Rising to the Challenge: Hybrid Meeting Model Offers New Opportunities

Lauren Shaffer
June 30, 2022

The need to adapt as times change is crucial for any company to effectively grow. However, living and working through a pandemic makes it even more necessary.

In March of 2020, Becky Cira, Director of Meetings and Events, joined Affinity Strategies and began her career in the meetings industry. Given the timing, Cira was thrown into not only learning the functions of an effective meeting planner, but also learning how to thrive in a virtual setting.

“The pandemic hit one week after I started with Affinity, so the industry was in a full panic mode,” Cira said. “We needed to cancel in-person meetings and pivot to virtual conferences, sometimes with only a few months’ notice.”

One of the main considerations when doing so included knowledge of technology—or lack thereof—for clients, speakers and sponsors of the annual meetings.

“Technology very quickly changed with the start of the pandemic and continued to evolve over the next two years. These changes and advancements were crucial to being able to convert in-person healthcare conferences into virtual and not lose the value that they provide,” Cira noted. “We need to still be able to offer the same educational content to our attendees, keep them engaged and—at the same time—try to offer our sponsors and exhibitors a reason to still want to support our clients.”

There is no denying that Covid transformed the industry and how to run effective meetings. From a vendor’s perspective, that meant finding virtual platforms that could mimic the entire meeting, even social events. While it provided a challenge in some ways, one of the biggest benefits was that these virtual platforms allowed a way to reach more participants.

“Most of our clients actually increased attendance greatly as we were able to reach a wider audience and also attract attendees that may never have come in person, even pre-pandemic,” said Cira. “We needed more technology resources both for pre-meeting, working with speakers and platform setup and also during the meeting for both the back end of the platform and also for speaker and attendee direction.”

As regulations lifted, Cira noted another change was needed for these conferences – a hybrid model to allow for in-person options to those missing those face-to-face interactions and a virtual option for attendees who weren’t ready to be back for in-person events or needed the convenience for travel purposes.

“We slowly returned to in person meetings with some adjustments. In the beginning, most meeting required you to be vaccinated and also wear masks … as we move along in 2022, some of those are being lifted,” Cira said. “With the switch to virtual, clients saw the larger reach and did not want to lose those attendees so we have moved with some to a more hybrid format.”

While having the virtual option has its benefits, Cira noted that this has impacted the in-person attendance as previous attendees now have the option to view it remotely.

“This is a very tricky spot to be in and we are tending to move away from offering the hybrid model. Hybrid also adds a huge increase to the AV cost,” Cira pointed out.

That being said, Cira noted the benefits of this hybrid model does allow the potential for membership growth.

The quick pivot to virtual settings really has been a benefit to Affinity’s clients as they evolve in this season of change. Cira said while many others were canceling their meetings, the team at Affinity took this challenge as an opportunity to provide great service to its clients.

“We had the resources to research technology options and then had the ability and staff to plan, organize and run these meetings. Most clients would not be able to do this on their own,” said Cira. “We have had only extremely positive feedback on Affinity running the organization’s meeting. They have commended us on our hard work, the seamless way the meetings run and how professional the meetings are.”

Cira said she hopes this will change the misconception that you have to hand over complete control when your organization contracts an association management company.

“I think the misconception is that it is too expensive or that you have to give up total control. Affinity does offer ala carte services and we can do stand-alone meeting services without running the entire association management of an organization.”