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Virtual meetings are hi-tech saviours amid coronavirus scare

As delegates and clients become increasingly worried over the coronavirus outbreak, the spotlight has turned on virtual meetings as the hi-tech saviour for event organisers.

Technology is revolutionising how events are planned, executed and experienced. Event organisers need to look at solutions to emergency situations – and this is where virtual meetings come into their own.

At Amazon’s Web Services (AWS) re:Invent 2019 conference, which was held at multiple venuesdelegates used the event’s app to explore event venues and post quick-fire reviews of workshops.

Hotel groups have often been at the forefront of using technology in their interaction with clients. InterContinental Hotels Group has been working with Accenture and Qualcomm Technologies on a pilot scheme that uses augmented and virtual reality to develop and enrich the event-planning experience. The XR Event Planner creates a virtual space where places event organisers, buyers and hotel teams can communicate in the virtual environment of an event space.

Dale Parmenter, founder and group CEO of DRPG has been using virtual meetings as part of the global communication’s repertoire for some time. “It is something we have been talking to clients about and something we have done for years. If there is a real nervousness about bringing delegates into the UK or to other parts of the world then switching to a virtual meeting is simple to do and it’s not that expensive.

Dale Parmenter.

Dale Parmenter.

“Of course face to face is absolutely where the most powerful communication is but virtual meetings are the next best thing. We’ve done many different types of virtual meetings, some which are completely global with thousands of people online with two-way communication. You can do digital team building, all the normal breakouts, exhibition workshops, everything you can do in a normal conference centre you can do online now.”

Parmenter gives the example of a food-tasting event for a global good company. “We sent all the food samples out in advance and then we had a day’s conference where people would feedback on all the developments,” Parmenter said.

“Virtual meetings have the added advantage of being able to continue well after the conference has finished. The delegates from Thailand were so enthused that they stayed online until midnight!”

Parmenter is keeping a very close watch on the coronavirus situation. “We’ve got a few events overseas at the moment, as well as some in a few weeks’ time. Questions are being asked about what do we do – do we postpone, do we cancel, what are the implications? We have a team who are nervous, we’ve got delegates who are nervous.

“We have nothing cancelled so far, but we’ve been following foreign office advice, looking at different options, talking to suppliers in that country, whether we postpone and move it forward by several months. Clearly, it’s a moving feast.”

Companies have a duty of care towards their staff, which Parmenter takes very seriously. “We would never put our people in any danger. Or if we have someone say I’m really uncomfortable about doing this, then we have to respect their fears. We can’t put people in a frightening situation.

“It’s our duty of care. We treat our team like our family – would you put your family in danger – and sometimes that goes against what the client is saying.”

This is a very unusual situation, Parmenter explains. “The only time I’ve ever experienced anything like this is with the terrorism threats. When Sars was out, it didn’t really affect us as we didn’t have any events in that part of the world.”

Top crisis management tips from DRPG

  • Define a crisis – ensure your teams understand what constitutes a genuine crisis.
  • Know your command structure – ensure you know who your key crisis strategists are.
  • Know your contact structure – know how you activate your crisis plan and reach your skilled crisis team – 24 hours a day.
  • Liaise with your key suppliers – your crisis procedures should work alongside each other.
  • Have social media guidelines – have a social media policy before a crisis occurs. A handful of poorly worded tweets could escalate a minor crisis to a full-scale PR disaster.