Planners Moving Forward Series- Sarah Gould-Stotts, Simple Meeting Solutions

Sarah Gould-Stotts, of Simple Meeting Solutions, brings awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world.



This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlight's planners across the industry to bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating and lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world. 


Name: Sarah Gould-Stotts

Company Name: Simple Meeting Solutions

Job Title: President/Principal Partner

Years of Experience: 14

How do you think you are positioned, after months of persevering with the pandemic, to take advantage of our new and disrupted meetings/events landscape?
The collective pause that the pandemic forced on the meetings industry gave us an opportunity to reevaluate the value proposition of meetings in general and pushed us to innovate in ways we have been resistant to over the last few years. The incredible resources available in the industry for upskilling helped me improve my virtual and hybrid event skills with a Virtual Event and Meeting Management Certification and Hybrid and Virtual Event Director Certification. I also undertook a certification for Onsite Pandemic Protocol to ensure my clients can meet safely as we return to in-person meetings. Simple Meeting Solutions is positioned to leverage this new training and provide best-in-class meeting planning services to clients who may have eliminated their in-house planner positions, who are looking into how to meet safely in person, and who want the value-add expertise of a meeting professional to help navigate this new and quickly evolving landscape. I think now more than ever we understand the pros and cons of virtual meetings, the true value of in-person events, and the multitude of options we have for creating meaningful experiences for our attendees, even if it doesn’t look the same way it used to. With this new knowledge and understanding, I think our expertise as planners can create even more value for our clients than before the pandemic. 
As our community moves forward with planning in-person meetings, what new technologies or processes are you implementing that you may have not looked at before?
We are integrating Covid safety protocol planning as an integral part of our strategy process so that we thoroughly understand our objectives, priorities, and needs before we get too far into the planning process. This strategic clarity at the early stages of an event has helped us to have better conversations with potential venues and vendors to ensure everyone is aligned behind the same goals. Mobile technology will play a pivotal role in successfully executing safe in-person meetings. Before the pandemic, event apps were often a “nice-to-have” tool for optimizing the attendee experience and sustainability of an event. Now, they are a critical piece of the puzzle in effectively and safely communicating with attendees and in deploying some of our Covid safety strategies. 
As we see virtual meetings transition back to face to face, hybrid meetings are beginning to be the vehicle to return to normalcy. What are your thoughts on hybrid meetings versus traditional fully in-person meetings?
The decision to plan a hybrid meeting needs to be rooted in strategy and ROI. Hybrid capabilities often add expense and complexity to a meeting so there needs to be a compelling value proposition for integrating hybrid features. With so many innovative technologies available to make hybrid meetings more feasible than ever before, I think hybrid events will be just another tool in our toolbox for achieving the event objectives we set out to achieve. As the world continues to formulate the new “normal,” hybrid events will have their place but they won’t always be the best option for the program, the client, or the attendee. 
In your opinion, what do you think the biggest value for your attendees is in regards to returning to live events?
Connection and collaboration. These two facets of human interaction cannot be adequately replaced by virtual event delivery, no matter how innovative the technology becomes. Our need to be together is more acute now than at any other time in my memory. I think the value of in-person meetings is more deeply understood now that we have had to go without them for so long. And as remote work becomes even more of a permanent fixture for companies, the business value of bringing people together for camaraderie and collaboration will only continue to grow in importance. As we begin to plan in-person events again, I think the pursuit of authentic connection and productive collaboration will influence agendas, programming, and purchasing decisions. 
As the pandemic fades away and we return to face-to-face events what do you hope changes, either for planners or hoteliers, in the traditional RFP and proposal process as a result of all of the learnings from the last 20+ months?
Before the pandemic, the process of sourcing hotels often felt adversarial – planners and hoteliers were on opposite teams and it was often a fight to get what my clients needed or protect them from being taken advantage of. There was a pervasive attitude that each piece of business was replaceable, especially for the smaller business meetings that didn’t generate record revenues with one event. What I hope happens post-pandemic in the RFP and proposal process is two-fold. First, I hope we better understand, both as planners and hoteliers, how much we need each other. I hope that we keep this mutual dependency and symbiotic relationship in mind when we are negotiating contracts and planning events. Second, I hope that hotels reassess the value of smaller meetings. I think we will see a significant increase in demand for “simple meetings” as remote teams gather multiple times throughout the year and it remains unsafe to have large gatherings indoors. Smaller, more frequent business meetings will be the bread and butter for many hotels and planners alike so I hope that more value is placed on attracting and retaining their business.

This post is part of the HopSkip Planner Spotlight Series where HopSkip spotlights planners across the industry bring awareness of how they adapted to COVID-19, communicating lessons learned and sharing how they are viewing the meetings and events industry in a post-pandemic world. 

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