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It feels like forever since we’ve been able to gather in person, doesn’t it? It’s been 18 months. It’s been 78 weeks. It’s been 550+ days. However you have kept track; it’s been a while!

COVID came crashing into our lives, forcing us to learn to meet and interact in ways that we never could have imagined. By now, we have all become experts in meeting virtually. We each figured out the technology and the logistics that go with it to support how we work and communicate.

Up until COVID, there wasn’t much that was unique about how we met in person. For the most part, we followed a formula.

Virtual meetings changed all of that. Our formula disappeared. We learned a lot more about each other. We connected in ways that we have never connected before. A common ground that brought us closer together.

In the first year, all my virtual meetings started with a personal touch base, even with people I’ve never met! We asked about each others’ families. We shared similar experiences in how we were adjusting to the challenges we were all facing. During meetings and events, we met adorable puppies and kittens that had just joined their new forever homes (because fur babies don’t understand the meaning of “meeting in progress”). It brought me joy when during a keynote presentation, the 10-year-old son of the speaker came running into the camera frame to announce it was his birthday. The chat box erupted with cheers for the young man and countless birthday wishes filled the screen.

Through this new era of events, we’ve had to learn to meet uniquely. COVID has deeply humanized our meeting experiences. While it seems we still have a little way to go before we begin to gain a greater sense of our new normal, it is on the horizon. What will it mean to meet in person again? What will the new formula be?

The thing people seem to miss the most about meeting in-person is the human connection. I would argue that we found another version of that in virtual meetings, and that we can do better with what we have learned through the COVID-era when we start mapping out how we meet in person again. As we begin to design the events of the future, we consider what it means to connect in-person.

Perhaps we further increase the interactive nature of in-person events and focus less on the lecture based or didactic formulas where they are not required. Do we try to refocus the formula to be quality over quantity? Do we embrace the ability to record content for viewing in advance of an event and use the time together in-person to connect on the issues and themes of the day using meaningful conversation? Do we consider meeting more regularly in smaller groups rather than always in a large sea of people? Do we consider the value of spreading out our meeting activities in a variety of formats that keeps the connection within that community stronger and more engaged?

We must consider that the uniqueness of each event is only surpassed by the uniqueness of the audience. What does the audience need (or want) in the new era of meetings and events? A lot of people will never be able to “unsee” the benefits of virtual and may prefer that format. How do we encourage equity and inclusion in the new era of meeting to address the new and evolving psychological needs of the audience?

We have learned a deeper meaning of the word “meeting”. The new roadmap to meetings and events in the future is an ever evolving one and the development of each event should be approached with an equally unique lens.

Perhaps we should view this as an opportunity to “meet better”. ????

Sally Clelford

Association Manager, CAHSPR President, Event Strategist, Face 2 Face Events Management