The calendar has turned over to a new year, which means ‘tis the season for forecasts and predictions about the coming year. But if there’s anything we’ve learned since 2020, it’s that we have very little control over the future, and once we seem to have things figured out, everything will change yet again.
In light of this, we want to share several key educational event obstacles we’re keeping an eye on in 2022. These challenges are based on what our own customers tell us is important to them right now, and what changes they are making (or are considering making) to the delivery of educational events, programs, and content.
3 Challenges That Could Impact Educational Events in 2022
While the customers we spoke to represent different organization types and industries, they each expressed very similar concerns that fell within the same three categories.
2019 was the last “normal” year we experienced. 2020 threw us for a loop, and 2021 was not the recovery year we had all hoped it would be. As we plan for 2022, it’s still very unclear how the year will unfold, and how attendees and learners will respond. While there are predictions that some type of virtual or hybrid learning is here to stay, what participants say they want and how they behave don’t always align. Our customers are all grappling with the same core questions as they look to the future:
- Will learners really be as willing to return to an in-person conference or to the classroom for instructor-led training as they say they are?
- If programs go back to in-person, by what new metric do we benchmark attendance?
- If we can’t go back in-person, is this the year they opt-out from participating altogether due to virtual fatigue? Or do participants prefer having less time away from home?
- Are these preferences a temporary response to the current state of events? Or, how much have learner preferences change permanently?
Together, these uncertainties make it difficult to set goals and expectations around program participation and performance for educational events in the coming year.
2. Internal Resources and Staffing
Over the past two years, many of our customers have experienced a reduction in staff—first due to COVID-related layoffs earlier in the pandemic, and now due to record numbers of employees who are changing jobs or exiting the workforce altogether.
Additionally, many organizations have chosen to keep their workforces remote—either fully or partially—making it difficult to complete certain projects or tasks in-house.
Together, these challenges are putting an unprecedented strain on internal resources, at a time when many organizations are trying to deliver educational events in multiple formats to meet the increasingly diverse preferences of their learners.
3. Budget Demands
Since 2020, many organizations have generated less revenue from their educational programs—whether due to event cancellation, decreased registration revenue, and/or decreased sponsor revenue.
Meanwhile, educational event costs have increased substantially due to ongoing inflation and supply chain shortages, at a time when organizations are looking at how to deliver the same educational content multiple ways (virtually and in-person, synchronous and asynchronous) to reach a wider audience of participants.
In the coming year, meeting and education professionals will be looking for more cost-efficient ways to meet the needs of their learners.
4 Ways Organizations May Address These Challenges
1. Changing the Definition of Hybrid
Early on, the definition of a hybrid event was one that delivered synchronous content to both an in-person and virtual audience simultaneously and was thought to require a high production value by combining complex, on-site A/V requirement with full-featured virtual technology.
Many organizations have come to realize that this vision of a hybrid event is not feasible given their resource and budget challenges, and have started implementing simpler strategies that are less focused on delivering a singular event experience, and more focused on delivering exceptional content—such as a Hybrid-Lite approach.
Additionally, as the pandemic wears on and participant preferences continue to evolve, meeting and education professionals are recognizing that trying to effectively plan and execute a single hybrid event that meets the objectives of all participants, speakers/trainers, and sponsors alike may not be a realistic expectation.
Instead, more organizations are starting to consider a year-round hybrid education strategy—one that combines in-person and virtual, live and on-demand educational opportunities throughout the year to increase participant engagement and learning effectiveness. This year-round strategy also increases value for event sponsors by increasing their exposure outside of a single event.
2. Breaking Down Internal Silos
As organizations migrate to more of a year-round hybrid education strategy, you are going to see more crossover between the role of the meeting planner and the role of the education professions, if it doesn’t exist already, as they work together to integrate content and learning outcomes between events, courses, and other educational resources.
As meeting planners look to extend the footprint of a virtual or hybrid event into more of a year-round learning and engagement strategy, there will need to be more integration between the marketing and event teams to make that happen. Both teams will need to work together seamless to turn educational content from conference speakers and sponsors into an annual organizational content strategy consisting of follow-up discussion panels, webinars, and articles shared with current and prospective attendees.
3. Finding New Ways to Minimize Risk
With so much lingering uncertainty, meeting and education professionals are looking for ways to reduce their financial risk. Whether this means increased contingency planning, revised contract language, or reducing up-front investments and overhead costs. In some cases, they are getting creative with new and existing tools.
What we’re specifically seeing here at Omnipress includes:
- For instructor-led courses, customers are switching from a more traditional print and fulfillment model that is focused on achieving the lowest cost-per-piece, to one that reduces overhead and waste, like MicroInventory™, or eliminates it altogether, like with EasyPrint™.
- For conferences, meeting planners are taking steps during their call for papers, posters, and speakers that make it easier to adjust the program schedule and session content, should the format of the event need to change later on.
4. Requiring Increased Service from Existing Providers
Between staffing shortages and increased demand on existing resources, meeting and education professionals will look to their vendor partners to provide hands-on service for tasks they would have historically taken on themselves.
Hoteliers and other venues may play a greater role in the meeting design, helping planners develop flexible, creative solutions to address attendance uncertainties, technology needs, and necessary safety precautions.
Likewise, event tech companies may be asked to do more than just provide tools and platforms, such as abstract management software or a virtual event platform to support the conference, but to also handle all set-up and implementation as part of the annual contract.
As we’ve all learned, a lot can happen in a year. It may be too soon to tell if these specific challenges will fully materialize, or if new developments will shift our priorities yet again. Either way, it’s safe to say that the delivery of educational events will continue to evolve in 2022 to meet the changing needs of both organizations and their learners.