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Post-pandemic Event Design

Original Feature Article in The Meeting Professional Magazine March 2021

By Michael Pinchera | Mar 8, 2021

Michael Pinchera is an award-winning writer and editor for The Meeting Professional as well as a speaker, technologist and contributor to business, academic and pop culture publications since 1997. Read more of his work at


Event owners and designers have now experienced, once and for all, the status quo of an events world online.

Behind the scenes questions with even more insights behind the Meeting Professionals International Feature Article in interview between Michael Pinchera (MP) and Ruud Janssen (RJ) :

Question MP – What will define post-pandemic event design?

Response RJ – Post Pandemic Event Design is very much like pre-pandemic event design. It’s user centric. It will however keep the “low touch economy” behaviours keenly into consideration. But technically, the Event Design process always takes into account each of the stakeholder’s pains/gains, expectations and commitments and keenly identifies the entry and exit behaviours. Event Owners and Event Designers have now experienced once and for all the status quo of an events world online.

We have all been forced to deal with this change in a most universal way. Health is a basic need and can never be tampered with as a variable. When the context changes, so do these elemental ingredients of the Event Design. We do now have more building blocks in the evoked set of every event owner. In the meantime at the Event Design Collective, have carefully observed what event designs have thrived in this past year and documented them in this repository of Event Designs .

What are you expecting with the duration of events? Do you expect events will be shorter? What about session length?

Events are as long or short as they need to take to get the job done. The rhythm, frequency and amplitude of change delivered by the events will be sliced up differently in the future. An intense sunchaser event in 24 hour, a 3 day festival with timezone sensitive programming, a week long wiki like agenda structure to cater to various stakeholder categories in different parts of the world. Or a full moon 4 week cycle of events to sustain a cadence and rhythm to drive change over time.

Each individual interaction means that the duration of events may be halved if not quartered for the online versions of many events. But the frequency may be double or quadrupled because this is now possible. By design, events need take into account elemental biological needs of the users when working in digital versus analog mode. Even the most ambidextrous digital collaboration artists have the human biorhythm and so do their collaboration counterparts.
In our EDC MasterMind Think and Do-Tank we experiment with our community how to do that.

Question MP  – Speaking specifically about in-person meetings, do you expect any changed with engagement strategies?

I see an exciting future where the 11 functions of communication can be put to use in much better ways than ever before. The dynamic range of options when it pertains to the function of communication between humans will forever be enriched.

These include:

  1. Anonymity,
  2. Attention,
  3. Sense of belonging,
  4. Scalability of the reach,
  5. Share of voice
  6. Search
  7. Oral vs written
  8. Decision making
  9. Networking
  10. Interaction
  11. Depth
    (see this table from the MPI Hybrid Event Research from 2012)

Question MP  – What about content at in-person events? Now that we’ve all had countless virtual meetings—and some content can absolutely be presented well in a virtual setting—do you think that will affect how meeting professionals approach the actual content they provide?

Yes and it should. Instructional Design and working methods have evolved very quickly. What lags is the digital dexterity of those creating and using the content.
Many have attempted this already pre-COVID-19 but the adoption has been feeble at best. In our own practice delivering the Event Design Certificate Program we have seen this radical change up close.

In Q1 & 2 of 2019 we have built an online repository of 10 modules of every step in the Event Design Certificate Program. It was at first intended to provide a fallback for those that had learned onsite and wanted to review material post learning it “live in person”. Learning by doing is very effective. We also noticed that the online collaboration skill sometimes formed a hurdle for the “live inperson” learners to bring it back into their online teams. 2020 has seen a dramatic uptake of the online learning modules by both the EDC Young Professionals programs taught in Universities as well as to professionals who want to become a CED- Certified Event Designer.

By learning together online, across time zones and geographies our participants have thrived in learning how to collaborate in real time, online and learn together about the process and the tools. We have seen that Skills, Knowledge, Attitude Learning and People learning can be done even better online. By learning together, you stay together. And the need to now meet in person has only been amplified even more than before. So there is also a bright future for all types of events in the future.

MP – How, if at all, do you think the psychological impact of the pandemic will be considered in the context of event design?

In our practice we have seen that the digital dexterity of most users and their attention span in relation to their retention is developing. Like a new language you need to build the new digital muscle and it is being built very fast. Those with a headstart have had the advantage of that very headstart. You see who was in pole position because they suffered less and have grown more.

MP  – What’s one piece of advice you have for meeting professionals seeking to be positioned for success with in-person events the instant the pandemic ends or subsides?

Make sure to have your digital dexterity fully developed before this pandemic subsides. You will need both skill sets and mindset to deploy them at speed once humanity can meet again in person safely. Exciting times ahead.

“Behavioural change is central to events value. Events create value through certain criteria, one is: do they change behaviours in the desired direction of change? Because that’s the thing that creates value.

Events are just like temporary businesses, with a beginning, a middle and an end — which is usually much shorter than most businesses. And whether it’s mission-driven or value-driven or whatever it might be, the ones that do it really well create a sense of community, make people get back to them or gravitate towards them; they have a core, a community that is active and engaged with their pivotal point.

It’s not about the event, it’s about the progress over time of a group of people that decide to care about a common topic and once bring it together to progress it or to further it.

So any event that, if taken off the table, nobody would feel bad about it, is probably mediocre. And any event that’s memorable, that people would crave to go if it’s no longer there, that’s probably one that creates memories, one that has value.”

In this perspective, this is actually a good moment for the events industry to analyse and understand. You don’t know what you miss until it’s no longer there. I think this is actually a blessing on these days, the fact that a lot of events cannot take place. This is a time when the ones that don’t know how they created value or people don’t perceive that they’ve got value from it, they also won’t be missed. It’s kinda like a big clean-up exercise.

It’s a reboot, not just for the individuals going to those events, but it’s also a reboot for the events’ owners to think about what does this mean for the types of behavioural change they were delivering, for whom they were delivering it, how they were delivering it, and then, at the end of the day, why they were delivering it in the first place.

In this context, the team at the Event Design Collective is closely monitoring and supporting the design of cornerstone events such as  FT Live, TED2020, C2, Microsoft Build, eyeforpharma, TNW,  One World Together, Tomorrowland around the World, IBM Think Digital, AJR Live, Wikimedia Foundation, IOC, IMEX, Tony Chocolony, Vitra, Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, and Burning Man . We study the delta: what’s the difference between what it was and what it is now, looking overtime at them through the lens of their structure in the virtuality, how they move across the spectrum over time, ultimately what they mean and how they create value.

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