A Reverse Pivot to In-Person Events

May 11, 2022

Devin Cleary

Devin Cleary is the Vice President of Global Events at Bizzabo, the world's fastest-growing event technology platform for hybrid, virtual and in-person events. Devin is a passionate, results-driven event producer and marketing executive with experience leading the creation and active management of diverse experiential marketing programs for B2B, nonprofit and consumer markets. He was recognized as one of Connect Association’s “40 under 40” leaders in 2021, and was also featured in Event Marketer's 2017 "B2B Dream Team" and BostInno's "50 on Fire."

In the “Friends” episode, “The One With the Cop,” Ross buys a new couch. He opts to carry it up to his apartment instead of depending on professionals. Who can forget that iconic scene where he shouts, “Here we go! Pivot! PIVOT! PI-VOT!”

We can give Ross some credit for drawing up a plan to get the couch up a narrow stairwell. But it isn’t long before he abandons the plan and suggests Rachel and Chandler just follow his lead. Alas, he’s left with a sawed-in-half couch and a $4 store credit. He should have called in the professionals.

The event industry spent the better part of 2020 and 2021 perfecting digital engagement and catering to at-home audiences. But as we welcome in-person experiences, event professionals face a new challenge: pivoting the virtual events developed during the height of the pandemic into real-world experiences. 

We’re not looking at a return to life as we knew it. In-person experiences will look different because expectations have evolved. These best practices can help you execute a successful reverse pivot. 

Scenario Planning FTW

The best way to plan for navigating the ambiguity of events is through scenario planning and risk mitigation. The onus, however, will fall to event planners, as their roles have evolved far beyond coordinating vendors.

First, stay flexible. If you’re planning an in-person event this year, embrace the ambiguity. Teams should prepare their top scenarios—and what they might look like—if things need to change. A flexible event design incorporating digital elements into the in-person side makes it easier to switch to hybrid or fully virtual if necessary. Keep the lines of communication open and aim to be as transparent as possible. Map all steps required to ensure you provide a safe environment and not leave anyone guessing. 

Redefining Sessions

From a content perspective, professionals must get strategic around the different sessions events offer—and the formats used to present. In-person events can’t simply focus on a speaker standing behind a lectern. During the planning stages, brands must choose topics appropriately aligned to the needs of in-person attendees. 

Consider delivering more technical, advanced content to in-person audiences because the environment supports a more conversational approach with instant Q&A. 

Interactive Elements

We all know that people’s work habits have changed. For some employees, remote work has added an extra layer of pressure. In many ways, employees are more immersed in their work, so it’s unlikely they’re spending three days at a conference where they’re incommunicado with their colleagues.

Events should include dedicated work areas for people still expected to attend team calls. Having dedicated spaces on-site for people to use when taking a break from the programming keeps them present. They’re less likely to return to their hotel rooms to catch a meeting and opt out of returning for more sessions. 

Redesigning Spaces

Event spaces are undergoing their own renaissance. The days of hosting a keynote in a room accommodating 15,000 attendees are nearly gone. You’ll start seeing a more creative design, with innovative event experience leaders reimagining everything into a playground-like environment.  

For example, a major keynote may address people in the center of a trade show floor. People will have opportunities to engage with the speaker. It won’t feel like compartmentalizing experiences throughout the event but rather a holistic environment inviting attendees to immerse themselves, take periodic breaks to reconnect with their companies and then return to the learning and networking. 


Sponsors understand the challenge of getting people where they want them to be, and they’re also looking at creative options. Traditionally, events require sponsors to purchase booth space to participate. But when sponsors tried to attract visitors via links or virtual booths during virtual events, results were mixed.  

Now, brands are evolving their approach, extending conversations beyond an event and evaluating how they can engage with participants throughout the year. If they sponsor a breakout session at an in-person event, why stop there? Instead, prioritize the session as part of the event integration strategy. Reshare the content and follow up with future marketing collateral. 

This approach requires developing a year-round strategy where sponsors can tie their offerings to other events, programs and marketing campaigns. If the marketing team can do that, the door opens to many more opportunities for sponsors, who feel they’re receiving a lot more value with a more holistic package.

Incorporate Accessibility 

One of the silver linings of virtual events has been the ease of convening a global audience. Maintaining a hybrid component to events gives everyone accessibility to a program or community, even if they can’t travel. If they don’t continue to offer flexible options for attendees—and allow people to meet where they are—companies could very well lose customers. 

Incorporate Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) 

In the past, DEI meant having diverse speaker lineups, but it’s expanded to include all the ways in which people are diverse, including ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation and beyond. Event planners must also consider how people attend events as well as other factors, such as learning styles, and how they can make events more inclusive and accessible.  

At the base level, offer closed captioning and transcription. From a content perspective, are speakers aware of the different ways in which neurodiverse people interact with their content? Will your event offer quiet rooms for people who need the space to listen differently? What about spaces for nursing mothers?  

Registration should evolve, too, beyond a set of tick boxes where someone indicates the need for a wheelchair or sign language interpreter. One new best practice includes  asking attendees about their preferred learning styles—visual or auditory, for example—and then creating programming to accommodate that preference. Suddenly, the event becomes not one for 5,000 people but rather 5,000 individual events at that moment. Are we there yet? Not entirely, but the industry is moving in that direction. 

View Attendees Holistically

Event planners must view attendees beyond just their role within a company. Because they’re more likely to invest time, energy and money with organizations reflecting their value system, it’s critical to show how your event and your brand align with those values.

Events offer many ways to do so. During registration, ask attendees to share the top cause most near and dear to their hearts. We’re all part of the experience economy and want to feel connected to like-minded individuals. One way to foster this connection is to bring your audience together through their shared passions. It doesn’t take away from the core construct of the content or the event’s goals. It does, however, build community, which is the utopia of the event formula. 

There’s more pivoting to do—hopefully with more grace and fewer struggles than Ross. 

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.