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Some predicted trends in the U.S. conference/convention/meeting industry that will impact sales representatives include the proliferation of thermal scanners and the shift to virtual events.

1. Thermal Scanners

  • In-person sales conferences and meetings will be expected to have thermal scanners at the entrances to venues to take the temperature of all attendees before they enter the conference.
  • Thermal scanners take heat images of everyone passing by the camera to detect body temperature. This technology can take the temperature of many people at once, making it much more convenient than taking each person’s temperature one at a time.
  • Additionally, thermal scanners take the entire body’s temperature rather than just taking the temperature of a single spot (i.e. the forehead), making it a more accurate assessment of whether or not a fever is present. However, the scanners do have limitations, including the fact that they only take surface temperature and not internal temperature, which is the “real indicator of fever.”
  • Venues that do not have thermal scanners will have an increased risk of COVID-19 and other contagious viruses and will miss out on opportunities to host conferences and meetings as many attendees will require this additional layer of security before they agree to attend.
  • Scanners can be purchased or rented, making them accessible to any conference planner.
  • The driving force behind thermal scanners at conferences is that not allowing people into events that present any symptoms of a contagious virus us a critical step toward ensuring the safety of participants. Many people will refuse to attend conferences that are not taking precautions such as using thermal scanners.
  • Before conferences resume, thermal scanning will need to be in place and there have been numerous companies spring up that are offering this technology. Therefore, it is clear this will be a trend that impacts sales conferences in the U.S. within the next six months to a year.

2. Virtual Events

  • The single biggest shift in the U.S. conferences industry is that they are moving online, and this is expected to remain a trend even after the COVID-19 crisis ends. According to Crystal Valentine, chief data strategy officer at Eventbrite, “We expect online events will continue to play a big role in events post-pandemic.”
  • In fact, many companies have begun to question the need for attending in-person conferences, especially since many have been successful in a virtual format since being forced to switch gears in light of the pandemic. As one scientist stated, “At some point, we need to be having conversations about ‘What is the point of a conference now?'”
  • Virtual meetings are also accessible to more attendees than in-person events, which can even the playing field for companies that do not have resources to send employees to in-person conferences.
  • Another benefit to virtual events is that they lower the carbon footprint of people who would normally have to fly to conferences, especially those that are held internationally.
  • Security measures such as thermal scanning, additional cleaning, and capped attendance will all make in-person conferences more expensive, which is another driving factor of online events.
  • Online events are significantly cheaper for hosts, as for typical in-person events, “around 20 percent is spent on the venue, 20 percent on food and beverages, and almost 20 percent is on equipment.” Very little of an in-person conference budget actually goes toward programs and speaker fees. In theory, because there is no huge venue to fill, online event planners can spend more of their budget on speakers and programs.
  • When the pandemic is over, there will likely be an increase of hybrid events, which will cap in-person attendance to allow for social distancing, but will include a virtual component that will allow many more people to attend conferences online.
  • Several companies have begun offering hybrid event solutions such as Run the World and Hopin, both of which provide live streams of conference events while offering virtual networking opportunities like a virtual cocktail party (Run the World) and ChatRoulette (Hopin), where attendees can meet each other in a less formal online setting.
  • For sales representatives, virtual conferences are less than ideal because networking is a critical aspect of these events and this is much harder to do online. However, chat rooms and virtual lounges are allowing some networking to occur even if it’s not at the level of in-person events.

3. Digital Materials and Event Mobile Apps

  • Since the COVID-19 virus can stay active on surfaces for many hours, and sometimes days, conferences will be moving all materials online and will be using digital apps or social media more to engage with attendees.
  • The main driver of this is that guests will feel more comfortable handling their own devices to view materials because they will be at a lower risk of contracting COVID-19 or another virus.
  • Additionally, passing around a microphone so that attendees can ask speakers questions will be a thing of the past since doing so is a major germ spreader. Instead, speakers will use a digital app or social media to post questions using a unique hashtag. This will send the questions right to the presenter’s device and accomplish the same goal.
  • This will also impact salespeople specifically because at most in-person conferences the “exchange of printed materials, such as business cards and sales brochures, will also be discouraged, with digital alternatives recommended.”
  • Salespeople will need to develop a way to share their business cards virtually and discover how to motivate others to navigate to or download their sales brochures online. This is a challenge because salespeople will not be able to get their materials directly in front of prospective buyers as easily as they can with printed materials.
  • QR codes are also expected to increase in popularity for conferences because they will provide attendees with contactless options for accessing event information.
  • These codes can also allow people to register for events without needing to touch a communal computer or tablet, or without using a pen and paper to manually register. This reduces the number of objects a person has to touch before ever entering the conference.
  • QR codes may also be a way for attendees to exchange information without exchanging printed materials. For instance, “Including a QR code on participant badges gives them an easy way to exchange contact data simply by scanning with their smartphones. This modern replacement for business cards facilitates networking at B2B and other types of events.”
  • The use of beacons at trade shows will also help salespeople as these work through attendees’ Bluetooth connections and allow vendors and trade show managers to send information to guests. This means coupons, special offers, invitations to seminars, and food vouchers can all be sent in real time to market products to attendees.

4. Prepackaged Food

  • Even though there is no evidence that COVID-19 is transmitted through food, the sharing of utensils and close contact while in food service lines are concerns that conferences have to address.
  • Many conferences and conventions used buffet-style food service prior to the pandemic, as it’s cheaper, easier to serve, and allows attendees to make their own food choices.
  • However, the threat of the virus lingering on serving utensils, buffet tables, and other surfaces is causing disruption to traditional food service at events.
  • Additionally, having people stand side-by-side as they wait in a buffet line is against social distancing protocols that must be implemented in most states to allow large-scale gatherings to occur.
  • For these reasons, many conferences are choosing boxed meals as alternatives to buffet-style menus. While boxed meals do not have the same connotation as buffets, they are the safer and cheaper choice for many organizers.
  • If a buffet is offered, sneeze guards will need to be installed, additional staff members will need to be hired to serve the food so that they are the only ones touching the utensils, and extra time will need to be blocked off for meals to accommodate fewer people at a time. This will all add increased costs to the event organizer.
  • Boxed meals, on the other hand, can be prepared by a smaller number of staff members who have been trained in safety protocols, will not be touched by more than one guest, can be handed out at any time during the conference, and can be eaten in locations other than a dining room to allow for social distancing.
  • The restrictions on food will also impact salespeople who are selling food items, as they will not be able to offer samples unless they are packaged individually. Cooking demonstrations will also be challenging since people often like to taste the food immediately after it’s been prepared to make purchasing decisions.
  • Catering companies like Sodexo are pivoting their business model to provide prepackaged food under a new brand (Simply To Go) to communicate to its clients that they don’t have to “worry about cross-contamination or other people coming into contact with what they’re eating.”
TDM

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