Steal-Worthy Ideas from IMEX's Online Conference

The second edition of PlanetIMEX, a virtual conference for the global meeting industry, featured a colorful 3D world,  unique networking technology, and other steal-worthy ideas

PlanetImex 2021

The second edition of PlanetIMEX, a virtual conference for the global meeting industry, featured a colorful 3D world, unique networking technology, and other steal-worthy strategies.

Looking for inspiration for your own events? Look no further than the best practices the event industry uses for its own conferences. And that applies to our new virtual world, too. 

Case in point: IMEX Group—the U.K.-based company that typically hosts multiday conferences for the international meetings, incentive travel, and business events communities twice a year (Frankfurt, Germany, in the spring and Las Vegas in the fall)—hosted the second edition of its PlanetIMEX virtual event from Oct. 12-16. Featuring an eye-catching virtual world and a full week of interactive content, the free-with-registration event offered a wealth of inspiration to its global audience.

Like all virtual events, PlanetIMEX's organizers say they're learning as they go. Carina Bauer, CEO of IMEX Group, said the team studied their first virtual conference, held in May, and tweaked based on feedback. “We incorporated all of those learnings into this October edition of PlanetIMEX and, because we like to challenge ourselves, we’ve raised the bar on the visual experience, our learning and education program, and also the variety and creativity of the social and community-building experiences [we offered],” she said in a statement.
Here are five ways the industry conference made an impact earlier this month. 

Virtual attendees could zoom in and out to explore the world and click on plus signs to open content.

1. A fun, interactive environment

In May, IMEX Group's first virtual conference was an interactive world with a series of 3D "islands" built by Storyscape 3D. There was a pine forest-inspired space themed around education, a tropical island with a curated DJ list and fitness challenges, and a desert-like area for networking. For the fall edition, the team used a similar approach with a brand-new theme: a brightly colored underwater world, centered around an animated coral reef covered in seashells, seaweed, and submerged Roman columns. Colorful fish swam around the reef, while a calypso soundtrack played.

To simplify the experience, this time all the experiences were centered around the reef, rather than making guests navigate three different spaces. As guests zoomed in and out on their screens, the reef spun to reveal the different offerings. A giant clam shell in the center hosted the main education stage, for example, while a “message in a bottle”-themed animation led to a daily recap of education sessions. A turtle could be clicked to find sustainability-related content, while red flippers marked the starting line for the virtual #IMEXrun. A creative, on-theme touch? One section featured an underwater livestream of the Georgia Aquarium’s coral reef and whale shark. 

2. Relevant panels and discussions
IMEX always features a variety of talks centered around the biggest issues facing meeting professionals today; previous years have had a particular focus on inclusivity, sustainability, and security, for example. So it’s no surprise that this year had plenty of COVID-19-related content. One of the more popular sessions came from Dr. Tyra Warner, department chair of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the College of Coastal Georgia, who discussed contract negotiations in a post-COVID-19 world. Another discussion came from digital futurist Brian Fanzo, who shared how to leverage new technology and collaboration tools to achieve better business results. “We’re currently dealing with forced change, but we can find ways to embrace this,” said Fanzo.
Additional sessions centered around diversity and inclusivity, such as a talk from Greg DeShields, executive director at PHLDiversity Multicultural Affairs Congress, a division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, who discussed the disparity in medical care across different cultures. There was also a headliner session as part of She Means Business, a dedicated conference celebrating the role of women in business and events, that shared ways to improve representation in leadership. “There is substantial research to show that diversity brings many advantages to an organization, such as increased profitability and creativity, stronger governance, and better problem-solving abilities,” said Gabrielle Austen-Browne, the co-founder of Diversity Ally, who hosted a session on diversifying your supply chain.

Talks also tied into the event’s focal point of “Nature: What we can do for nature, and what nature can do for us”; wilderness explorer Daniel Fox, for example, gave a powerful speech on how nature can elevate the human experience. IMEX also used the conference to debut its new research report, “The Regenerative Revolution: A New Paradigm for Event Management.” Sponsored by Marriott International, the report features case studies, practical advice, and resources to “encourage all those in the events ecosystem to use the pause forced upon us by COVID-19 to imagine a new, regenerative future for the industry and for our planet."

3. A variety of experience formats

To keep people engaged throughout the five-day event, organizers used a variety of different formats and themes. The conference kicked off with a day full of interactive virtual experiences like dance and cooking classes, a vineyard tour, a lesson on creating latte art, and other fun activities. The day was sparked by feedback that attendees wanted to spend more time getting to know each other informally before moving into the more formal business and education sessions.

The following two days focused on general education sessions delivered by experts from around the world. The fourth day, meanwhile, focused on specialist education; event professionals from various disciples met in smaller groups to delve deeper into specific topics. And the last day of the conference was dubbed “Community Day": It featured over 30 sessions facilitated by associations and other partner groups, covering a range of topics such as hybrid technology and event design.

The virtual edition also incorporated certain beloved aspects from its in-person event, such as virtual networking receptions and the virtual #IMEXRun. For the run, participants were asked to share images of their daily workouts using the hashtag #IMEXstillrunning.

4. Networking features
A key feature of the in-person IMEX conferences is the chance to do one-on-one appointments. IMEX accomplished this virtually with Grip, a matchmaking software that uses artificial intelligence to match attendees. How it worked: Upon registration, each attendee was asked to answer basic information about their jobs, and also fill out their specialties and areas of interest. Once the event launched, guests could see the profiles of fellow attendees, and sort by location, interest, job title, and more before requesting a virtual meeting. Or, Grip could do the work for them; the tech could analyze profiles and suggest people attendees might want to network with. You could select “meet,” “interested,” or “skip," and Grip would then analyze preferences to provide more recommendations. 

The easy-to-use platform also allowed participants to set their event agendas, keep track of their daily schedule, read speaker bios, and view any on-demand content they might have missed.

5. Daily recaps, plus content on demand
Let’s face it: A multiday virtual conference will never grab your attendees’ undivided attention the way it would in-person. Recognizing this, PlanetIMEX organizers decided to make all its sessions available on demand for a few weeks after the event wrapped.

Registered attendees also received the PlanetIMEX Daily News, a daily email recap with highlights of the day as well as a preview of the following day. (The daily recap also featured messages and custom content from sponsors, adding a natural touchpoint for the event's many partners.) And now that the event has wrapped, IMEX Group is sending weekly emails highlighting a curated selection of recordings, to ensure attendees don't miss any of the most popular sessions. The email's playful name is, naturally, "catch of the day."


This article first ran on our sister site, BizBash, here