Scenario Planning for the New World of In-Person Events

June 21, 2022

Devin Cleary

Devin Cleary is the VP 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. Devin was recognized as one of Connect Association’s “40 under 40” leaders in 2021. He 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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