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Lessons Learned in ‘21 Should Shape How We Do Business in ‘22

All too familiar speed bumps are lining the start to 2022. As another coronavirus variant wave sweeps across the world, those of us in the meetings and events industry are again making the switch from in-person shows and conferences to virtual events.

Take, for example, the annual January juggernaut, the Consumer Electronics Show. After hosting the famous trade show online last year, organizers were hopeful for a normal, in-person event this year in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the recent omicron spike forced several big-name tech companies to drop out, and attendance was down more than 70% from its most recent in-person show back in 2020 — definitely not what organizers had planned for or wanted.

Despite the setbacks, our industry did see positive momentum with the return of in-person attendees overall in 2021, and there’s hope we will see more later this year. While we can’t predict everything that’s in store for our industry — or life, in general — we can set ourselves up for success in the months ahead. Many of the lessons we learned over the past year can shape not only how we do business this year, but also how we as leaders manage our teams effectively through the continued uncertainty. Here’s what will carry us through:

Embrace Your Inner “Duck” 

One thing the pandemic has taught us all is that anything can change at a moment’s notice. In fact, change has seemed to become the only constant lately. We’ve all had to adapt in a variety of ways in order to manage and mitigate the challenges that keep popping up at every turn.

Pre-pandemic, I always encouraged my team at The 180 Group to “be the duck.” It’s our motto for remaining calm, cool and collected when the unexpected happens, and something unexpected always does happen during live events. It’s simply the nature of our business, and because of that, we plan for any and all situations that could arise before, during and after our shows.

Since the pandemic, it has become even more vital for us to embrace our inner “ducks” by keeping a level head on the surface and “paddling like crazy underneath.” In our case, that means planning for all possible scenarios behind the scenes while innovating simultaneously. Heading into 2022, we had several in-person shows scheduled, but we knew things could — and would — change. So instead of planning only for in-person experiences, we made a conscious decision early on to plan all of our shows with two parallel scenarios — one in-person and one virtual. That way, even if the client was forced to change things up last-minute due to health and safety concerns, our teams would still be able to flawlessly deliver an engaging and unique event.

We also wanted to take our virtual experiences to the next level, so this year, we’re introducing immersive virtual environments, which give our clients the look and feel of real-world spaces and allow them the ability to interact with them. The intentional investments we made in talent and technology last year have set the stage for exciting things to come. And because we’re continuing to embrace our inner “ducks,” our teams and our clients are not only ready for whatever comes our way this year, they’re also driving a virtual events revolution.

Set the Tone

Leading teams to greatness in 2022 will take more than just exceptional planning, however. It will also require us as leaders to set the right tone and lead by example. We must emulate the behaviors we want from our teams and be the people we want them to be.

Over the last year, we saw more Americans leave their jobs than ever before, and The Great Resignation isn’t slowing down. According to one recent survey, one in four workers plans on quitting their jobs in 2022. Many cite burnout as a reason why they’re leaving, and at the same time, they also say more empathetic leadership would help them stay. As leaders, we need to see our people as human beings who are dealing with a lot right now and create a respectful and supportive culture for them. 

One way we can do this is by being vulnerable with our teams. Vulnerability is a powerful tool when it comes to building stronger connections and providing greater opportunities for innovation. As I stepped into the CEO role last year, I realized there is almost an invisible barrier for some people who feel intimidated to bring their ideas or concerns to “the boss.” Over the last few months, I’ve realized the tremendous responsibility I have and work hard to break down that barrier every day.

I want my team to trust me as much as I trust them, and I want them to see me as a human being too. I make it a priority to check in with my team as often as I can and get to know them personally. By doing that consistently, I’m setting a caring tone and creating a stronger team. 

Lift Each Other Up

Finally, let’s all remember to lift each other up during these chaotic times, both professionally and mentally. This past year has reinforced how hard it is for people in any industry and at any level to deal with this amount of change all of the time. If our staff doesn’t feel stable in their positions or supported and heard by those of us in leadership, they’re going to feel even more stressed and won’t perform at their best. As we lean into 2022, our team’s morale should be front and center in our minds as leaders, and we must find ways to show them they are valued and their work is important and celebrate their achievements.

We know there will be more challenges, but if we have the right people, the right culture and the right plans in place, we can thrive in 2022. The wisdom we’ve gained will help us get through the uncertainty and shape brighter days ahead.

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