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Moving Forward from the Trenches - October 2021

By: Deanne Figueras, CMP CMM | Oct 26, 2021

I fondly remember when all we worried about were travel delays, dietary restrictions, and weather back-ups. It has been nearly two years since the WORLD took a time-out, and live events were canceled. Our industry was kicked down; asked to take whatever came our way. As meeting and hospitality professionals, we took it, pivoted, and are now emerging from the dust like a Phoenix (I hope), although a little burnt.


As a meeting planner, I’ve been campaigning over the past year to move back to live events for two reasons: 1) People thrive on in-person connections and contact, 2) Economics. The trickle-down effect of live meetings impacts the cost of groceries, gas, and even the environment. Did you know that in 2016 meeting organizers spent $48 billion annually on food and beverage (EIC: Oxford Economics 2016); in 2020 and 2021, we did not. When food is no longer needed, farmers stop producing crops, which creates dirt fields that impact the environment. And with less demand, growers were forced to increase the cost to consumers to pay their workers. What we do is important and impacts our economy by creating 1.1 million jobs and $135.9 billion in spending, just on the live meetings side of things (Meetings Mean Business: Mar 2019)


Like many, I was afraid to leave the safety of virtual events. Not only do you risk being sued if someone gets gravely ill at a live event, but it may impact your reputation. However, after reflecting on all the events I’ve been part of, I realized that getting sick or injured at an event is not new; it happened pre-COVID. So, I picked myself up and moved forward with the help of all my meeting professional friends. I love this community!! I’m happy to report, I’ve held two small live events with no incidents. Currently, I’m planning our flagship event, which attracts 500 executives. 


Below are some of the planning tactics I’ve used; I hope you will find them helpful:


Legal:    

  • Consult your attorney. Ensure you have the proper Covid clauses in your registration, speaker contracts, hotel contracts, etc.

  • Mitigate your risk. Joshua Grimes, Esq of Grimes Law Offices, does an excellent job on this webinar explaining duty of care and Covid “Shield Laws.”

  • Be transparent. Develop a FAQ page on your website and over-communicate your safety protocols. Failing to address the concerns of your attendees can create a higher anxiety level causing people to cancel. I recommend reading Successful Meetings article “How to Calm Anxieties About Returning to In-Person Events.”


Build it: 

  • To hybrid or not. Due to staffing, we opted to go all live and offer post-event recordings. This allowed us to focus on protecting the in-person.

  • Virtual speaker. Because of travel restrictions, we had to be flexible and allow some speakers to join us via Zoom for our smaller meeting, and we are planning for this for the larger one too. The key was to have a live facilitator interact with the audience and the speaker. Plus, we have an excellent AV crew. I have missed them so much!!

  • Be flexible. Plan on attendee attrition due to corporate travel restrictions, illness, and uneasiness. 

  • Meals. To place attendees’ minds at ease, we set hand sanitizer wipes at coffee and beverage stations, allowed attendees to take to-go boxes, and left every other seat open. It was fun to observe that even those who asked for a to-go box and were worried ended up joining their friends and hanging out. This warmed my heart. 

  • Partnerships. Your hotel, venue, and CVB are your best friends — they have just as much at stake as you do. More than ever, they are a wealth of knowledge and help in planning events. Trust them! I quickly found out that a buffet would be the best option for us due to staffing shortages at one venue, while at another venue, a plated lunch worked best. I learned I truly do not know unless I ask and partner with my hotel or venue. We both want a successful event.


Safety:

  • Track Covid cases. As part of my due diligence, I needed to know the case rate in our event city. Michael Dominguez, president & CEO of ALHI, offers a great weekly update on our industry. He provides a complete, current, and granular resource that uses data from Johns Hopkins CSSE and can dive down to the county you are going to. Check out: Covidestim – COVID-19 nowcasting.

  • Disinfect. Since we are entrusted with our attendees, we opted to take extra measures by adding lots of disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and spraying down high-touch surfaces (with permission from the venue) with Microban 24-hour disinfectant.

  • Health and Safety Checks. We have opted to follow the CDC, county, city, and venue guidelines related to face masks, vaccination, and temperature checks. We asked attendees if they were vaccinated for our smaller meetings or would have a negative covid test before arrival. For our larger event, we have partnered with CLEAR + Event Farm to conduct health checks. This will allow us to provide our attendees with peace of mind that those who have entered the area have answered the health questions and have been cleared to enter. 

  • Knowledge. Know what the CDC’s Guidance is for Covid-19


There is so much more to consider as you decide to move forward. In addition to doing your homework, I do recommend reading the recent article from Member Suite: How to Prevent Your Events from Getting Disrupted by Delta, containing some practical advice, and bookmarking Global Business Travel’s Travel Vitals Covid-19 Information & Advisory’s website to be able to search across different components of a trip for travel information advisories that may pop up. 
 

Author

2021_deanne figueras (1)
Deanne Figueras, CMP CMM
Vice President of Communications

 
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