Planners Moving Forward Series - Tammy Kockaya, Event Leadership Institute

Tammy Kockaya, of Event Leadership Institute, 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: Tammy Kockaya

Company Name: Event Leadership Institute

Job Title: Chief Strategy and Growth Officer

Years of Experience: 21

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?
We all have a story to tell about the last 24+ months' impact on every facet of our lives. I’m proud of my story arc, from what I was doing professionally as the pandemic began to where I am today. The last two years have taught me I can learn many new skills and find success in ways that wouldn’t have been possible pre-pandemic. I used the time to invest in myself, take a few risks, and try new things so that my experience is now more well-rounded. Now, I can bring a richer and more inspired view to my work. My passions have always been in talent and people development. With the disruptions in so many industries, and especially the events industry, the need for quality training, education, and professional development has never been greater. In addition, the essential job skills for event professionals have shifted during the last two years, and new skills that are now needed are taking shape based on how events have been disrupted. I’m excited to be a part of an organization that teaches and prepares event professionals for the expanded job skills required now and in the future.
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?
The Event Leadership Institute is the premier provider of professional development and education for event professionals at any stage in their careers. We’ve been forecasting the professional development opportunities, skills, and competencies that event professionals need to succeed in today’s event landscape. We’re hearing from leaders of event teams that the formula for being a successful event professional is changing. As a result, the methods and ways we need to educate and develop event professionals (at any stage in their career) also need to evolve. We can point to the recent rise in leveraging virtual events, that the overall visibility and importance in an organization’s strategy has increased. The work of event professionals became more scrutinized as budgets were more closely monitored, data on participant engagement were easier to see, and the perspective of the event professional in helping leaders map out the organization’s event strategy became more essential. Planners have had to quickly ramp up on various business acumen skills (whether hard or soft), and for many, this has presented a needed and desired growth opportunity. As a result, we’ve developed a new formula for success as an event planner, which equates to Logistics + Creativity + Business Acumen = Success. 
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?
Hybrid meetings and events are not a new concept. Think live-streaming sports, concerts, awards shows, or annual company town hall meetings. What is new is the use of the hybrid model in transitioning from what were 100% in-person meetings into an experience that can now engage an in-person audience with a digital audience. Many organizations are looking to the hybrid model to increase their reach, engage with more clients or members, and continue to provide the same level of content to both audiences that they were previously providing solely to an in-person audience. In theory, this seems like a simple concept, but in reality, it is a bit more complicated and, when done well, expensive to pull off effectively. We’re hearing from our learners that the use of hybrid is mixed. Some are all-in and have planned or are planning hybrid events for their organization; others have considered but, based on cost or complexity, are continuing with virtual until they can return to entirely in-person or have returned to fully in-person with no virtual component. My #1 recommendation is to clearly define the event purpose and goals, measurable outcomes, and key performance indicators for the event, and to do the work from the outset with your stakeholders to make the best decision on whether to leverage the hybrid model. Without this level of clarity on the event’s purpose, goals, and expectations, the return on the investments of time, expense, and collateral, the hybrid will not be a success. 
In your opinion, what do you think the biggest value for your attendees is in regards to returning to live events?
As many organizations are likely experiencing, the most significant value right now for the participants is the ability to network and connect in a human-to-human way. We all are missing hugs and handshakes. From the smallest events to the largest, event professionals are crafting unique and innovative opportunities for their attendees to engage with each other during the event through enhanced networking, volunteer, and non-structured time. In addition, the F2F event is being set up as the catalyst for organizations to create 365/year-round event communities. Planners need to consider when and how best to develop these opportunities at the sourcing and RFP phase and identify venues, suppliers, and vendors that can effectively support opportunities for increased engagement. However, I think that the outsized focus on networking and community building right now will evolve, and the pendulum will shift back to a balanced approach to content+engagement. Organizations will need to be ready for the shift. 
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?
When I think back to my nearly six years in sourcing and contracting, much has changed, especially with the advent of technology, automation, and servicing solutions. However, technology cannot replace the importance of human connection in the sourcing process. Events and meetings are living, breathing entities, and no one event is identical to the other. So while planners can provide all of the data inputs that comprise their program, it's the human connection with the sales professionals that will best help tell the story of their program. As a result, technology companies looking to augment the sourcing and contracting process to support human-to-human connections will be most successful when they can translate the physical facility with the desired human experience. In addition, planners report that their event history, data points, and benchmarks are outdated. Timeframes are also shifting (and shortening), and as a result, flexibility, but above all, honesty, is essential for planners and hoteliers navigating the new normal together. Only by working together during the sourcing process in a collaborative way, leading with honesty and integrity, and leaning heavily on our human-to-human connections will we truly be partners in the industry's recovery and growth.

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. 

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