How To Further Your Sustainability Goals With Virtual Events

May 21, 2020

Lindsay Arell

Lindsay Arell is the founder and principal of Honeycomb Strategies, a sustainability consulting firm specializing in the events, venue and hospitality industry.

It seems like every trade show and event is “pivoting” to virtual right now. For those live events that didn’t integrate a virtual component before COVID-19, it’s been a painful lesson as they struggle to adapt – and quickly. Regardless of what’s happening in the world, virtual should now be a natural extension of any live event, one that provides an even greater opportunity for any organization to further its mission. 

There are obvious and not-so-obvious benefits to offering a virtual option. Not only are more people able to access your content, but it also provides critical access to people who may be physically or financially challenged to attend face-to-face meetings. Virtual options can help to build and maintain a more loyal event community, increase engagement and inspire more people to collaborate in ways they never have before. 

I recently had a chance to “sit” down (don’t worry, we kept everyone safe and did it virtually!) with Tahira Endean, head of events at the Society of Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) and author of “Intentional Event Design, Our Professional Opportunity.” SITE has been busy going through a digital transformation while working hard to build sustainability into its agenda and adopting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals – an ambitious feat, for sure. We hope you’ll find Tahira’s out-of-box insights about virtual events and technology – beyond being just a current survival tactic – as helpful and inspiring as I did!

How can the virtual elements of meetings and events address the social equity and accessibility challenges that certain groups can face at live events?

The majority of live events are designed for the able-bodied, ambulatory participant who can see and hear without aid. This potentially leaves behind many high contributors who may face any of these real-life challenges. Attending virtually allows them to participate from their own location and, depending on how you deliver a virtual or hybrid event, enables them to learn, connect, participate and interact. If you have a smartphone, tablet, laptop, computer and wifi or hardline connectivity, you can access a virtual event. As we start meeting face-to-face again, considering how we add virtual elements will allow us to build more robust and engaged communities going forward. 

How do you integrate sustainability initiatives at onsite events that are aimed at supporting local communities or non-profit organizations with a virtual audience?

By its very nature, virtual is sustainable by the default of no travel miles for any aspect of the event, from people and food to the production elements. If you can divert some of those dollars saved from your postponed or canceled event to support your organization’s home community, your host community or a community where your members are based, what a wonderful thing to do! Ensuring that you tie-in the cause with the organization is obvious, but having someone from that organization join you virtually and show the impact you’re having is a logical next step. 

What is a key understanding that planners should have about virtual events?

It comes down to the basics and creating a user experience that delivers to your objectives. Use a platform that offers what you need to provide the optimal experience, such as delivering content, enabling Q&A, including entertainment offerings and creating networking and interactive opportunities, for example. Designing your event for your audience must be forefront.      

What exciting technologies have you seen that you think could be a game-changer post-COVID-19?

For me, it’s more about the psychology of how we respond to technology, particularly when it becomes our key way of communicating like it is now. I don’t think we’ve seen one “wow” new way of connecting yet. There are tons of apps: Slack channels have become a norm, WhatsApp for work, friends and family groups, multiple social channels with communities already in place, and within these, a growing number of groups to join. AI is becoming more prevalent as platforms embrace it to better understand how we interact with their technology and each other.

When we started meeting online seven weeks ago, it was very basic – throw a bunch of people onto a screen and have someone talk at them. Now that we have more options to present and a better understanding of how to keep a virtual audience engaged, we’re likely to see more events shift to virtual without the fears we once had, such as quality of delivery, ability to keep people engaged and the cannibalization of live events. 

Understanding that we can reach more participants who can’t attend live and do it well gives us more opportunity to deliver information and create engagement with the content. This will allow us to grow communities faster in the future, which will be key to sustainability. We can have more people sharing ideas globally, creating understanding faster between cultures and identifying needs and solutions more quickly – that will be the real game-changer!

This article was previously published in The Bee's Knees, Honeycomb Strategy's new blog series about the "new normal" in event sustainability post-COVID-19. To read more, go here.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.