Megan Finnell | Blending traditional and virtual experiences in hybrid events

Welcome to Allseated Exchange. Learn what’s next for event design with event industry change agents. This season focuses on helping event professionals prepare for hybrid events. In this podcast summary, we’re visiting with change agent, Megan Finnell, Director, Meetings & Conferences, Medical Group Management Association.



Are most planners correctly prepared for the level of hybrid experience attendees will demand?

Absolutely not, says Finnell. The first thing that planners need is critical thinking skills. I know as planners, myself included, I want to know what everyone else is doing, I want to read all the articles, I want to hear what everyone else is saying. That’s great, and not every audience demands the same answer. As planners, we’re answering the question: how do humans connect? Previously, we’ve always answered that question, saying let’s bring them into ballrooms and into conventions and give them things to talk about … but now we have to find different ways to answer that question.

According to Finnell, for the last year during the pandemic, everyone’s been saying hybrid is the thing. Everyone meant this dual synchronous experience where you filmed what was [happening] on stage and you put it out there on the Internet, and say, “hey audience behind your computers, you can have the same experience as those on site,” which is an absolute myth. There’s no way a person behind their computer will have the same experience as someone on site.



What is a hybrid event?

We had been doing synchronous hybrid for years before the pandemic, and we never saw great traction for it. The minute we switched and designed [the event] specifically for a digital audience in a holistic, fully designed show, just with a digital experience as answering that question: how humans connect, we had a huge positive response both from exhibitors and our attendees, says Finnell. Our answer is not synchronous hybrid. We, at MGMA, have decided that we will continue to offer digital and face-to face-events, do them separately, reuse content, but produce them both specifically for the channel in which we’re delivering. Each experience is optimized for that specific audience.



Why is synchronous hybrid a default?

That’s what everyone knew, and it was the easiest answer at the time. It’s a lot easier to produce one show and pay a gazillion dollars, videotape it, stream it (and have your audio company do that) than create two different SOEs, two different designs, two different philosophies, two different goals, Finnell explains. For us, we’re struggling with trying to figure out how to produce two shows at the same time even if they aren’t going to be experienced at the same time. In some ways it’s less expensive, but far more complex. Finally, the technology has caught up at the tail end of this pandemic to give planners far more opportunities and tools to create ways for humans to connect, she adds.



Successful events start with asking the right questions

Before we put any schedule down on paper, we talk about what is it that we’re trying to accomplish, what is the experience we want for our attendees [and sponsors], who are we trying to attract, and what do we want them to walk away with? What’s most valuable to our attendees about our partners? Attendees want content that will benefit them, not necessarily to buy things, but tell me how I can be better. Give me a solution, and then I’ll be interested in buying something that can give me that solution. What do sponsors want from attendees? Leads of course, but they also want to be seen as thought leaders. When we’re planning to do digital and face-to-face in the future, we plan around the pain points [to get the best from both], Finnell says.



Lightning Round

Why do you enjoy working in events?

Finnell: The people.


What’s your superpower that you apply to your role?

Finnell: Love.


What’s your favorite city you’ve visited?

Finnell: Austin.


What’s an event planner’s greatest strength?

[Ability to] figure it out.


What’s an event planner’s greatest weakness?

Finnell: Inflexibility.


Outside of events, what’s the topic that planners should study to be stronger?

Finnell: Design thinking and audience behaviors.



What can planners do to increase their value?

Finnell: Learn how to use spreadsheets and compare stats and figures to give to leadership. Nothing speaks louder than being able to tell a story through data.



What’s the change you most want to see come to events?

Finnell: inclusivity.



Fill in this blank. The best events …

Finnell: are fun.



What’s the secret to your success that anyone could do if they worked at it?

Finnell: Follow your curiosity.



Guest Bio – Megan Finnell

Megan Finnell, is multi-award-winning events professional who is driven to find new answers to the question: how can humans connect?



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