Earlier this year, meeting planners indicated they were cautiously optimistic for the return to in-person events—either fully in-person or as part of a hybrid solution— by this fall. In fact, this Q2 survey of event planners by EventMB shows that at the time, 70% were planning an in-person event with over half of those events occurring before the end of this year.
But the newest data and health recommendations are causing some to re-think their event plans.
Facing increased uncertainty once again, meeting professionals may be forced to adjust their conference format and program not just because of potential local restrictions or changing attendee preferences but also based on the willingness and ability of speakers to travel to an in-person event.
If you’re using an abstract management system to conduct your call for papers, posters, or speakers, there are several steps you should take during your initial call that will make it easier to make future adjustments to your program schedule and session content if necessary.
Proactively manage your speaker preferences
As part of your submission form, be sure to ask potential speakers whether they are willing to deliver their session content in-person or virtually, and/or whether the content being delivered works best for an in-person or virtual audience. That way, if things need to change, you already have reportable data on which speakers you can ultimately select based on the final conference format, rather than going back and collecting this information after the fact.
Collect all speaker assets early, and in multiple formats
As part of your initial call, include a place for session presenters to supply everything you will need for your final event materials, including headshots, bios, and other supplementary materials. Ask for these files to be provided in formats that will work well across print, online, and mobile. That way, regardless of how attendees access the conference schedule and session information, you’re already covered.
Consider video as part of the initial submission process
Abstracts and presentation proposals are used to judge the quality and relevance of the suggested topic. But it’s also important to know whether the speaker can present the information in a compelling and engaging way. It’s also never a bad idea to use video to “audition” your speakers—even for an in-person event. However, this audition process becomes even more important in a virtual setting where it can be harder to hold the audience’s attention. Have your speakers submit a short (1-2 minute) video of themselves delivering a portion of the presentation during your initial call for presentations. Some abstract management platforms even feature a built-in video recording tool to make the process easier. And later, if you do need to offer pre-recorded, on-demand session content as part of your virtual or hybrid event, speakers can use this same tool to record and submit their final presentations.
Leverage the built-in scheduling tool
Many meeting planners use a series of spreadsheets to build their conference schedule which makes changes to speakers or sessions extremely time-consuming. If your abstract management software includes a built-in electronic scheduling tool, now is the time to take advantage of it! Using this tool, you can easily pull in accepted papers, posters, and presentations, drag-and-drop them into the schedule, and see flagged conflicts at a glance. Not only does this make it significantly easier to build an initial schedule, but it also saves a lot of time and potential errors if you need to manage last-minute changes.
The current pandemic, it appears, will continue to affect conferences longer than many of us anticipated. Just a few months ago, a return to in-person events in the fall and winter, even in a modified format, felt like a relatively safe bet. But may meeting planners have started to take pause and reassess the best way to proceed without knowing whether and how health and safety guidelines will continue to change.
Given this uncertainty, it’s even more important to take steps early on in the conference planning process—including during your initial call for presentations—that provide greater flexibility down the road.