If you think your clients and prospects might be coping with Zoom fatigue, you’re probably right. Nearly all of us are, have, or will. It’s not just Zoom. Popular online virtual meeting platforms like Teams, GoToMeeting, GoogleMeet, and others are beginning to lose some of their appeal, too.
At Word & Brown General Agency, we continue to host webinars/online meetings, and probably will for years to come. But, we’re making a move back to in-person events. We know there’s added value in connecting one-on-one – even in a group setting. What matters is nurturing valuable client and prospect connections.
We have hosted 20 live, in-person events so far in 2022. We have also attended an additional 20 live, in-person events. The roster includes overnight top producer events; Topgolf outings; axe-throwing; suites at baseball, basketball, and hockey venues; happy hour get-togethers; golf tournaments; tradeshows; women’s conferences and lunches; crab feeds; summer picnics; and even a day at the races. We expect to host 25-30 live in-person events during the remainder of 2022 and into 2023.
Reasons for Fatigue
It’s easy to understand why people are less enthusiastic about yet another online meeting or virtual event. Early on, the novelty of connecting via video was interesting, even somewhat exciting. Connecting online made a lot of sense, due to widespread concern about interacting with others in-person and potentially risking exposure to COVID-19.
After nearly three years since the first COVID-19 diagnosis, enthusiasm for virtual connections is waning. Many of us are overwhelmed by the “required attention” when we’re on a video call. Stanford University researcher Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of the Standard Virtual Human Inaction Lab, says the close-up eye contact is highly intense. It’s mentally draining trying to read everyone’s facial expressions online. It can also be fatiguing to repeatedly see yourself during a video chat.
Crafting a Return to In-Person
Some have suggested it may never be like it was before (pre-2020). I disagree. I think it may just take a while to get there. No one knows for sure, of course. However, we’ve seen success with our movement toward more in-person connection so far. If you want to make a similar transition, I suggest that you may just need to reframe your expectations and parameters for future events and meetings.
For example, maybe your event needs to downsize a bit. Instead of hosting a small business event for 40 or 50 people, focus on a smaller, more intimate setting — for 10, 12, or 20 participants.
Clients and prospects may welcome the opportunity to meet in person. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that professionals have missed rubbing shoulders and schmoozing. They are eager to attend in-person luncheons and events. In fact, they’re turning up for events they once dreaded or only attended out of obligation before the pandemic.
Consider a Hybrid Option
Flexibility is the key. If you haven’t yet hosted your first in-person event, consider making it a hybrid meeting. For group events, you can give your attendees the option to come out and join you at a local venue, with or without a mask. You can simultaneously give your target audience a method to get the information through a recording of your planned presentation – or a link to access information online that others will receive in person.
While the costs of hosting two events will be higher than an in-person event alone, back-up options ensure maximum share of information. People can stay up to date if their plans change and they are unable to come in-person. Worst case scenario, with fall around the corner, one or more attendees could develop the flu or test positive before your event and won’t want to risk exposing others.
Old – and New – Rules Apply
With more than 50 counties in California reporting a vaccination rate above 50% (and Imperial County boasting an impressive 93.4% as of 9/8/2022), it’s up to you if you want to ask attendees for proof of vaccination. Sixty-three percent of Nevadans, statewide, are fully vaccinated; that compares to 62.34% in Clark County and nearly 69% in Washoe County as of September 7.
While there are currently no county or state mask mandates in place, select venues may still require (or strongly recommend) masking. Some attendees may prefer to wear a mask when indoors, even when not required. You want everyone to feel comfortable, so if a mask does it, that’s okay. It’s also a good idea to make masks available for those who don’t remember to bring one, or who change their mind once at your event.
A commitment to a safe, clean environment is important to making participants feel safe, from a psychological perspective. Be sure your venue is thoroughly disinfected, and that ventilation is good. (Many venues have made upgrades in the past two years to make visitors feel more comfortable.) Offer hand sanitizer and, if possible, screenings if anyone feels unwell.
Set up your tables, chairs, and event space to allow for social distancing, if possible. You likely will draw a cross-section of attendees, some ready to interact closely with others (reminiscent of days past); others still very cautious but interested enough in your topic to show up. If you’re serving food, offer pre-assembled meals to prevent the formation of buffet lines. Be sure your event signage clearly directs attendees to your space.
Even if you’re not planning any larger-scale events, you need to consider how to reshape your approach to one-on-one meetings as well. Some clients or prospects may be ready to meet in their office (or yours). Others may be willing to meet for coffee or lunch at a restaurant. A few may still be reluctant. That means, for now, continued discussions via Zoom or Teams may be the norm for a segment of your audience. Be flexible enough to craft a plan that works for whatever your client or prospect prefers. It’s the connection that matters – whether you build it in-person or virtually.