Big. Brash. Bold. Words often synonymous with Texas and apropos for MPI’s signature education event, the World Education Congress (WEC), Nov. 3-6 at the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine. Some other important words are duty of care. A hefty dose, in fact.
MPI is charging ahead with its annual conference—the theme is “Reunite for Recovery”—as the industry seeks light at the end of the proverbial tunnel in the continuing fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
While there have been instances of face-to-face gatherings amidst a slew of virtual meetings in 2020, WEC is likely one of the first U.S. education events since March to test the boundaries of a large in-person gathering. The massive host property, the Gaylord Texan, is coming off a US$120 million expansion that has resulted in nearly 500,000 square feet of flexible pre-function, meeting and exhibit space.
Make no mistake. Event organizers are cognizant of the importance of health and safety, adhering to local mandates as well as Events Industry Council and U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommendations. Masks and social distancing are a must as part of MPI’s duty of care.
WEC Grapevine Duty of Care: Enhancing the experience and safety for everyone in attendance.
“If this is someone’s first meeting that they are attending during the pandemic, it will feel both exciting and a little odd,” says Annette Gregg, CMM, MBA, senior vice president of experience at MPI. “We will all be wearing masks the entire time, so communication may feel awkward. [Attendees] may feel a little too distant from their fellow attendees at the tables. They will want to hug but have to stop themselves. We’ll have gentle reminders throughout the event about the need to distance.
“I think after the first day we will all be used to it, but I know even for me it will be hard not to do all my hugging. From a programming aspect, it will be a great fishbowl to learn from, especially how we are tying in the digital audience to the live experience and vice versa. We also will be very transparent with what worked and what didn’t during the entire conference.”
The effects of the pandemic, from emotional wellbeing to understanding new learning styles on digital platforms to transferable job skills for an industry battered by furloughs and layoffs, will be among the highlights of an education program designed to touch many current issues while preparing the industry for recovery.
The digital platform will be anchored by a five-hour mid-day broadcast choreographed by MPItv to help those tuning in from around the world navigate the education sessions. MPI will offer all content in the digital platform live, with no pre-recorded content.
“What we hope the industry, the government and the decision-makers learn from WEC is that being safely together is possible.”
“The digital attendees will be watching someone speaking live from Grapevine, so the production almost feels like a TV show,” Gregg says. “There will also be a variety of ways they can participate in the content, both during the livestream and on their own time. Our digital experience will include unique ways to make business connections, as well as entertainment options throughout the event to just enjoy.”
For those attending the event in-person, MPI has developed a duty of care commitment working alongside the Grapevine CVB, the Gaylord Texan’s Commitment to Clean Guide (in conjunction with Marriott), national authorities, MPI advisory councils and MPI leadership.
In addition to masks and social distancing at all WEC in-person events, there will be daily temperature checks and an onsite medical team. The health of attendees is without a doubt the top priority.
Health concerns and company travel restrictions clearly are keeping some attendees away, and understandably so. But the digital experience will be a viable option.
Hallia J. Baker, CMP (Greater New York Chapter), vice president of meetings and diversity, equity and inclusion officer for the Center to Advance Palliative Care, says while she has enjoyed attending WEC in-person in the past, she did not want to miss out on the education opportunity due to company travel restrictions.
WEC Keynote Speakers: From harnessing joy to industry recovery.
“I’ve had great experiences in my virtual attendance [at other events],” she says. “Content has been quite good and engagement very rewarding. Connectivity has been great, and I don’t feel as removed as I had thought from not attending in-person.”
Linda Nilsson (MPI Finland Chapter), an international event and project management entrepreneur, had planned to attend WEC in-person this year, but again, due to travel restrictions and the change in date to November from June, she signed up for the digital event.
“I did not want to miss the event, but I am grateful that MPI made it so that I will be able to attend virtually,” she says. “I am really looking forward to see how MPI has built this, as this is the future of the way events will be done. I am super excited to see the production and see what can be learned from it.”
Caroline Voyer (MPI Montréal-Québec Chapter), general director of the Sustainable Event Council, has her own event just after WEC, and would have had to quarantine upon her return to Canada. She is looking forward to the digital experience as a way to learn some “innovative things and support the industry.”
Gina Bethel (MPI British Columbia Chapter), sales manager at Vancouver Island Conference Centre, wants to “interact with the industry again, seek connection through this difficult time in our industry and learn about what others are doing in these trying times.”
“Virtual events will never completely take the place of live events, however, I have learned to adapt to virtual events and be more open to the value of them,” she says. “With some of my own clients having to transform to virtual/hybrid it has forced me to get into the nitty gritty of it all, and although it will never compare to a live event, virtual events are becoming more and more amazing each day.”
MPItv’s Sarah Soliman Daudin, host of the five-hour daily broadcast, says her team will be contributing to the digital content with live interviews, industry reports and sponsor material throughout the day in true hybrid fashion, with a goal of making the digital audience “feel like they’re part of the conversations taking place onsite.”
She says the online audience should look forward to tailored content designed specifically for them.
“They will be hearing from thought leaders and industry experts in exclusive interviews streamed during WEC virtual,” Soliman Daudin says. “The digital experience will be made up of onsite content from various areas of the event using production crews and cameras and online content streamed through platforms like Zoom to create a dynamic experience.”
The magnitude of bringing a large group together is not lost on Gregg, who wants WEC to result in a tangible resource guide for both planners and suppliers on how we can all be meeting safely again.
“In general, our industry is suffering so greatly with unemployment and revenue loss and closures,” she says. “Live events were the first to close down, and in many ways, they will be the last to fully reopen. So, what we hope the industry, the government and the decisionmakers learn from WEC is that being safely together is possible.
“Being at WEC will be a reminder that people need to be together—it’s a part of the human spirit. We hope that people attending in-person or online feel the camaraderie and community and connection that we all desperately need right now.”