Over the second year of the pandemic, we have experienced a lot of starts and stops. In October 2021 we felt that it was safe for our association clients to be hosting in-person events. However, by the end of the year, we had cancelled in-person association events for January and February 2022. What a roller-coaster!

Many associations hosted successful, albeit smaller, events across Canada in the fall and had high hopes for the first half of 2022. As we inch our way out of a tough winter on the COVID front, associations are now starting to look at what they can safely do for in-person events in Q2 and beyond. I am hoping that in the spring we can begin to emerge from the hibernation of in-person events. We have learned that this is not as easy as flipping a light switch, as much as we want it to be. This has a slow build and not everyone will be ready at the same time for this emergence to the world of in-person association events.

Comfort Will Come With Time

As in previous phases, we will need to rebuild our comfort levels for being together in-person with people from outside of our household. This will start for many with family dinners, a reunion with colleagues, and perhaps a small professional development workshop. I am not ready go from zero to a packed arena, but some people are. We must recognize and appreciate the spectrum of comfort that all association members will be on as they return to association events. For some people, this will take many months. Others will continue to wonder why we ever stopped being together.

With our association clients, it has been interesting to observe their comfort with in-person board meetings over the last two years. Some have not had an in-person board meeting in more than 24-months. Others have been together more than a few times. Association leaders must assess the comfort level of their directors and ensure that no one is alienated. This may mean hybrid meetings or sticking to virtual for some time to come. If you are hosting hybrid association board or committee meetings, it is essential that both in-person and virtual attendees can participate. Our favourite tool for this, which we started with before the pandemic, is the Meeting Owl. This high quality 360-degree webcam and speaker is a great tool for bringing the in-person attendees to the virtual attendees in an easy to use all in one package.

Engaging all participants is even more important with hybrid meetings than when everyone is all together. When connected on Zoom, it is easy for people to “hide” and to not be fully engaged. A good chair will be sure to engage all participants and won’t forget about those participating virtually. That’s easier said than done, but it’s important to equally engage all participants. Read Making the Most of an In-Person Association Board Meeting to learn more.

In-Person Events Are on the Horizon

When it comes to the first in-person association conference or tradeshow of the pandemic, budget and attendance expectations need to be realistic. We are working on a national conference in April that will be hybrid. We have set expectations low and are planning for about a third of the usual in-person attendance. The goal is to have a good in-person event and partner with a technology company for a good virtual platform. We will be working with Encore as our on-site AV company and Association.TV as the online learning platform. By working with two companies, we are utilizing both of their strengths.

We know that this April conference will look and feel different, but together with our association client, we are being realistic and working to meet the needs of those members that can’t wait to learn together, in-person, again. It is important that these first in-person events are more than a “family reunion”. They should bring value to everyone involved. That’s the big challenge: How can we bring value to everyone? The need for a strong value proposition is not new. This is just a different angle on the same thing. Read my colleague’s articles to more about holding In-Person Events in a Vaccinated World.

As I look forward to the months ahead, I think “realistic” may be the word I will overuse. I will try my best to the balance reality and optimism.