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Lessons Learned: Virtual vs. In-person Meetings


By: Mark Dooner, Visit Raleigh | Dec 3, 2020

by Marc Dooner, Visit Raleigh

The Visit Raleigh team has worked hard to be diligent and creative in the way they do their jobs during the pandemic. We've truly missed hosting meetings in the Raleigh area, have been working with our venues on health and safety protocols and are ready to restart planning whenever clients wish to talk.

"The situation has required us to rethink and reinvent many of the themes we use when talking about Raleigh, N.C., with leisure visitors, sports event planners and especially convention planning professionals and their attendees," said Malinda Harrell, CMP, CASE, director of sales at Visit Raleigh.

In Oct. 2020, her sales team hosted its first Meeting Professionals Summit (MPS) of 2020, which had been a well-received, in-person event held in the city last year. This year, the team had to move to an online format, which required some reimagining.

Here, Malinda and Marc Dooner, national sales manager at Visit Raleigh, talk about the lessons they have learned from moving an in-person, educational event to a virtual one.

Now that we're seven months into a pandemic, what are your observations about virtual meetings vs. in-person meetings? Are there advantages? What are the disadvantages?

An advantage of a virtual meeting is that the platform does not limit the number of attendees or thought-leaders who can speak at your event. You can also invite more people from more areas and that means great advantages for sponsor opportunities. And we have found that attendees are more forgiving about the challenges that happen in virtual meetings.

The disadvantages are that we miss the opportunities for organic learning and relationship-building from not being face-to-face. There is no guarantee that someone will come just because they sign-up, and there is no personal touch. Plus, technology can fail.

Also, we are learning that content and topics are quick-to-change based on what is going on in the world and in the community. Zoom fatigue is a real thing. Keeping attendees engaged and excited about being on their computers for a meeting takes a lot of time and planning.

What have you learned about planning virtual meetings that you have found most valuable?

  • Forgive yourself for not being perfect (you are not alone).
  • There is no such thing as preparing too much.
  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Make sure you have a backup plan just in case something unexpected happens. Then have a backup plan for your backup plan. In our first virtual MPS, we had two issues come up back-to-back, and we were only prepared for one. 
  • Have an AV/production check separate from a rehearsal.
  • Have several full run-throughs if time allows.
  • Pre-record specific content if that is an option.

What do you miss most about pre-COVID meetings?

Organic conversations and connections that don’t happen in virtual meetings; seeing people in-person, talking and catching up; meeting new people; and having everyone in one space.

The human connection does not happen in the same way virtually—knowing that you are not necessarily sharing the experience but rather participating in the same experience. Having the same sensorial experience strengthens the level of connection one can feel and has a greater proclivity to develop into a long-term relationship.

What are you most looking forward to when the pandemic is over?

Face-to-face connections! Interacting with people we haven't seen in a while and attending meetings, tradeshows and other events in-person.

What have you learned about the meeting planning business during this time?

  • The industry is resilient.
  • People can shift to the new normal easily and take on new roles.
  • Everyone has each other's back and is working together to get through this.

For more information about the next Meeting Professionals Summit in the 2020 Virtual Series, or with any questions about Raleigh, N.C., and its post-COVID preparedness, contact Marc Dooner at 919.645.2688 or mdooner@visitRaleigh.com.



Mark Dooner, Visit Raleigh
National Sales Manager at Visit Raleigh


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