Editor’s Note: As part of Back Light, a series of articles sharing illuminating insider observations, we asked Tahira Endean, head of events with SITE Global to share the decision-making process behind last month’s SITE NITE all NITE and the lessons learned.

Why SITE NITE all NITE?

When IMEX Frankfurt was cancelled this also meant SITE NITE Europe would be cancelled, again. In 2020 we hosted a 2-hour event featuring the talent found within SITE, our first in what would become a series of digital events. The challenge with this is it only captured a fraction of our membership awake. We knew that in April 2021 we would still be unfortunately in various stages of open to stay-at-home for our members on six continents, and that our passionate and resilient community still needed each other.

“How to connect our entire community” became the driving purpose. This event is also a fundraiser supporting the work of the SITE Foundation. We also wanted to continue allowing our members to get to know our trustees better, something the previous year’s talent show accomplished.

How Did We Do It?

We knew only our fantastic technical team at Meptur Destination Business Services would be awake for the duration, so we created a master time zone map of all our chapters and began assigning “15 minutes of fame” to each. We asked them to not just send a destination video, but to remember that we are colleagues and friends and to share their Extraordinary Stories, Places and People.

It had to be easy to attend so we chose the simplest platform, Zoom. Once registered, participants could come in and out in one click. What we saw was those in our Asia Pacific and Australia/New Zealand chapters joined us both in their evening and again in the morning, while those in the Americas could come in and out throughout their working day or early evening. While the language of SITE is English, we recognize that sometimes it is nice to follow along in a home language and for this we worked with Wordly.ai who provide real time text or audio translation into 15 languages. Over the course of the event, we had a running average of 175 to 200 people always active in the chat while they learned with our bite-size education, (re)discovered destinations around the globe and connected with the serendipitous networking of Twine.

Marketing (aka Nothing Comes for Free)

It was also important that while we created incredible value for the 892 registered participants, that it be possible for everyone to attend. This meant we needed to keep our expenses down and find some revenue. With key sponsors IMEX, Abu Dhabi, Delta, Slovenia and Naples/Marco Island/Everglades and support from strategic partners we were able to offer this at no cost to everyone.

Our raffle and auction team pulled together 19 incredible prizes and we were able to raise more than $8,000 for the Foundation. As this was primarily an event for and by our members, we focused our marketing on our internal chapters and via social media. We put it on our chapter calendars in February and launched registration 2 weeks prior, recognizing that with digital events this is when a majority register anyhow!

Lessons Learned

What they say: If you are hosting a digital event of more than 2 hours duration, build in a break.

What we did: All the content was built in 2-minute to 15-minute increments with hosts linking the elements.

For that reason, rather than building in breaks, participants could select what they watched and when they took breaks. Hosts Gerrit Heijkoop, Sky Capriolo and DJ Lee (HeyMisterDJ) brought stories from our members, updates, trivia and fun, thus tying it all together. SITE member Maura Zhang led wellness segments and there were even occasional dance breaks.

Did we run on time? Absolutely not, and in fact we ended up nearly one hour behind. The lesson learned here is that if we ever run a telethon marathon event again, build in more host ‘white space’ to allow us to catch up when needed; five minutes per hour would have done that.

Bonus Lesson

What they say: Content is King!

What we did: In addition to the stunning chapter and sponsor content all making us long for travel again, we reached into our network and addressed topics that matter to them right now. This included brand new data from our Corporate inSITEs research with U.S. corporate meeting planners surveyed 2 weeks prior to this event.

We gasped in the deep dives with our Women in Leadership covering everything from being a working mother during the pandemic to leading a team through furloughs. We cried and laughed with stories from the front lines on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work within Accor. We covered looking for work and updating your personal and digital brands and heard from our chapters on their effort in achieving sustainability certifications from around the world. Our Young Leaders and Past Presidents shared stories from the trenches and introduced what to expect at their live YL event in November.

Success Metric

The plan was to have great content and community available in any time zone so we could see and learn from our colleagues from all six continents—and for this, it worked.

Now, on to planning a live event, and we can’t wait!

Tahira Endean is head of events with Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Global and a 2021 Smart Woman in Meetings Award Visionary winner.

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