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Coronavirus: What Next?

By Bob Priest-Heck

When it seems that I’m being hit by a barrage of negative news items and feel I don’t have time to respond thoughtfully to any one of them, I think, what next? Although this exclamation comes from a place of exasperation and anxiety, "what next" is probably the right question. Once I’ve sorted things out and addressed the immediate and urgent concerns, I really need to take time to think about the next logical step.

I’ve been asking myself this question recently about the Coronavirus outbreak. We’ve all been concerned about the welfare of those affected by this and we all want to help and do the right thing. I choose to ignore the "should have/could have" accusations floating around, and try to ask myself: what next? Where do we go from here? What have we learned? What do we wish we’d done five or ten years ago that we need to start doing right now?

Earlier today, Freeman hosted an online discussion with industry experts designed to help decision makers in the conferences, events and expositions industry better understand their options and obligations when it comes to hosting their event, cancelling, or finding an alternate solution in light of the Coronavirus. If you were one of the 2,000-plus people that joined, thank you. And if you missed it, we recorded it — check out the link below.

Let me share a few of my personal thoughts expressed during that conversation.

To be sure, our industry is impacted. Freeman has seen some events canceled or postponed. But these represent fewer than 1% of shows we are scheduled to deliver in the next four or five months in the US, APAC, EMEA and LATAM regions. And we have already seen people who cancelled last week revisit those decisions. That’s because they realize they have more options — not necessarily to put on the exact same event — but to design other ways to leverage Live as a platform to get their message out. The shows that were cancelled were cancelled for the right reasons. And the same is true for the events that will continue more or less as planned. The important thing we all agree on is that, whatever our plans, it is critical to communicate them proactively and clearly. Transparency translates into trust. Trust equates to future viability.

The truth is, Live events as a communication/marketing channel is not going away. People crave connection, and ours is too powerful of a medium to just evaporate. I’m not just whistling in the dark here — I am actually optimistic. And my optimism lies in the answer to the question of "what next?"

We have already seen the integration of live and virtual interactions in hybrid events that take advantage of technology to connect more people. I believe we will see a breakthrough hybrid platform before long. (Full disclosure — I’ve been looking for this since the 1990s.)

We can never stop designing, creating, and building better ways to connect people in meaningful ways. Every day, we see new breakthroughs in technology solutions that enable us to be more agile in meeting our customers’ needs.

My hope is that out of the tragedy of the Coronavirus, our industry reaches a tipping point that knocks down some of the old business models. We can make our events more accessible. More inclusive. More engaging. More personal and relevant. We have the tools and the impetus to augment the live experience. We don’t have, and what we need to develop, is the right talent — a renaissance team of diverse thinkers who can see beyond now to whatever comes next.

I believe this is what is going to happen. And this certainty brings me hope and optimism for the future of our industry.

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