In March 2020, the Meetings and Events Industry came to screeching halt due to the global pandemic of COVID-19. For several months, our speakers have not been allowed to get on airplanes and share their messages from big stages all over the word. (And when you’re a professional speaker, several months feels like an eternity.)
But after weeks of zero airport meals or hotel stays, it finally happened.
With social distancing mandates and special considerations for gatherings still in place by the government, our client had a brilliant idea: The show must go on. Because of their dedication to bringing top talent and important messages to educators, athletics, and business leaders, our very first hybrid event took place.
And it was amazing.
Prior to COVID-19, the ballroom in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was supposed to have 500 people. There were supposed to be food, beverage, networking, and handshakes. Instead, our keynote speaker Alan Stein, Jr. wore a mask and gave fist bumps to the small event crew.
He also got a plane, checked into a hotel, stood on a ballroom stage for the first time in months, and delivered his popular keynote… to an empty room.
For 11 consecutive years, Humanex Ventures has hosted an annual Impact & Legacy Summit, bringing in leaders and speakers to deliver new ideas for developing potential in talent, culture, and teams. A global pandemic wasn’t going to stop them from keeping that promise.
They flew in their keynote speakers and then livestreamed their presentations to their attendees. “If you look at videos from their past programs, and you look at the video of my program – up on their stage, with the event backdrop and lighting – you can’t tell a difference. The event was so well produced that the attendees received the same experience; they just attended virtually this year,” Alan said.
I asked Brad Black, the CEO, why he didn’t cancel the meeting? He and his team shared this:
“We did not cancel our event because of our strong commitment to our mission, vision, and client partners. A constant and key part of this is that we wanted to provide our client partners an experience where we can help ‘discover and develop people’s potential’ to invest in leadership and professional development, especially during this pandemic. We want our client partners to always count on us to provide the means to learn from impactful leaders, as well as be enriched and be inspired.”
I also asked what they had to do to accommodate special COVID restrictions while planning this hybrid event:
“Our goal for the virtual event was to give our attendees the same high-quality stage experience as being there in person, so we decided to fly our speakers to Kalamazoo, Michigan to present. There were obstacles that we had to maneuver around like the limited capacity in a public space, socially distanced from one another, and different ways we were going to feed our crew and speakers.
Safety of our employees, as well as the speakers, were our utmost priority, and we did not want to put anyone in a situation where they felt uncomfortable. We were very grateful that all of our speakers were still willing and able to fly, however, we did give them the option to opt out if need be. Executive orders and restrictions were constantly changing, so we made sure to keep our speakers updated on what to expect upon arriving to Michigan.”
Curious how this might influence future events, I asked how this change affected their overall attendance and event registration:
“We had a huge increase in attendance since we were not capped by a room capacity or travel costs! Additionally, we now have recordings of our Summit keynotes available throughout the year (along with keynotes from past) via our new Summit Multiplied On-Line (SMO). This library features over 100 speaker combinations that are popular with education, athletics, and business/community leaders and professionals.
Hosting the virtual event this year will positively change how we hold future events. We still want to have the in-person event, but now we can expand our reach to more attendees with the online option. This allows our client partners to invest in more of their employees without all the travel costs associated with sending a large group to an offsite event.”
During our post-event debrief, I was eager for our speaker Alan to share his experience with me. He said, “I approached the presentation with the same mindset as professional sports’ teams today… the game must continue, you must continue to deliver your best, even without fans in the seats.”
Alan went on to say that the entire meeting crew was first class – taking the necessary precautions for safety and sanitation, while also setting the room up in normal ballroom rounds, so the speakers could still make eye contact with chairs and walk the stage appropriately. It almost felt natural. And more importantly, Alan said, “It felt so good to be back doing what I love the most.”
Alan’s final words: “If you want to be the best, you have to practice. And if you want to put on an amazing event, you to have to practice – simulate what that looks like for everyone. Humanex had a responsibility to produce an amazing event and provide leaders with information to help their teams. The show had to go on, and I’m so glad it did.”
For more information on keynote speakers for hybrid, virtual, and in-person company meetings or events, we’d love to connect with you HERE.