It’s no secret that the number of live meetings have been limited since March. Though we’ve been tapping into our virtual expertise, boy had we missed live programs! We’ve had a small sliver of that excitement with a 2-part LIVE (yes, we said it…LIVE!) meeting in the past two weeks. With 30+ years of experience in meetings and events, we can say that Here are some of the key differences in pre-planning and on-site execution that we encountered:
Food & Beverage
Food and beverage discussions can take quite a bit more critical thinking as you address challenges such as alternative options to buffets, toppings (such as ketchup, hot sauce, dressings, etc.), indoor/outdoor seating and much more. In addition to the logistical considerations, cost will also be a topic of conversation as venues are incurring additional costs for attendants and individual packaging. We also find ourselves assessing the comfort level around dining together. Are group dinners feasible or necessary? If yes, identifying a location becomes more difficult as many restaurants have indoor capacities and restrictions on the number of people in a party (indoors or outdoors). If group dinners are not necessary, it’s still important to identify dining options for the guests. If your meeting is at a hotel, you will want to confirm if they are offering in-room dining (some hotels do not have the occupancy to justify this service yet). Surrounding restaurants may be closed or on a limited schedule so identifying a few options that will be available over your meeting dates is critical. Finally, you will want to address how guests will pay for their dinners with your client – will participants be comfortable paying for their own dinners and submitted costs for reimbursement or are gift cards/vouchers needed? If participants will be paying for the meal(s) themselves, you may want to communicate this to them during the registration process and in your pre-meeting email so that they are not surprised by the additional expense when they arrive.
COVID Policies & Procedures
It’s beneficial to the participant if you clearly communicate in the registration process what COVID-19 precautions both at the venue and that the host company/planning organization are taking so that they can make an educated decision on their participation. In addition, many companies have their own policies in place that they are required to follow in response to the pandemic. It’s important to identify what those policies entail and who is responsible for making sure that the proper steps carried through the program. For instance, if PPE is required, who is responsible for ordering, distributing and enforcing it on-site? Who is responsible for creating, printing and ensuring that surveys are completed appropriately and responded to correctly? Who is responsible for purchasing and conducting temperature checks? What is the protocol if someone responds negatively to the survey or fails a temperature check? Who is responsible for providing cleaning supplies and identifying what needs to be cleaned between sessions or at specific times during the meeting? These are conversations that are new to us but are necessary in ensuring a safe meeting.
Resources at Venue
You will likely require more space in your meeting room or additional meeting rooms to accommodate safe distancing; this should be taken into consideration when creating your meeting budget. It is important to understand what resources are available to you for set-up at the venue – i.e. do they have 60” rounds or 72” rounds. In addition, you may inquire about availability of linen-less tables which are more easily cleaned / wiped down. Many properties have set-up signage or stickers for distancing and/or hand sanitizing stations which can help your team better plan for your own signage or sanitizing products. You will want to understand the property’s re-opening or limited staffing plan during the pandemic to ensure that the appropriate staff will be available for your meeting. If staff is on a limited schedule or managing additional roles, you should adjust your tasks to allow extra time for review before deadlines.
Two weeks after the meeting dates, we’d suggest sending a follow up survey to the participants to confirm that no one has or is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms that would be directly linked to their participation in the meeting. We’ve been having a number of conversations with organizations who want to hold live meetings but don’t want to be the first to take the leap. We hope that others share their success stories so that we can set our participants at ease with data backing our safe-meeting processes. We wanted to give a big shout out to Hilton and their CleanStay and EventReady initiatives. We couldn’t have asked for a better partner in pre-planning and the on-site execution of a safe meeting. We have all felt the impact of the pandemic but they didn’t skip a beat and were just as ready and prepared as we were for the return. Our dedication to success was confirmed by our amazing client who shared her feedback after the program: “I appreciate all the hard work and effort that went into this planning especially surrounding the COVID pandemic. It was certainly challenging from a planning perspective but the execution of everything was flawless. Hope there will be other opportunities for us to work together again.” We hope to have the opportunity to work with this incredible team again soon and also bring more success stories organizations that ready to return to live meetings.