Scenario Planning for the New World of In-Person Events

June 29, 2022

Devin Cleary

Devin Cleary is the Vice President of Global Events at Bizzabo, the world's fastest-growing event technology platform for hybrid, virtual and in-person events. Devin is a passionate, results-driven event producer and marketing executive with experience leading the creation and active management of diverse experiential marketing programs for B2B, nonprofit and consumer markets. He was recognized as one of Connect Association’s “40 under 40” leaders in 2021, and was also featured in Event Marketer's 2017 "B2B Dream Team" and BostInno's "50 on Fire."

Over the past two years, event experience leaders showed agility in the face of constant change as they pivoted to virtual and hybrid formats, offering experiences that engaged attendees while safeguarding against the spread of COVID-19. 

Today, as restrictions loosen and people begin to feel more comfortable meeting, the demand for in-person events has returned. In-person and hybrid events held on Bizzabo’s Event Experience OS increased 255% between Q4 2021 and Q2 2022, while the volume of virtual events remained steady, according to analysis of aggregated data. These events will occur in a changing world, with heightened expectations and evolved attitudes toward in-person experiences. 

In this critical moment, event experience leaders must build on lessons from their pandemic pivots to chart a new course for in-person events. Unfortunately, there’s no crystal ball to offer a perfect roadmap to delivering a new in-person experience. In lieu of clairvoyance, scenario planning equips organizers to pursue the best possible event outcome, no matter what event experience planners face. 

Identify Four Possible Scenarios  

Strategic foresight expert Peter Scobic describes scenario planning as “a constant cycle between imagining the future and acting in the present”—an apt description of the last two years of event planning. 

As you plan your next event experience, commit to a bold, sharp purpose early and identify your desired outcomes. Then imagine how shifting world events could jeopardize the path to reaching those outcomes. Focus on what would most significantly affect the ideal path to your objectives and develop four pivot scenarios that preserve your event’s goals while responding to the moment. 

Look for Signals and Warnings

Once you’ve considered how world events could change your event’s execution, define the warning signs your team should look for as they plan. Pinpoint issues to monitor, brainstorm disparate outcomes, and lay out how different signals map to planned alternate scenarios. 

Gartner identifies seven key areas of disruptive change to review for any strategic planning initiatives: 

  • Technological: the evolution and impact of technological change. 
  • Political: shifting attitudes, institutions and legislation.
  • Economic: local and global economic factors.
  • Social/Cultural: attitudes, behaviors and lifestyles, both individual and societal.
  • Trust/Ethics: ethical expectations, behaviors, duties and biases.
  • Regulatory/Legal: changes in policies rewarding or punishing particular behaviors. 
  • Environmental: technical, political, economic, cultural, ethical and legal changes.

Not every factor will apply to every event, but the framework facilitates a comprehensive approach to anticipating change. 

Agree on a Source of Truth

Your team must align on trusted resources to stay ahead of significant changes and adjust as needed. Rather than follow shifting winds of a bevy of headlines, agree on critical data sources like public expert perspectives, trusted analyst sources and respected polling agencies. 

Using shared sources to identify signals of change provides consistency that drives unified decision-making. 

Tap Into Your Wisdom 

Event experience leaders are more prepared than ever to tackle tough questions and develop creative solutions. Every organizer solved new problems, reimagined the boundaries of events, and pushed the limits of flexibility at the height of the pandemic. 

Don’t treat the reemergence of events as a return to business as usual. Imbue your work with all the wisdom and lessons learned from virtual and hybrid events. 

Open the Lines of Communication 

Change comes fast, and teams cannot react with agility and precision unless they’re on the same page. Transparency is key to free-flowing information. 

Technology supporting clear communication and real-time updates of event planning details helps teams from becoming siloed, losing valuable time and energy constantly realigning.

Map It Out

Consider the steps for executing each scenario you’ve developed. Identify the stakeholders and specify the information they’ll need to change course from your intended format, timing and location. 

Using comprehensive planning technology to execute changes instantaneously fosters consistency in times of uncertainty. A flexible event design blending digital elements into an in-person structure from the beginning enables a smooth transition to hybrid or fully virtual to address changing circumstances.

And once you’ve mapped out the steps to shift from your initial plan, identify any new snags you may introduce. 

Scenario planning can’t account for every possibility, but it offers a strong foundation for Event Experience Leaders navigating a new world of in-person events. When your team uses scenario planning, it becomes innate to your event experience management as you imagine the future and act in the present.

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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.