-person meeting isn’t going away anytime soon. Does the hybrid aspect of the meeting mean different things for different types of attendees when it comes to ROI? Should this be measured differently?

Data collection should start long before the event begins, in the pre-planning stage. Planners will want to survey and gain an understanding of what their attendees know and don’t know, their basic level of comfort with the content and the expected results. This information is critical to helping develop both content and measuring the meetings effectiveness. Did the attendee improve their level of knowledge after attending the event? To answer that question means creating the baseline is critical.

Let’s take a peek into a solid mid-sized in-person event with a virtual offering. You are now able to reach more attendees, which is fantastic. This event is focused on delivering more sales for your organization. The folks who are attending in person are conversing with each other, sharing success stories, networking and engaging in a lot of organic conversation. They are inspired. Awesome!

The virtual attendee has finally learned to master the technology that the meeting is using and is watching center stage presentations, they are watching the chat, commenting, and are fairly engaged. Then the networking session comes, the attendee finds it awkward to engage virtually, so they begin to focus on e-mail and other things. Good, but not ideal.

Measure Twice
Two things are happening with attendees, the in-person one is having a completely different experience with the event. However, it’s tough to track the success of that engagement. Certainly, technology helps the in-person attendee too, utilizing apps that can engage with surveys and the like – that’s fantastic. But the virtual attendee’s experience can be tracked with every click and chat, right down to the second, to analyze the moments they are truly focused on the sessions. Great!

Planners can get their hands on lots of data for virtual attendees. However, this attendee never receives the organic conversations, so what are they missing out on? This also creates some complexity around the data that is being collected from the virtual attendees – what exactly that data is being used for and who it is being shared with. The question of transparency around the collection and use of that data is really important and has to be addressed with attendees.

Here is the amazing part of these two attendee scenarios. We are now able to measure the differences in the ROI based on the attendee type. Remember our meeting was sales focused, so let’s say the goal was to increase sales by 15 percent YOY. Planners and companies should begin to track the expected results by each attendee type and begin to track and measure the differences. Historically, when the vast majority of meetings were in-person, ROI would normally be tracked on the aggregate, how much did you invest in the meeting and what are the results you achieved? We can now uncover if there are any differences in results based on the attendee type and the delivery mechanism, down the individual and uncover what is most effective. And that is PHAT!

What About the Budget? 
While ROI is extremely important, there are many other data points that planners need to be considering. We can’t ignore the potential hit to the budget that putting on a hybrid event will take. You are literally running two of the same meetings at once. It certainly adds complexity.

Your AV costs will rise, virtual platforms for delivery need to be accounted for and the cost per attendee may increase. Cramming people into general session rooms isn’t happening anymore, so there are potential spacing issues and that drives up costs. Food and beverage and how it is served may cause costs to rise. Not to mention COVID testing requirements, which will likely be around for a while, so how you integrate that into your meeting and the associated costs? Now by offering the option of virtual attendance, travel costs are certainly an area of savings, and this may help offset some of the rising costs.

All these data points have to be considered for future events. The point is, budget data matters and measuring it as accurately as possible is critical.

Phat Data always focuses on how to obtain more hip, cool and relevant data. In the meetings and events space, we are seeing a lot of emerging technologies that are helping the industry create better attendee experiences both in-person and in the virtual space, and track their engagement. As planners are sourcing such technologies, they should ensure that their sourcing documents/RFPs include questions on the types of data that can be collected before, during and after the event. Consider the types of data that you can get through mobile app usage, what you can pull from and what you can push to attendees. Just ensure that what you are collecting helps measure what truly matters for each event. Have a strategy.

The meetings and events landscape has changed, but through these changes, the industry can begin to reach more attendees than ever and along with that, deliver some creative opportunities for better attendee engagement and a greater ROI on each event. And don’t forget – everyone loves a give-away! Use your new Phat Data to create Phat events.

Jennifer Steinke is Global Head of Travel for PPD, Inc., and an industry thought leader with over 30 years experience managing corporate travel. She holds an MBA plus Certified Corporate Travel Executive (CCTE) and Global Travel Professional (GTP) certifications from GBTA. Jennifer strives to deliver innovative and thought provoking ideas to the corporate travel industry.