As we continue to navigate what the “new normal” means for in-person gatherings around the world, we remain in what we call the Wild West of Conference Planning. That means it’s up to you, as an event host, and us, as its planners, to ensure that the show is as safe as possible. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when planning your next conference:
Government Mandates and Venue Requirements
Above all, you and your guests need to follow government (that includes federal, state, or local) requirements. It’s the law after all. Of course, if you feel like your attendees are not going to be comfortable with certain mandates, or lack thereof, be sure to survey them early on. That way, you can find a location that provides the health and safety atmosphere they’re expecting.
Similarly, organizations and private businesses may choose to enforce their own safety measures on guests, especially within states that are more relaxed about vaccines and masks. Before you sign a contract with a venue, go over its health and safety rules closely and ask any questions. You want to be sure that those restrictions coincide with what attendees want—and be aware that new rules and regulations could mean last-minute changes.
Brand Reputation and Liability
How important is messaging to your company? For most, it’s an essential part of operations to maintain an honest and earnest connection with fans, followers, and customers. The way you address the health and safety of your guests can impact the way they view your company. Above all, no matter what you decide, we recommend not waiting until the last minute to figure out how to handle issues like when, or if, guests fall ill. You don’t want sudden panic among other guests.
To combat this, you might want to figure out how to get attendees tested, or at the very least have information readily available on where they can go. Contact tracing is something else you might want to explore, having a system in place to notify other attendees who have spent an extended period of time in the presence of the now-ill attendee. Again, we’re not saying these are necessities for every conference, but we do advise you to think through every possible complication, especially in such uncertain times.
Don’t Pack a Room or Bus
A full house used to be the goal of every event planner. The packed-house photo opp is the holy grail of website and social media content. But these days you might consider giving attendees more personal space and room to spread out. We know what you’re thinking: but that means fewer guests. Maybe. Or maybe you just look for a slightly bigger space.
Similarly, think about whether it’ll help to put space between guests at the dining table or while transporting them between locations. Opting to provide grab ‘n go meal options, seating fewer people at a table, and offering more transportation vehicles, may seem counterintuitive to the networking purposes of an in-person event, but you can always make up for it later, bringing us to our final point…
Don’t Forget to Stay Creative
It’s the little things at in-person conferences that make the biggest impact. The trick is finding novel ways to maintain communication between attendees while limiting exposure. That’s where creativity comes into play. No matter where or how you host an event or the health protocols you choose to enforce, you can still make the experience memorable for guests and sponsors.
For example, try creating smaller, more intimate networking pods. This allows attendees to explore special interests and industry niches as opposed to broader discussions. You could also have your sponsors provide branded masks. Each mask type could then determine entry into specific networking events, while also ensuring your guests feel safe. Collect them all!
Now, look, we know this is a hot button issue. Everyone has a right to an opinion, but above all hosts and planners should be focused on one thing: putting together the safest event possible for their attendees. Consider your level of liability to guests with as much fervor as you do the flow of speakers, finding the best catering options, and more. After all, they may leave more focused on what you did, or didn’t do, to protect their health than what they learned at the event.