In a recent poll on this site, 115 visitors responded with their comfort level regarding when they would travel to an in-person event. Fifty-seven percent said that they are ready to attend an HVACR event now, and another 17% reported that they would be ready within six months.
How soon in-person events can resume will be decided by a number of variables, including expected attendance, legislative restrictions, and general health/safety guidelines. But people are looking forward to coming back, and HVACR associations are looking forward to returning to in-person events.
“People need people,” said Kimya Cajchun, directorb of events and benchmarking, ACCA (Air Conditioning Contractors of America). “In business, interacting and learning from others works really well in-person. For industries like ours, HVACR contractors — essential workers, who continued to do their work in person throughout the pandemic — in-person is almost a given. They understood and adapted to the digital adjustments made, but also welcome a return to in-person.”
The situation regarding events is fluid due to the changing COVID-19 situation. With that in mind, industry associations took the time to share their plans for events later this year.
Karen Buckley Washington, public relations specialist for ASHRAE, said that the organization is planning another fully virtual event for its 2021 Virtual Annual Conference this summer. This will be ASHRAE’s third fully virtual event for a large audience since spring of 2020.
The organization has seen success with these conferences. The 2020 ASHRAE Virtual Conference saw a 45% increase in attendance from its previous in-person Annual Conference. The 2021 Virtual Winter Conference brought over 1,800 attendees, and the group has seen high attendance in its eLearning web-based training, as well as virtual instructor-led training.
“We are planning to host smaller conferences this fall that will likely be in-person with a hybrid virtual component for participants who choose not to meet in-person,” said Washington. “Currently, we are considering a hybrid event for our 2022 Winter Conference in hopes of accommodating both in-person and virtual attendees.”
Pete Danielson, vice president of market development for Service Roundtable, sees a lot of pent-up demand for travel and personal interaction. Digital webinars are definitely a convenient, cost-effective, and beneficial way to learn, but Danielson doesn’t believe they replace in-person networking, collaboration, and socialization.
Service Roundtable enjoyed an attendance of nearly 6,000 at its 2020 Service World Expo, which was virtual. Many of its other digital events have enjoyed high attendance, ranging anywhere from a 20-100% increase of 2019. “We are having our spring event on the beach in Clearwater, Florida, in person, outside under a tent and social distanced,” he said. “We’re very excited about this event and we’re calling it The Barefoot Roundtable.”
EGIA has already begun adding some live, in-person workshops back into its training calendar, alongside virtual versions, being careful to stick to health and safety guidelines and regional restrictions. Currently, the group is planning to host its annual conference, EPIC2021, face-to-face in Las Vegas (taking place in late October).
According to Lucas Ehrbar, director of communications and marketing partnerships at EGIA, the organization is utilizing a hybrid strategy of hosting both in-person and virtual meetings. This also ensures that the greatest number of contractors can benefit from virtual workshops, regardless of their budget, schedule, location, or health situation. The group hosted LEAD 2021, its second virtual leadership summit, and its attendance exceeded EGIA’s projections as well as generated high reviews.
“While the motivation, energy, and overall experience of a live event can’t be overstated, there are also clear benefits to virtual when it comes to convenience, health, and safety,” said Ehrbar. “For the foreseeable future, a hybrid solution of live and virtual events seems the most prudent, and the most beneficial in order to bring value to contractors of all sizes.”
ACCA is currently planning for in-person fall meetings from Nov. 1-3 in New Orleans (the Office and Operations Managers Forum and the Service Managers Forum). The group is also planning on an in-person ACCA 2022 in St. Louis, March 28-30.
“Digital events have had a great reception for us this past year,” said Cajchun. “For many of us, it was the only option available to reach people. Our members understood and welcomed that. But now that vaccines are circulating, we are definitely hearing the call for in-person events.”
While Cajchun believes people will welcome the return to in-person, she said that digital events’ benefits — reduced travel, lower cost, and others — will keep virtual events circulating in the industry going forward. Different organizations will find different uses for these. For example, ACCA launched a new week-long fall webinar series in October, added an open, online board meeting, and hosted virtual town hall meetings.
“We plan to hold our events starting this summer in-person and focus on bringing people together and allowing the opportunity for people to connect,” said Chris DeBoer, HARDI, director of marketing and sales. He said that HARDI is finding people’s willingness to travel increasing as the vaccinations roll out, so the group plans to host its Focus conference and Emerging Leaders events in person.
HARDI enjoyed positive feedback to its virtual Annual Summit, which was held in lieu of its typical Annual Conference. The group has also offered educational webinars, and DeBoer believes that there will likely always be a place for digital events, especially as they allow more people to get involved. Still, the industry is relationship-based, so time for networking and connection is still vital.
“It seems in-person events will take center stage again for some time, but ways to connect digitally for different reasons is not going anywhere,” said DeBoer.