WEC Grapevine: Safe and Successful

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WEC Grapevine: Safe and Successful

By Rich Luna | Nov 9, 2020

MPI set out to show how to safely bring back business meetings and events. In the process, the association delivered much more with its signature education event, the World Education Congress (WEC).

WEC Reunite for Recovery showed its four-day event to be a showcase on the confluence of duty of care for live attendees in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic while successfully incorporating a digital audience through the first fully live, hybrid meeting industry education event since March, testing the boundaries of a large in-person gathering and resulting in a blueprint on how the meeting industry can move forward with recovery.

Nearly 1,740 industry professionals attended WEC, with 608 in person at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center in Grapevine, Texas. Digital attendees from 17 countries participated.

Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO of MPI, speaking at the final general session, cited keynote speaker Ben Nemtin, who said, “People in life regret their inactions more than their actions.”

“I want to thank each and every one of you for your courageous actions for joining us here in and being part of WEC, engaging with all of us in person or digitally,” Van Deventer said. “You are showing the way forward.”

Van Deventer made it clear from the onset that attendee safety was the top priority for attendees at WEC by demonstrating how a live event could be put on in the “new normal.” The event had been moved from June as a result of the pandemic, which has severely impacted the meetings business.

InHouse Physicians, which monitored attendee health and had a physician on site, reported Monday that there were no positive cases of COVID-19 during WEC. 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

Elizabeth Zrelak, director of meetings and events for InHouse Physicians, said 1,820 attendees were screened over the course of the event. Four people visited the clinic for illness or injury not related to COVID-19, while seven attendees requested a quick-response coronavirus test.

Annette Gregg, senior vice president for experience at MPI, said security reported willing compliance, finding no one without a wristband. In MPI’s Duty of Care and personal accountability statements, the association has asked that anyone testing positive for COVID-19 within 10 days of leaving WEC contact MPI so attendees can be notified regarding contact tracing.

“I could not be any prouder of our team that was the first to author a robust Duty of Care for our industry,” said Darren Temple, chief operations officer for MPI. “We took what we knew to be the best standards in a pandemic, and coupled them with our own innovative and rigorous expectations, and the rest was a [duty of care] that is now the standard. 

“I was also so impressed with all of the live registrants that did a magnificent job of protecting each other by adhering to social distancing and wearing a mark. Without the support and protection of our live community, we could not have made WEC the success it was.”

Participant Reflections

Several members who attended in Grapevine had positive reflections of the event.

“Before arriving to Grapevine for WEC, my anxieties were high, but upon arrival I observed a lot of protocols that put me at ease,” said Zoe Moore (MPI Northern California Chapter). “There were hand sanitizing stations, temperature check points, floor signage, staff reminding attendees to ‘mask up y’all,’ and several other methods used to ensure safety of attendees.

“I had a pleasant time at WEC seeing industry professionals that I haven’t met in person or seen in a while. While It was difficult to not hug and embrace, I felt a sense of responsibility to everyone to do the right thing. MPI had protocols in place and reminders to connect with the elbow bump.”

Paige Mejia (MPI Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter) said the MPI team overcame great obstacles to prove this event could happen safely, also emphasizing masks, sanitizing, and social distancing enforcement.

“I think we inspired planners to go back and start thinking about in-person events again, and also showed suppliers how they can host safely.”

“Attendees commented that they felt safer there than at the grocery store,” she said. “As always, WEC offered attendees education, collaboration, networking, career coaching, headshots, and sent us back to our home chapters and businesses full of ideas to implement immediately to elevate our business and personal success.”

The conference also featured a Hosted Buyer Program, live Digital Connections for business appointments and there were more than 20 participants live for the Thought Leaders Summit.

“I definitely want to congratulate the WEC team for producing a great event,” said Pawntra Shadab (MPI Orange County Chapter). “I think a successful event from a duty of care perspective consists of three parts—proper protocols and procedures set by the event planners, attendees to follow these protocols and protocols to be enforced. The MPI WEC team and attendees did a wonderful job with that. Not only was it great to meet in person, but this event brought so much hope and joy to all the attendees.”

Gregg said she was proud that MPI pushed forward with an in-person event, combined with a next-level digital conference featuring all-live presentations.

“Both undertakings were extremely challenging, yet we knew we wanted to demonstrate deliveries that have not been done,” she said. “It has taken a lot of courage for our team; we knew we had to get this right for the good of our greater industry.

“It delivered exactly what we were hoping to do: demonstrate how we can hold conferences and convene audiences safely. We didn’t sacrifice any of the experiential elements: excellent education, great entertainment, participatory activities, exemplary food and beverage. Through detailed safety protocols with our venues and suppliers, constant and clear communication to our attendees and vigilant monitoring onsite, we created an environment where people felt safe and they could focus on connecting with each other. And our digital event showed a level of production and quality that truly put the digital participant at the center, as part of the show. It was unlike any other digital production done in our industry.”

Big News from WEC

MPI made several announcements during WEC. Its signature European event, the European Meetings and Events Conference, will align with IMEX Frankfurt in 2021, rather than in Brighton, England, but will go to Brighton in 2022. MPI has also signed a new five-year agreement with the IMEX Group, its largest strategic partner.

The MPI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee was honored with the MPI Chair Award, presented by Steve O’Malley, chair of the International Board of Directors. The committee was recognized at the President’s Dinner, which also honored MPI’s chapter presidents, outgoing board members and recipients of the RISE Awards. In addition, IMEX Group chair and founder Ray Bloom and CEO Carina Bauer were recognized as Industry Champions, an honor bestowed on those who make contributions with their time, financial support and resources in efforts to support and share the future of the industry.

Recognizing the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the IMEX Group donated $250,000 to MPI to provide support to meeting professionals facing distressed financial situations this year.

The MPI Foundation raised more than $31,000 for scholarships and grants through its annual Rendezous event, while raising another $25,000 through the Silent Auction. There were more than 250 orders for earrings through Hillberg & Berk, representing another $6,250 in donations.

Gregg, too, was impressed with how attendees followed the safety protocols.

“There are so many different opinions about COVID and the safety suggestions, but our participants knew that masking, sanitation and distancing were essential if we were going to show the world that conferences can happen again,” she said. “I think we inspired planners to go back and start thinking about in-person events again, and also showed suppliers how they can host safely.”

Another learning experience for Gregg was that some of the sessions could have been simplified to shorten the conference.

“From what the world has experienced this year, we learned people are out of practice with going to intense educational conferences, and frankly just want to be together,” she said. “We need less scripted time and more open space for people to craft their own experiences.”

The Digital Experience

WEC was not the first hybrid event to take place in the industry, but it is believed to be the first to feature all live programming. Part of the digital experience included a five-hour MPItv broadcast each day that incorporated the general sessions for the digital audience and exclusive interviews and content. Speakers who gave presentations in Grapevine to a live audience would go to a green room and make the same presentation live for the digital audience.

That full digital production resonated with attendees on that platform.

Arlene Schilke, CMP, DES (MPI Greater Edmonton Chapter), said she really appreciated all of the engagement and interaction on the chats during the general session and the work of host Dena Blizzard.

“Moving from the general session back to the ‘MPItv ALHI studio’ for interviews and discussions really helped keep me engaged,” she said. “It was fun to see other parts of WEC. For the breakouts, I didn’t feel as though I were watching a series of webinars, but instead felt like I was part of the conversation.”

Yvonne Dewar (MPI Toronto Chapter), said she was grateful that MPI took the risk to host a hybrid congress without pre-recording and was transparent throughout WEC with challenges.

“It warmed my heart seeing my fellow meeting professionals attend in person at the Gaylord Texan,” she said. “The content was essential for our industry and speakers were engaging. Although I was attending from my home office, I had my camera on whenever there was an opportunity to engage and felt like I was part of the conversation. It was very emotional watching and listening from afar—I can only imagine what it was like in person.”

Jill Rasco (MPI Hill Country Chapter), was unsure about how MPI would execute such a large hybrid event, “but they did it with aplomb.”

She said the educational sessions were outstanding and was pleased to learn there would be access post-event via recordings.

“I was feverishly watching and chatting and taking notes,” she said. “I’m sure I missed bits of wisdom, but I can now go and pick up at my leisure.”

She said MPI implemented some out-of-the-box thinking with ways to include the digital audience.

“I don’t know if it was planned originally but the Fan Cam was brilliant,” she said. “I was involved in the live presentations and very engaged, just waiting for our next chance to clap or wave. I’m surprised there weren’t more of us in the ‘Fan Cam Fam.’ It was fun during breaks when they unmuted us. I ended up making a couple of useful contacts in that Zoom room.”

Rasco also appreciated the MPItv interviews but would have liked a better schedule to know who was speaking at certain times.

International members also cited positive experiences with the digital education.

Ingrid Rip (MPI Netherlands Chapter) said she missed some the engagement of being at the event in person but liked that everyone in the digital sessions could actively participate.

For example, the MPI Scandinavia Chapter, in collaboration with chapters from Belgium, Finland and Italy, provided a session on multi-hub case studies. Working with Babs Nijdam (MPI Netherlands Chapter), Rip presented a session about “how the brain learns.”

“People were given the opportunity to respond in breakouts and they could share experiences that we also fed back,” she said. “This made it a nice interactive session.”

While in the breakouts it was easy to participate interactively, however, Rip was disappointed that this was not possible in the plenary sessions.

“This was only a stream and a chat function where it was difficult with so many participants to have a conversation.”

Makiko Yamamoto (MPI Japan Chapter) said she thought it was a “fantastic event.”

“I attended digital WEC from Tokyo with a 15-hour time difference and was rubbing my sleepy eyes,” she said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to join the digital WEC as I hadn’t been able to attend in-person, as in the past. I was able to get a lot of information with people in the MICE industry and was encouraged by the keynote speeches, sessions and MPItv.”

Happy Safe Trails

Temple said WEC was “incredibly important” to show the industry how to conduct a safe and effective live and hybrid event experience in the middle of a pandemic. 

“MPI WEC set the standard for what live meetings could and should do, to protect their participants going forward,” he said. “The world was watching WEC Grapevine last week and we shined beautifully. I have literally received hundreds of messages of support and motivation to continue our bold commitment to host WEC. This past week while we were executing WEC, I often got emotional as I greeted registrants, hotel workers, DMOs and longtime industry friends with a smile and big virtual hug. Our community has missed doing live events.”

MPI is planning substantial research and education to show how WEC was executed, including a December webinar to ‘“give transparent, tangible tools to planners and suppliers about our entire WEC planning journey,” Gregg said. “We will have video and pictures to share that can be a toolbox for destinations, hotels and planners to demonstrate safe in-person meetings.

“One thing I knew in my heart that became abundantly clear at WEC Grapevine is the power of live connection. As much as we have video calls, being with people together ignites energy and connection in ways video never can. In-person interaction will always create deeper relationships.”

Final attendee numbers

·      Total: 1,739

·      In-person: 608

·      Digital: 1,131

In-Person Experience

·      Total number of concurrent sessions: 23

·      Total number of general sessions: 5

·      Most-attended Sessions: Reimagining F&B Post COVID, 109 attendees; Coronavirus Event Safety Strategies, 100 attendees; Budgeting for Hybrid Programs - “We’ll Be Back,” 92 attendees

·      Performance: I was satisfied with the content of General Sessions and concurrent educations - 93% agree. I was asked to reflect on what I learned and how I can apply it - 92% agree

In-person Digital App

·      51.4K overall engagements

·      9.63K social shares and attendee messages

·      46.5K minutes of attendees using the app

Digital Experience

·      Total registrants: 999

·      17 countries

·      64,740 interactions

·      WEC Mid-Day Broadcast: 724 unique attendees

·      9 noncurrent breakout sessions

·      3 Zumba workouts

·      2 Midday broadcasts

WEC Digital Connection

·      5,086 email connections made between attendees

·      7,575 accepted matches (meaning both parties showed interest)

·      340 accepted appointments

·      432 unique participants attended virtual appointments

·      2,485 chat messages in Grip networking: Average of 11 per active user, 233 unique 1:1 chat senders, 495 unique 1:1 chat recipients

·      52 exhibiting suppliers in Digital Connection

·      71% planner to supplier ratio

MPI Foundation

·      Rendezvous attendees: over 475 registered

·      Total raised from Rendezvous: $31,000+

·      Total raised from the Silent Auction: $25,000+

·      Hillberg & Berk: 250 orders representing $6,250 in donations

Chapter Challenge

·      Oklahoma: 26.2% of chapter attended

·      Dallas/Fort Worth: 32% (157!!!) of chapter attended

Hosted Buyer Best Match program

·      84 planner, 41 suppliers 

·      Speed Networking: 21 planners, 31 suppliers

·      720 Best Match appointments

·      414 Speed Networking appointments



Rich Luna

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