The year 2020 has established itself as the year of the pivot in the events industry. Since then, countless #EventIcons guests were brought on the podcast to talk about how they turned their in-person events into virtual ones and the importance of their community in these trying times. And because no two stories are the same, we're back this week with another one! Host Events is a Boston-based company that focuses on building community through top-notch virtual experiences. Today, Sarah welcomes two guests, Amy O'Neil and Katie Kosa, to talk about what they do and how they got there since March 2020. Before 2020, they worked exclusively in person, but today, they offer virtual happy hours, various fitness and cooking classes, and games. Tune in to hear this awesome story of success and learn more about the power of a tight-knit community! From In-Person Events To Virtual Experiences Sarah asks Amy and Katie to start where the world as we knew it ended: March 2020. "We didn't know what we're going to do anymore. In-person events were gone and that's what we've always done," says Amy. "We connected certified and insured bartenders to corporate clients that were hosting happy hours throughout the country, not just here in Boston. It was three of us and we rolled our sleeves up and figured it out. We still had corporate clients that were trying to find a way to keep their teams together." Amy describes Host Events as problem solvers. "We asked: what's the solution and what can we bring to our clients? What are they asking us for? What are they telling us they need? We listened and we learned, and then did our first virtual events in March. We started with mixology events and then it evolved to adding trivia to our offerings. And then, it just snowballed from there." Today, they offer a host of virtual experiences, including spirits tastings, paint classes, and kickboxing. Being a small business in the Boston community also plays a major part in how they pivoted. "Another thing about Boston is we are a small city and we all know one another. There are six degrees of separation here. So, we decided to stay with the people that we know and trust. It was natural for us to ask a few small businesses whether they wanted to do this with us. What can we build together? Let's figure this out. And we've done it." A Community-Focused Company "In the events community, the whole objective is bringing people together," says Sarah. "When we do that for attendees, that's one thing. But because of the pandemic, we all did it professionally as well. We leaned on each other, helped each other, and brought others along on the journey. Host Events is just the perfect example of that. Rather than 'how do we drive revenue?' and 'how do we get as much business as possible?', you look at your community and see how you can help each other and play on each other's strengths. I just always love stories like that. It makes my heart happy," she adds and smiles. "We are really team and community-focused," agrees Amy. "We knew that our bartenders were going to struggle through this. How do we support them? We tried different things to support them financially when other areas of their industries weren't able to do it initially." Katie joined the team soon after Host Events decided to start offering virtual experiences. "She was really one of the first people I brought on," explains Amy. "Our people loved her in person. She's very driven. She knows a lot of people in the industry and people who had small businesses in this area. Let's bring her on! And she naturally said to us: 'Hey, what about these guys? I think they could bring something cool to the table.' And that's how we've partnered with someone through Katie's connection with them." Offering Virtual Experiences: Initial Challenges Next, Sarah asks, "What did some of your initial challenges look like when you were navigating the new space of virtual experiences?" "At the beginning, we had people that were amazing in person, but it was very hard for them to translate through Zoom and learn to be monologuing and entertaining," says Amy. "Everyone had to get a real crash course in being a great virtual event speaker. I used to say: 'You have to do the news anchor smile'. You have to learn very quickly how to be a camera presence and figure out how do you make this fun and engaging where people don't feel like they're just on yet another virtual conference or webinar. How are you interacting with them and letting them interact with you just like you would if you were in-person?" Growing Alongside Client Expectations Clearly, Host Events have evolved since then. Sarah wants to know how exactly did they meet their clients' needs, create engaging virtual experiences, and build a community around them. "At first this was: 'Hey, listen, can you just do it? We're happy with just having you come on and get people together'. And then as this went on, people got savvier about what they wanted and we really listened. So they wanted an elevated virtual experience. And then, everyone else got savvy about tech. Our clients drive us to elevate, not just us internally, but they tell us what they want. We're happy to meet that and then try to shoot past it. In the beginning, it was fine if you had one camera on you and they could hear you. And now, they want that professional, almost studio experience," says Amy. "Initially, when we started the virtual experiences, we were thinking team bonding and team building," adds Katie. "The more we elevated our experience as a team and really brought the quality of the products, the more amazing it all looked. We realized that this is going to be great client-facing too and focused on doing this for clients and prospects. And I noticed a huge jump in what we were doing for them. Companies would start coming to us, asking us to plan their whole quarter for them." "Your passion is very evident," says Sarah. "Clearly, something that you have done really well is just improving on the experience that's already out there. I feel like we're falling into this headspace with virtual, where we're doing this templatized thing where there's a webinar, a virtual speaker, and then virtual breakout rooms. At Endless, we're trying to get people involved in the strategy of their event as soon as possible because of that same reason." In-Person, Hybrid, Or Virtual? Why Not All! "You pivoted so well," says Sarah. "What are you looking out for this next year? I don't want to jinx it, but maybe in-person events making their return at the end of this year?" "That's a really great question and it's definitely a hot topic," says Amy." We've been talking about it since the turn of 2021. Again, this leans into the listening of our clients. Talking with them when we're on those calls with them, asking what are they looking to do. It's going to be varied because some of our corporate clients have fully committed to remote. They know that they are not going to be going back to in-person. Some have decided that they're going to go back, but partially because people have moved all over the country. Maybe some will be back at headquarters, but not the full departments. And then you have the other companies that are ready to come back now that the doors have opened." In short, Host Events will ask their clients what they want and do everything to support them. "We're not going to make the decision for them. They're going to make the decision for us, and we're going to respond to that. And that's also in alignment with our vendors, with our partnerships. Our vendors understand that we expect them to be ready to open the doors to the in-person experience. And maybe a little bit of that hybrid. Maybe everyone's in the office and we're sending everything to that office for the wine tasting, which is something we've started to do. Our sommelier is piped in virtually, which is great because now we have more access to people being able to come together without having to do all of that coordination and travel that so many companies had to do in the past," explains Amy. In Conclusion, Plan The Future! Before they sign off, Sarah asks Katie and Amy to share one last piece of advice for the listeners of the #EventIcons. "Something that's helped me a lot is just building authentic, genuine relationships with my clients and planning their events as if they were for my team or for my family. Just put yourself in their shoes and look at what they would want. That authenticity really comes across with clients. You develop relationships and then they trust you and know you'll take care of their event the way that they want it done. They'll give you the details. You can handle it from there," says Katie. "You cannot be successful without being a risk taker," adds Amy. "We didn't know what this was going to look like back in March 2020. So if you want to be successful, you need to really listen to what your client base is asking you for. Don't just try to come up with the idea for them, but also be creative. This is our time to blaze a trail because events have changed," she says. "They've changed forever, for good. Get ready to plan the future and be creative for people and keep them excited."