"You guys are a part of something special here today. It's improvisation at its best. Improvisation is what sets you apart. Improvisation and innovation is what we do best in our business" This was the opening statement from the CEO to the 100 attendees at a live meeting at MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas last week. He discussed how hosting this meeting wasn't easy. He shared that good entrepreneurs are good at improvisation. He said for our businesses to thrive we need to be sharpening our improvisational skills.
He went on to commend the guests for getting on an airplane, not knowing what to expect but taking the chance that with the proper safety measures and trust in his organization, that it would all work out. And it did.
Last week I attended and observed my client's meeting for 100 guests during the day and 300 attendees at night in Las Vegas at MGM Grand Hotel. I was impressed with the grace and preparation of my client. I was inspired by the empathy and patience of the attendees. I was in awe of the perseverance and positivity of the hotel.
Logistically, I gathered many take aways on how to successfully host a live meeting.
Here's what I observed:
THE FORMAT & SET UP.
The program was pretty simple. There were two breakfasts & lunches for 100 guests. There were two meetings each day for 100 attendees. There was one dinner for 300 people. There were two sub groups--group 1 in the morning, group 2 in the afternoon, both groups plus guests came together for a speaker/dinner program in the evening.
Under normal circumstances we would do this in 3 rooms: breakfast/lunch-meal room, meeting room for 100, separate dinner/speaker room for 300.
The Nevada gathering guidelines allowed for 50 people at one time per convention space. This caused some logistical challenges because the meeting for 100 people had to be split in half between two separate convention centers. The "live meeting" for 50 attendees was placed in the Terrace Ballroom in the conference center. The client rented custom tables/chairs (1 chair per table) and soft seating (6 feet apart). Since there were several panel speakers at one time, draped belly bars/high boys were set on stage for each panelist to stand behind and speak. The other 50 attendees were placed in a satellite meeting space in the MGM Garden Arena studio rooms where the presentation was simulcast and the meeting was set up classroom style one person per six foot table.
Each meeting room had it's own meal room next door. Guests were kept in the same meeting and eating room areas all day so they did not have to travel far to the other spaces. All guests wore masks and some wore masks and face shields.
Since the trek between the two conference centers was a 10 minute walk, conference registration was set up between the two spaces, equidistant to each meeting space. Colored wristbands were used to designate the meeting space. Attendees were not permitted to enter without the right color wristband for their space. Each name badge also had a QR code which was scanned at registration for check in and security purposes. One staff person in front of each meeting space had a capacity clicker and another took count on his/her phone. We were only permitted 43 people per room because we had to account for the 7 banquet staff in each. The hotel staff also checked for capacity so there were 2 sets of eyes keeping the capacities compliant. Here is a video of me wearing a wristband and entering into one of the two convention spaces. The Group also set up 8 of their own attendees as human arrows that were strategically placed and spread out from the guest room elevator banks to registration to the walkways to both event spaces. These were volunteers attending the conference who were familiar faces to the guests.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE FOR 100 Guests: This was tricky because it was too hot in Las Vegas to be outside and socially distance. Luckily, the hotel was able to give us large enough spaces to set up two meal rooms where each table was set for two people.
Each food and beverage space had two stand alone hand washing and sanitation stations inside the room. People actually used them, I have video proof) The buffets were set up behind plexiglass with a banquet server who wore a mask and gloves serving each guest. The group gave 90 minutes to serve since asking what each guest wants at a buffet can take longer. There was no programming during breakfast and lunch and the events were on a flow to allow for social distance. The beverage service for all meals was served by a banquet server. There were no self serve coffee or tea stations. Here is a good video of how the hotel handled coffee service with my new friend Rosa. The banquet server was behind the plexiglass and served the cup of coffee with a bowl of condiments for the attendee to mix on their own back at their table.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE FOR 300 Guests: This was a last minute plot twist. Due to the capacity restrictions from Nevada gathering guidelines, instead of using multiple separate meeting rooms, the hotel graciously let us use the same two separate meeting rooms in the two different convention centers and six of their stand alone separate restaurants. This, is how we were able to seat 300 guests at one time for a dinner and speaker. Each space was set for 43 people making space for 7 servers per room. The main room had the live speaker and the other 7 rooms had the full program simulcasted. I sat in one of the simulcast rooms and had a nice dinner experience. Each space had it's own buffet, behind plexiglass, it's own servers and the menu was the same in each room.
Luckily all 6 dinner restaurants (see above) were in the same area. The group used colored wristbands again to designate which room each guest would go to for dinner. Although it wasn't the "community" feel of a large gala dinner, it worked well and everyone felt connected in their respective spaces. The dinner program started with a staff member singing the national anthem and then we all said the pledge of allegiance. I haven"t said the pledge of allegiance in at least twenty years. It was a nice touch to connect people that were physically separated during dinner. Another nice touch was the use of an app called SLIDO. The group used this app to conduct polls and allow people to ask questions throughout the event. It was very easy to use and they had a slide up with the QR code we could scan or the code we could enter on the website. The keynote speaker was JIA JIANG who spoke about rejection and resilience. He was awesome. It was a fitting speech for a group that put everything on the line to host a meeting during Covid. And, it was very relatable and funny. The best story he told was the time he convinced a Krispy Kreme store to make him doughnuts in the shape of the Olympic Rings. It was inspiring, here is the video of the doughnut caper.
SANITATION AND SECURITY: Two times a day the "sanitation man" went into the meeting spaces and sanitized everything. This process took 15 minutes, was odorless and done without intrusion. Once the meeting broke, the hotel made an announcement inside each room asking the guests to take a 15 minute break in the foyer so the room could be sanitized. Everyone left without a problem and patiently waited in the hallway or went into the food and beverage room for coffee/tea or water.
There he is masked up with a face shield cleaning the room for the second part of the day. The security the hotel provided at each meeting entry point was excellent. The signage the Group provided coupled with the human arrows made navigating that very large space for a small group seamless. The security was so good, I was "security scolded" twice. Once when I was videoing the casino floor and second when I tried to enter a meeting space without my wristband. I felt very safe and healthy being at this hotel among these attendees at this meeting.
I was so pleasantly surprised at how kind the attendees were to each other and the hotel. Change is tough for many people but it seemed that the attendees adopted the mentality of "we're all in this together" and went with the changes as they happened.
Even though it wasn't easy, the client felt all the extra planning was worth it for a face to face gathering in the end.
We even made a "Pinky Promise" to not cancel any more meetings.
My big takeaways for this live meeting are:
Be sure you're at a hotel that has solid protocols in place. Ask them for pictures, success stories and testimonials.
Over Communicate to your attendees what to expect-lines, changes, wristbands, security, separation--etc.
Over Communicate internally to your team--CEO, President, meeting planner, meeting owner, general counsel, CFO. Everyone on your team has a relevant, professional and personal perspective to share. Someone on your team--even if they are not a planner--may have something valuable to contribute to the "attendee" experience that you may have missed by focusing on the logistics.
Have a plan A, B, C and D of your own and be in sync with the hotel. Gathering guidelines change fast and the hotel may not know your programming if you don't share along the way.
Have a positive, resilient attitude that a conference can be done even during Covid. This group had a persistent mindset the entire time and if it was legal to have their meeting, they were going to do it, and they did.
Although this article is long, it barely scratches the surface of everything I observed over 48 hours at this meeting. I ended up taking 43 total videos of the conference experience door to door from the moment I left San Diego to the moment I returned. If you want to see the full picture of what it's like to travel for a meeting and actually attend a conference, check out my YouTube page: Mandi's Excellent Site Inspection Adventures.
If you want more pictures of the experience or just want to talk through your next meeting, I am here to help. Reach out anytime: email@example.com This is part 1 of 2 articles about this particular conference experience. Stay tuned for part 2 on what it's like to travel for a meeting and how Las Vegas is handling conferences.
Check back on the blog for more updates on meetings or read old articles on Covid meeting experiences.