Selling the Sizzle: How to Create Better Meetings Post-COVID

Why not create something new and exciting to showcase the very best of what in-person events can achieve?

Meetings have taken on a new focus since lockdown with conference attendees now looking forward to getting back to attending events in-person once more. So, why not give them a little extra sizzle and create something new and exciting to showcase the very best of what in-person events can achieve?

Some commentators have labelled the global pandemic as a reset moment for the world—an opportunity to make changes to certain areas of business and life that were a constant pre-COVID.

Like the talk of many of us finding a greater work-life balance and the opportunity for some of us to work remotely if we choose, we now also have the opportunity to reset some of our past business activities—in-person meetings included.

My company organises meetings, exhibitions, and events for a living and we have done so for the past 55 years. These range from government events to conferences with delegate numbers in their thousands.

Right now, with COVID-19 still an impediment to purely live group gatherings, we are managing our clients’ events using virtual platforms. While this has been very successful and I see this continuing for some time, we are now planning events for when we return to in-person mode and the benefits of this mode.

What I see is that there is pent up demand for people to come together, be that in a formal meeting or in a more relaxed social setting at an event. Innovation and change have not only happened in our sector, but also in many others.

Because many of us have been in lockdown for such a long period now, these programs that were once held annually or more frequently may have, from time to time, been taken for granted by those who attended. That, in my opinion, is changing and I believe that we can all play a part in creating that extra sizzle that is needed to ensure our own reset moment is long lasting and effective.

To that end, here are my top five tips on elevating your meetings and events to the next level

Think, believe, dream, dare

Some people may not know that Walt Disney was an animator before he opened Disneyland in California—often described as “the happiest place on earth”. He is described as a deep thinker and a dreamer and a risk-taker. To fund his theme park dream he branched out from making animated movies to producing television programs including The Mickey Mouse Club. Many at the time thought he was making a mistake.

There are many quotes attributed to Walt Disney but one of my favourites is, “First, think. Second, believe. Third, dream. And finally, dare.”

Think of your meeting attendees as people who have never attended a meeting before. Think back to the last major meeting you attended. What did you like? What didn’t you like? What if you could take the best parts of that meeting and amplify them and at the same time discard the bits you didn’t? What would it be like?

And what would your attendees think? They would probably receive the invitation and, while they would be excited to attend after so much time in semi-isolation, they might also remember the last one and the things they didn’t like.

So, dream about what you can change and how you can achieve that and finally, dare to make it happen.

Be Inclusive

Technology has given us the ability to communicate with one another wherever we are in the world. In a live environment we have the ability to enhance that communication further through creating opportunities for people to interact with each other and presenters in a variety of formats.

Many people want to be a part of their own destiny and that includes what they are doing at work. They want to have a say in new initiatives, strategies and plans. They want to present their ideas.

In many meetings pre-COVID we may have taken the concept of inclusiveness as ‘nice to have if we had the time’.

I would recommend you now make the time!

If the pandemic has given us anything it is that we all crave connection. Even if we are working away in our home office, we want to connect with our business associates and others.

Meetings post-COVID must push the boundaries of inclusiveness beyond what we have ever done before.

Give Them Time to Breathe

Most companies have important messaging that they need to relay at meetings—that’s imperative. But what is also important is that you have to give your attendees time to breathe.

What we know from the global pandemic is that for many people the work/life balance has become intertwined. Being available online has made many employers think that if you email someone at 7 o’clock at night you’ll probably get a reply by 7.30pm.

Your three- or four-day meeting may be the first time in a long time that employees can be reminded that they have a working life and a social life.

So, how do you do that? Ensuring morning and afternoon tea breaks are longer than 15 minutes and lunches are an hour is a no brainer. What I’m suggesting is that you really look at the content of your meeting and tailor 30 per cent of it to employee wellbeing. Yes, if your company is all about selling widgets then have presentations on widget selling. But in-between these, bring in professional speakers who talk about wellness and relaxation and who can inspire and connect with your audience. Make your entertainment big and memorable.

Negotiate hard

We are lucky to be living in the country that we do. Depending upon what industry we work in we have seen some organisations thrive and others less so. Many hotel and venue operators, as an example, have been struggling.

Over the next year or more we will see the tide change for the hospitality sector, but right now it is a buyers’ market and we should take advantage of it while it lasts.

With the backlog of so many organisations postponing their meetings and events, strong venue operators are seeing solid forward bookings. But not everybody is, and I would suggest these are the venues that you should be looking at.

They are crying out for your business and they will go over and above what they may have normally offered you in a pre-COVID world.

Take advantage of that now. What you save on the venue, use to bring in that keynote speaker you’ve heard so much about. Invest in those special touches you would not normally budget for. Or better still, with the surplus you save from negotiating a good rate at the venue, make a donation to a charity that aligns with your business.

Move beyond your comfort zone

Our Executive Director participated in an educational to the Northern Territory just prior to the last lock-down. She loved it so much that she wanted us to take our company conference there.

The timing this year just isn’t right and, as I mentioned, we have made the decision to hold our meeting in Wollongong.

Wollongong is one hour south of Sydney and is a destination that I have driven through but never contemplated as a location for our team get-together.

What I now know after some research is that it will work extremely well for our team who are travelling from Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. Because we’ll be out of town, we will be able to focus on what I want us to achieve and also have a little bit of fun while we’re there.

What I’m suggesting with moving out of your comfort zone is that going somewhere different to where you have been in the past is refreshing and can be the catalyst for an entirely new and fresh approach to what you have done previously and what you will do in the future.

There may be some logistical challenges—like getting people from three cities and staying ahead of the government restrictions—but aren’t we all in the problem-solving business? We will make it happen and it will be so worth it.

Many of us have been out of our comfort zones for most of last year and this year as well. We’re a resilient bunch and we love a challenge. So, why stop now?

Emma Bowyer is the Owner and Managing Director of ICMS Australasia, which has a team of 35 full-time meeting and event professionals working in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. She can be contacted on