Thank you to our blogger this week, Shelly Trent, for providing a terrific summary of our recent session. Please read below to learn more about returning to in-person meetings.
Feborah Dixon, CMP
Andrea Y. Massengile, CMP
Darlene W. Somers, CMP, DES
They’re BAAAACK! In-person events are back in swing now that most people have received COVID-19 vaccinations. People are not as nervous about being in close contact with others, so meetings and conferences are opening up again in 2022. The speakers noted that the attendance numbers were higher than expected, probably because members are tired of Zoom meetings – they want to learn and network face-to-face. Hybrid meetings are still an option, and many members will expect to have that choice. Further, international speakers or attendees may not be able to travel yet, depending on the status of COVID in their countries, so virtual options will be needed for them. Remember that hybrid events come with additional expenses, so conference registration fees may need to be increased to cover the costs.
Federal COVID guidelines are still in place, so meeting planners need to continue to follow the protocols. However, state guidelines may be different than the federal protocols, and states may not allow masks, proof of vaccinations or a recent negative test, or other COVID precautions. Other states will, of course, allow proof of vaccinations, and your event planners can use an outside vendor to collect them if needed. Even without masking, conference planners can set up the rooms with social distancing in mind.
Registrants should sign a disclosure statement that says the association cannot be sued if an attendee tests positive for COVID following the event. Consider surveying members prior to planning your event to ask them what level of safety they feel most comfortable with and then act accordingly. “Over communication” to attendees about the event safety plan is key during COVID! Most people don’t read emails carefully, so the more information you provide about your event, the better.
Keep in mind that some of your speakers and even staff will not be able to attend the event at the last minute, due to a positive COVID test or COVID illness in their immediate family. Some speakers and/or attendees may even get COVID from their flights. If your event is in a state or country and you are not familiar with their COVID regulations, consider hiring an attorney from that state/country who can guide your decisions regarding safety.
Conference staff can use safety protocols such as Plexiglas dividers at registration, masks for all staff, health checks onsite, COVID catering protocols, etc. Some conference centers and hotels are “back to normal” with events, so if your organization wants to employ safety procedures, it may be challenging to use those facilities. Ensure that the vendors you use for A/V, catering, etc., are going to follow the procedures you have in place so that your attendees will feel at ease. Hotels and conference centers underwent dire financial circumstances during COVID, and are no longer being understanding about cancellations, so expect to pay cancellation fees. If you have registrants who want to cancel based on your COVID protocol, rather than return their registration fees, offer to roll them over to another event.
Participants, staff, and speakers will undoubtedly test positive during your event. As your staff and the hotel is made aware of positive tests, it is a good idea to send emails and conference app notifications to ensure everyone is informed. Once you know that you have COVID-positive people at your event, consider offering them complementary meals delivered to their hotel rooms. As long as your event is hybrid, those who have tested positive can continue to enjoy the conference from their hotel rooms (as long as they are not too ill). Continue to send texts to those attendees to make them feel included and check on their wellness. Most hotels will also monitor the guest’s wellness and needs.
If you would like more information, here are the additional resources the speakers shared at the end of the presentation:
To view a recording of the event, please visit the Fridays@4 event archives. You must be a member to access the event archives. If you are not a member, you can join here.