WEC: Designing Your Learning Journey

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WEC: Designing Your Learning Journey

By Rich Luna | Jan 11, 2021

Planners from MPI would normally have about a year to plan for the association’s annual signature education event, the World Education Congress (WEC).

As the meeting industry has learned as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, these are not normal times by any means.

Instead of a 12-month ramp up to WEC 2021, the MPI team led by Annette Gregg, senior vice president for experience, faces the daunting challenge of a seven-month window between the conclusion of a successful hybrid WEC in Grapevine, Texas (which attracted more than 600 paid attendees and more than 1,100 digital participants) and the June 15-17 event at CAESARS FORUM in Las Vegas.

“The timeframe is tight, but a larger challenge is that people are making decisions later in the midst of this pandemic,” Gregg says. “Sponsors and participants are waiting longer to see how the global situation changes, which makes planning tough.”

A simple, impactful answer to a complex situation. As of now, WEC is scheduled at the still-glistening CAESARS FORUM, which had its grand opening celebration last March foiled by the pandemic, which continues to wreak havoc on the industry.

Safety and Unity

While the distribution of a COVID vaccine launched in December, the overall surge of cases in late 2020 led Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak to limit public gatherings and venues hosting events, such as group meetings and live entertainment, to 50 people or 25 percent capacity, whichever number is lower.

The current limits, though, are not affecting early WEC design work, Gregg says.

“We are planning for 1,500 attendees onsite and planning for Vegas to allow groups of that size in June,” she says.

MPI’s WEC Grapevine was originally scheduled for June, but moved to November and, based on attendee feedback, was a success.

One of the most successful components was the duty of care, which garnered a 99 percent satisfaction score. There was a physician onsite, and attendees had to fill out a daily questionnaire and undergo a temperature check before being allowed to enter the conference center. Once an attendee successfully completed those tests, they were given a wristband and had to wear a mask at all times unless they were actively eating or drinking.

MPI then enacted a 14-day contact tracing protocol, which exceeded Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations. While the distribution of vaccines may have an impact, “we will definitely have a duty of care for Las Vegas and will closely watch the ever-changing landscape of COVID to determine” the full scope, says Melinda Burdette, director of events for MPI.

WEC Vegas is planned as a hybrid event based on the success of WEC Grapevine, where there were 30 concurrent sessions and five general sessions for in-person attendees and an additional 20 breakout sessions designed for the digital audience. In addition, MPItv produced an engaging program of content to supplement the digital experience.

Gregg says new elements that could be featured in the WEC Vegas program are focusing on the future of meetings, fostering industry unity and empowering participants.

“For industry unity, we are opening up our conference to invite some industry partners to hold concurrent programming, whether they want to co-locate an annual meeting or hold a leadership meeting,” she says. “We have a great space and hotel package with Caesars Entertainment and we know that in-person events will still be complicated in 2021. We want to support our partner associations by inviting them to leverage our location and conference if that would help them.”

Empowering Participants

As for empowering participants, the programming will include options for peer-to-peer learning and crowdsourcing content.

“We want every participant, either in person or digital, to design the learning journey that best serves their situation and needs,” Gregg says.

Lori Pugh, head of meeting innovation for MPI, says education needs within the industry are rapidly changing, and staying on top of the most cutting-edge topics is critical.

“If I survey what topics our industry needs, then three months later it’s not as relevant because they have already watched five webinars about it online before they step foot at the event,” she says. “The MPI Academy team works very hard in making sure that we have our finger on the pulse of the industry and what they need.”

Pugh says being able to identify relevant topics with subject matter experts and facilitators is challenging. She plans to launch a campaign this month to reach out to the meeting industry community and gauge high-interest topics and “have them tell us exactly what they want, what speakers they enjoy, what technology they want showcased and how we can make WEC21 irresistible. This way MPI can be sure that we are really creating the future of meetings together.”

MPI Webinar: WEC Grapevine - How We Did It.

Jessie States, director of the MPI Academy, says her team will continue to seek new ways of engagement for physically distanced events.

“Look for MPI to continue to push the envelope with innovative solutions to enable the kind of engagement that participants seek with new formats and room sets that will create new hallmarks for meetings moving forward,” she says. “On the digital side, our [WEC Grapevine] participants were disappointed that we didn’t capture all of the onsite sessions, particularly those that were only available in-person, and they wanted to see more of what was happening onsite, not just from the studio view. We’ll look to ensure that all sessions are available post-event and look for even more ways to connect our digital audience to the in-person experience.”

Another plus for WEC Vegas is CAESARS FORUM, the 550,000-square-foot conference center with the two largest pillarless ballrooms in the world and a 100,000-square-foot outdoor event space, all of which was on display when ConferenceDirect’s Annual Partner Meeting opened the facility in October.

“With COVID, we are seeing that people’s attention spans are even shorter than before, and entertainment is as important as content to attract participants,” Gregg says. “Vegas is perfect for this current paradigm with its endless variety of venues, entertainment and production experts. In our design we hope to leverage this diversity to give participants even more options for learning and entertainment during the conference.

“With our great relationship with Caesars Entertainment, they have given us flexibility with our space, how we use it and deadlines for making decisions that will really help us craft the best experience possible for our participants.”



Rich Luna

Rich Luna is Director of Publishing for MPI and Editor-in-chief of The Meeting Professional.