How to Move Events Forward: A Guide


Jason E. Ebey, IOM

This year has brought uncertainty and discomfort to communities and individuals on a mass scale, to which few of us have seen firsthand in our lifetimes. It left everyone scrambling to determine how to continue onward in different ways, to find ways to make 2020 productive, bearable. Even if your events don’t look the same, they can still be successful.

And now, we are all looking to 2021 to decide how to grasp hold of its potential now. We know there are lots of things we just can’t plan yet because there are still lots of things we just don’t know now.

But instead of approaching the new year either with a sense of unease and trepidation or with the same plan as usual, we encourage you to approach 2021 with a different model.

Covid-19, for all of its devastation, has allowed us the opportunity to get out of the everyday rut we’ve been in and shown us possibilities to change in places where we thought change wasn’t possible. Our programming and initiatives may not be as inflexible as we had previously thought. We now have, to some degree, a blank slate in terms of our 2021 calendars.

We are suggesting to clients – and to you – to print out two blank calendars for 2021 with just the months. BLANK calendars.

On the first one, write in all of the events and initiatives you usually schedule in each month. Take a good look at each of the items you wrote down. You’re going to do some critical evaluations of your calendar in light of the unsettled nature of 2021.

Those items scheduled for the first quarter may not be able to be held in person. We are all hopeful things will settle into a new normal by mid-year, but we know the first few months may still include restricted movement for some.  

Even though your by-laws require you to have an annual meeting, they do not require the dinner that accompanies it. Can your meeting portion be done via Zoom or another platform? Can you handle the required portion at the usual time while postponing the dinner and fun portions until later in the year when you can gather together?

Or could you do the entire thing virtually but from a new perspective? Have the meeting and some fun networking things as well. Depending on how you market the event, you can still sell tickets and sponsorships.

  • You can offer 30 minute networking opportunities with a speaker or select member prior to the event.
  • You can hand deliver event boxes to ticket holders prior to the event with small bottles of wine or champagne, gift cards to a local restaurant to cover the meal that normally would have been served, along with give aways from sponsors.
  • You can have a webpage set up for your live auction and allow online bidding until a certain time and announce the winners during the event.

The possibilities are endless. It’s up to you to determine how you want to approach the options. We encourage you, however, to refrain from calling an event held online a ‘virtual’ event. For instance, don’t call it your ‘virtual annual meeting.’ You would never have called it the ‘hotel annual meeting.’ The hotel was merely the location of the event. The same is true if you have the meeting virtually. We would suggest you merely call it your 2021 Annual Meeting. Location: Virtual.

You should not be charging people to attend an event because of the location or the meal. You should be charging based upon the content, for the access to the people in the room, even if that room looks a lot like a Zoom gallery. 

Before you move an event, we urge you to take some time to look at each item under the following four lenses.

  1. Income Gain/Loss – Is it financially profitable to move?
  2. Participation – Is your target market going to attend?
  3. Staff Time – How focused can staff be?
  4. Value to Members – Should you be more focused on more important initiatives?

Consider especially whether it would be better to move to virtual or to move to later in the year. In looking at this option, consider especially staff time. You don’t want to expend staff time early in the year to only have to postpone and then have staff have to do that work again later in the year.

After reviewing these questions for your events and initiatives, you should be able to take that second blank calendar and build your 2021 calendar with a more accurate reflection of what a productive 2021 might look like for your chamber, both in terms of being a strong supporter of your members and in terms of building your own internal foundation.

While the word for 2020 was surely ‘unexpected,’ here at YGM we are claiming the word ‘wiggle’ for 2021. We’re aware that there will need to be some flexibility in order to greet the year with hope and in order to continue through the year with promise. Join us as we plan to wiggle through 2021.

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