Over the last couple of weeks the conversations have changed with my clients from “Please help me cancel my meeting.” to “How can I have my meeting and what does it look like?” This has spurred so many amazing conversations about the redesign of each client’s meeting. Don’t get me wrong—I will help you move your meeting to new dates, and heaven forbid we have to cancel it due to Force Majeure, I will help you do that too. However, the redesigning conversations have been super fun and a creative injection that I’ve needed after being in the Covid War Zone since February. Keep in mind, this is new to all of us—to the hotels, the airlines, the planners, the experts, the gurus, the staff, etc. We are all trying to figure this out, as we go, and this information is going to change along the way, so the best thing we can do is give it a try, take notes, live and learn and report back our findings. For now, below are some ideas for how to redesign your meeting in the new Covid world. These are real live actions some of my clients are putting into place for meetings that are taking place July through December this year.
I am concerned about liability and privacy: 2 things I’ve seen people put into place are: Code of Conduct & Registration.
Code of Conduct: First of all, as an anti-conformist, I don’t like the way this sounds. It makes me feel like I am at school and a nun is going to wrap my knuckles with a ruler. Call it whatever you want. The purpose of this is for you, as a planner and planning team to establish, guidelines to which you’ll run your meeting and for your attendees to know what they will expect when coming to your meeting. If they are concerned about privacy and don’t want their temps taken, they don’t have to come—but at least you’ve warned them in advance. It doesn’t have to be long, it can be a one-pager—with bullets like a mission statement that lays out what you will do to keep attendees safe and how you expect people to behave & consequences if any. These have been rolled out in the past citing important topics such as how you will handle sexual harassment, legalized marijuana usage and over intoxication. You’re just adding a couple more bullets to it. You can note how you will keep people safe, expectations for networking and interactions, guidance on wearing masks, etc. It’s good to show this on the registration page as it is important for attendees to make a choice then—to buy or not buy—and there are no surprises that would prevent them from attending in the future.
Registration: Many people are tweaking their registration pages to have liability forms that outline if someone gets ill from being at your conference that you are not liable. Many people are also making this mutual citing that if the attendee makes other people sick, that attendee is not liable either. It’s a pop up box that people click and go during the registration process and does not have to be long, it can be simple. Just be sure that you have an attorney create and/or review for you so it’s language appropriate for you.
How do I gather this many people in one room for a keynote speaker or general session? Your entire meeting will likely look different than you’ve ever done it before. The word REDESIGN has got to be a common word you use every day. How can you completely redesign the meeting so it is safe? I have a client that is doing their general session outside, at 8 pm at night, after the socially distanced opening reception. Their general session is normally on the opening day in the morning with a TedTalk flare to it. The session they are considering now is to move it outside, make it the opening keynote, and since it’s hot in September, moving it to 8 pm so we can enjoy the desert sky. This solves your social distancing indoor Covid spread problem. It also makes the flow of the next two days much more consistent and easy. It also frees up a large ballroom so the exhibitors have more room to spread their booths. Other clients have been splitting up their key-note by topic and staggering times so they can have more space with less people in each room. This also helps if your attendee base is on multiple time zones. Your meeting no longer needs to be 8 am – 5 pm. We’ve been living in quarantine 24 hours a day and standard times for meetings are no longer a thing. You can do 3 keynotes—the same message—with panels and Q/A over 3 different times. 8 am, 3 pm, and 9 pm. This way you can get Europe, China, United States and other countries to be able to tune in LIVE virtually from their homes and they don’t feel like they have to watch a stale “on demand” virtual session.
What do I do about my trade show and exhibitors? You are going to have some fall off from sponsors & exhibitors due to fear, no budget and individual company travel bans still in effect. Survey your exhibitors to find out how many you truly will have, and then plan for 20% less than that. Make sure your show floor is large enough to social distance AND for the full amount of people for last minute adds but for budgeting purposes and cash flow, plan that 20% will drop off AFTER you’ve surveyed them. Once you have that number, how do you want to redesign your exhibit area? Do you have to have booths? Do they have to be 10 x 10 or 8 x 10? Can it be a large open space with just table tops? Many clients are talking to their exhibitors and actually putting policies in their codes of conduct to not permit them to hand out any collateral or swag at the booths. This will cut down on the touching and sharing touched items. Many exhibitors are thinking of unique ways to engage with attendees before and after the conference by sending things in advance and after. We’ve worked with a great company called Global Gifting that has created some amazing virtual swag and live meeting swag for our customers.
What can I do to make my meeting as contactless as possible? You have to really sit down and imagine yourself as the attendee having the experience from the moment they leave their house to come to your conference to the moment they return home. Give them Uber/Lyft guidance. Talk with the hotel about mobile check in and keyless mobile entry. Is the hotel offering room service? If so, how are they doing it? If not, be sure to communicate to your attendees in advance so it’s not a surprise. Registration—how can your guests pre register before they get there, or use QR code contactless registration at the conference. So many registration companies out there can help with this. Minimize the handouts of schedules, collateral, business cards. How can this all be done in a contactless way? You know your business better than anyone and the are many clever ways to do this. It doesn’t have to end at the conference, and it can start before the conference. The contactless engagement possibilities are endless. Just be sure you sit down as a team and thoroughly dissect each aspect of the conference on how you can make it contactless and safe for everyone. The ideas will fly. And even after Covid, maybe some will stick?
How do I help attendees get over the fear of coming to my conference? There is no magic wand you can wave to make people more comfortable and less afraid. Some people will just not rise from this until there is a vaccine. That is OK. There are so many ways to engage those folks too. (i.e.- Virtual Meetings) For those that are on the fence and those are that are gung-ho about traveling, you want to provide as many resources for them as possible to make their decision and travel more comfortably. There are some great articles out right now about things to think about while getting on an airplane. I just used many of these tips as I prepare to fly for the first time. Give them a know before you go list that covers Covid safety. Know the hotel’s Covid safety and sanitation guidelines, post that for your attendees on your registration site. Once you’ve determined your room set ups and spacing, post that on your registration site. Will you have a Covid optional testing room while there? Share that with them. What is the hotel’s and/or your plan if Covid breaks out at your meeting? Share that. List the nearest hospitals & testing centers. Engage with Visa & Apple, (or your preferred payment method) on educating the attendees on how to install tap and pay on their phones. You don’t have to do this all at once. You can pepper the information out on a weekly basis and cover a new topic each week so by the time they get there they are armed and feel comfortable. So much of this is out of the scope of the standard logistics we have to worry about when planning a meeting. However, taking some extra steps along the way will help your attendees feel safe and perhaps garner a couple more attendees.
If you need any help walking through your conference step by step and developing ideas for a contactless meeting, I am available to help you, anytime. Reach out by the following for more tips on redesigning your meeting :