Do this, Not that

We are in the midst of virtual and hybrid events being the norm. How do you plan for them? What platform do you use? This week we sat down with Megan Finnell from MGMA to talk all about this. Listen for some tips to help you on your virtual event journey!

Tell us about you.

I started out, I have a degree in vocal performance. I spent most of my life in performances, studying theater and studying audience performance. Life happened and you get a day job and I found my way into the events world. I discovered you could put on an immersive show for multi days and have budgets to do cooler things, and travel, I was hooked forever. I approach the meetings industry as an artist rather than business.

You’re at MGMA, what kind of shows are you guys doing?

We typically have 5 shows a year that we do live. We have 4 smaller spring shows from 200-800 people then we have the big city wide every fall that’s 4-5000 and we take over a city. We have our first bigger spring show this year was in Nashville the day after the tornados and COVID was breaking the same day. We went forward with the show but it was a lesson in crisis management. Then everything hit, and everything canceled and we had to pivot.

Give us your take on contingency planning and all those conversations.

What I keep hearing is, the first question planners ask is how do I do it and what platform should I use. That’s the worst question to start with. We spend all of this time planning these experiences for face to face events and then we suddenly think we can plop everything online and it’s going to be a great experience. We have to take the time to plan a virtual engagement as much or more than a face to face event.

As a planner if you are moving to virtual there is so much that needs to be planned and decided before you hit go. We about a month ago decided that even though we’re still moving face to face, we said we can’t just cancel and plan from scratch. There’s no way. We started a few weeks ago doing design labs with our extended team where we started defining by audience the value proposition and business outcomes we are looking for. You have to start with the why before you get to the how!

When it comes to determining the outcomes, how are you going about that thought process?

At MGMA we have developed a process called the empathetic planning process. We talk through as an attendee let’s get into their shoes. What is important for them face to face, what’s important to them for virtual. Some may be less time, less money, ore flexible. You can spread it out over a longer process of time. Maybe they won’t get networking but there’s still a way to create lasting relationships.

When you look at leaders, they are looking at navigating these waters. How do you navigate the waters with the leaders, what is successful and what are the metrics?

I’m going to come back to the question. What’s been helpful in leadership has been, taking them through the process and taking the emotion out. In this process I took our budget and I did milestones of cancelations. I outlined what those expected costs in fees would be, at 90 days there’s a very significant jump that on paper you can’t deny. I delivered that and did budget scenarios. When I delivered that document to them it took out all the emotion. By 90 days we have to make a decision.

A question we hear is how far out do I need to be planning, what platform and how early should we make that decision?

Now. Now is the answer. We have an online events SR manager that handles our webinars and online events. She has paired with our face to face team. What she was saying is there are platforms sold out through 2021. You can’t even get on a calendar. Many of those have 90 day cancelation day polices for virtual events. You have got to be planning both events concurrently in order to be successful. For us, we are looking at finalizing a platform should we go virtual. Knowing that if we end up going face to face we are still doing a hybrid event no matter what.

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