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Returning to Live Industry Events Post-Pandemic

Chris Stevenson
[Photo by Nicole Bell]
[Photo by Nicole Bell]

About two years ago, I wrote a column called "Making the Most of Live Industry Events," with tips on how to get the most out of attending conventions and trade shows. Who could have imagined that those tips would be rendered irrelevant by a pandemic that essentially shut down the world for more than a year?

While the past 18 months were the most challenging time in many of our personal and professional lives, there is now a light at the end of the tunnel and signs of a return to normal. Lockdowns have come and gone, certain restrictions have started to lift and our industry is beginning its great comeback. This, of course, includes the return to live events. As someone who attends many events every year, I couldn't be more excited to get back to the action as both a presenter and an attendee.

Here are four things to be excited about with the return of live events:
 

1. No more Zoom!
The world is Zoomed out. Personally, I don't want to "e-meet" anyone else. I have virtual event presenting and attending fatigue. I am particularly tired of forgetting to unmute when it is my turn to talk.

I say this with a hint of hyperbole, but there is legitimacy to missing social interaction and personal connections. We are social creatures, driven by in-person interaction. When I present live, I can read the room, interact with an audience and tailor the message to maximize impact. That just can't happen virtually. And when I attend an event, the ability to ask questions and have a dialogue with the presenter and other audience members is one of the biggest draws and benefits. Again, this dialogue doesn't flourish in the virtual setting.

The fitness industry did an incredible job of shifting to virtual events and education throughout the pandemic. Organizations such as Athletic Business, IHRSA and Club Industry hosted excellent virtual events, panels, think tanks and gatherings — many of which were free. These events helped to educate us on what to do during lockdowns and how to reopen safely and effectively. Most importantly, they supported all of us in the industry. I am very grateful to have been involved.

Our industry really did unite. Prior to lockdown, if you had asked me to take or teach a virtual class, or have a drink via Zoom, I would have thought you were crazy. Now it's normal. Zoom really isn't going away, but it will assume its appropriate role, which is as an accessory to live events. That's because nothing compares to the experience and engagement of live events for both presenters and attendees.
 

2. Tons of new content
Many things have changed in our industry as a result of the pandemic, providing us with a lot of new material to absorb. There are also a lot of new pandemic-induced pain points with which operators need help.

The pandemic accelerated new operational practices and innovation. Extended facility lockdowns became the impetus for adding virtual and outdoor programming, which many facilities continue to provide.

Moreover, the rise of consumer hesitancy and skepticism borne from the pandemic has forced us to rethink marketing approaches and sales strategies. Change in attendance and revenue per member has compelled more facilities to shift toward leaner staffing models.

The shutdowns and restrictions also provided many fitness professionals with extra time. I know that I used that time to research and learn, which led to the creation of new content for presentations and workshops. To meet the evolving needs of operators, there will be a lot of material (and presenters) at upcoming live events. Personally, I am offering two brand new sessions at AB Show 2021 later this month. I approached this unprecedented flood of information like a sponge, and you should too.
 

3. Hands-on trade show
In conjunction with changes happening in facilities, there will also be a need for new purchases. When making important buying decisions, which often require consideration of significant capital investment, be sure you are doing your due diligence. This is hard when you can't take things for a test drive and kick the proverbial tires.

The only real way to do it thoroughly and efficiently is by attending trade shows, trying out the products you are looking for, and talking with experts who know the most about them. It is difficult to tell the difference between unique strength pieces without experiencing them in person. Likewise, it is almost impossible to tell if a tech solution is right for you without trying it under the direction of someone who knows the ins and outs of the product. Even features such as lockers, tile and flooring are tough to discern virtually.

Tradeshows provide an opportunity to compare apples to apples, allowing attendees to make the most educated decisions possible. You can't put a price on having that level of confidence when preparing for an important and substantial capital investment.
 

4. Unlimited networking
While Zoom kept us connected, and in some situations even allowed us to interact with new people, it was tough to network virtually. Part of networking involves nurturing the relationships you already have, as well as meeting new people and building connections.

I have formed many awesome relationships with a variety of fitness professionals at different networking events or by simply starting a conversation after a great session. Live events will add the opportunity to finally have face-to-face time with the people who were "nice to e-meet" over the past year and a half. Building real relationships has always been a core value of mine — personally and professionally. It has been crucial to much of my success, and live industry events have been the most productive place to engage in relationship-building.
 

Are you excited yet? As you can see, there are many reasons to be enthusiastic about the return of live events.

Now that we are back in action, don't forget to implement those tips I suggested in the aforementioned "Making the Most of Live Industry Events" column. Plan ahead. Take a good look at your facility needs post-pandemic, and attend relevant sessions and vendors. Create project plans. Take what you've learned and create tasks, then assign task owners and deadlines to ensure those jobs get done. Schedule time to attend networking events. As I mentioned above, they are necessary and deserve a place in your calendar. Finally, create an immediate action plan. Pick easy items to implement that are not only cost-effective but will make a big impact. Then start doing them immediately.

Can't wait to see you all soon — in person!


This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Live Industry Events Revisited." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.

 

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