Top Tips For A Post Covid Conference
2021 has been a wild year of starts and stops. I’ve been lucky to attend in-person conferences. I've been fortunate to have customers plan and execute in-person conferences. Below are tips to delivering a successful meeting coming out of Covid: Airlift and programming:
Just like Santa and Lionel Richie say, “check once, twice, three times” a flight schedule. Before you launch registration, check arrival and departure flights.
Put a disclaimer on registration that programming on arrival and departure dates may change as we get closer to the meeting date. EXAMPLE: My client had a Sales Kick-Off for Barcelona planned. Flights looked fine going into the contracting of the meeting. Heading into registration, flight schedules had drastically changed. There were barely any flights scheduled for departure day making the final day content and programming difficult. It also meant we had to add more sleeping rooms to the final night for guests that didn't have a flight option on departure day.
Be nimble with your programming timing on the front and back ends. After speaking with the Group departments at major airlines, they are confident more flights will be available as we head into 2022 but schedules will still be slim and uncertain until approximately June 2022. If your meeting is in this timeframe, keep checking flight schedules and have a plan A, B, C and D. Also, don’t put too much weight on the arrival reception to account for flight delays and cancellations. Pad Your Budget: Supply Chain issues and Short Staffing troubles are causing prices to soar. Whatever you think you will spend on your meeting food/beverage and AV for 2022 and 2023 meetings, add 20% buffer to account for uncertain last-minute expenses. I use a clause in my contracts that stipulates Hotels can not add additional fees that were not previously disclosed. I suggest adding something like this to your contracts to account for last-minute staffing fees, facility fees, and Covid fees. This, you can control. Just like Janet Jackson says, “control, to get what I want”, add the things in the contract you can control to compensate for the things you can’t control like rising staff and food/beverage costs.
Hotel food and beverage service fees are averaging 24-27%.
Occupancy taxes are going up due to legislation passed in 2020/2021.
The price of eggs, literally, is skyrocketing.
Your meeting will be much more successful if you give your budget a buffer and minimize the surprises. Pre Planning Communications: Go deep with your meeting vendors. Ask them what their staffing levels look like. Literally, get service pars.
Examples of questions you might ask are:
How many check-in staff per group attendee? or How many banquet staff per person?
Know in advance if the hotel is having a tough time staffing back up. The more you know,
I will help you plan accordingly on how you might need to augment their staff with your staff.
EXAMPLE: I have a 400 person conference coming up in January. We proactively asked the hotel about their staffing levels and asked if we can speak to a meeting planner that recently (last 30 days) did a meeting at their hotel. Within minutes the hotel shared their staffing plan and gave me a contact. I scheduled a call with that planner and she gave me the lessons learned from her meeting. This better prepared us for the program coming up.
Do the same with your vendors so can get well-rounded pro-active plans in place.
Be prepared for delays in response time and short staffing issues.
Engage with area colleges and hospitality programs to enlist help from local interns and students. It’s an exciting time to see live meetings and good for their resumes too.
As much as we want to communicate with our vendors, we equally need to have bulletproof communications with our attendees. HPN Global partner conference recently did a spectacular job communicating progress and status with attendees leading up to the meeting in Cabo in October. Throughout the registration process, we were given the Covid protocols and the actions being taken to keep us safe upon arrival and at the meeting. Another great tool they provided was a letter of engagement. This is a letter that illustrated the value of attending the conference with important numbers and stats. It shared the actions HPN Global was taking to keep attendees safe. This is a great letter to share with leadership attendance to the conference is in question.
Know Before You Go emails went came to us as attendees one week and one day before arrival. These emails outlined important information such as daily temperature, what to expect upon arrival to the hotel, up-to-date agenda, current Covid procedures. This communication helped build confidence and open dialogue for any concerns. This also stimulates better attendance and registration numbers. I have been collecting verbiage from the conferences I have attended all year. If you need sample emails, letters, or verbiage, shoot me an email. I am happy to share.
Services available to your attendees: Many hotels still do not have all their previously offered services available to hotel guests. For example, my client has a meeting coming up next month. We asked the hotel which restaurants and bars are open. Since it is a resort property, and nothing is walkable, and guests are mostly on their own for breakfasts and dinners, it was important to know what was available to guests during those meal periods specifically. We learned only one "market" was open during breakfast and two dinner spots. We are in the process of working with the hotel to get more staffing during that breakfast period to push more people through. We're also creating a list of area restaurants and giving Uber/Lyft codes for people to make transportation arrangements for dinners. If we wouldn't have asked "what's open and what's not" while we're there we would not have known. Also, many hotels are offering limited menus with the restaurants that are open, especially All Inclusive hotels. This is mostly due to supply chain issues and staffing availability in the kitchen. Ask hotels these questions in advance so you can plan accordingly and your attendees will thank you later.
Programming-Have Fun! This post is chock full of warnings and tips but let’s not forget to have fun. This is your first meeting back. It may be your second or third but it is still new for everyone. Life has been intense and serious for a couple of years. Calm your bones, lighten up, and unleash the fun. People want to meet. People want to see each other. People want to have fun, so facilitate the fun, will ya? The successful programs I’ve seen this year start later, end earlier, and buffer in space for fun.
Example agenda below: 7-9 am: optional breakfast on a flow. Optional morning yoga, walk or workout. 9 a to 12 p. Sessions. 12-2 p. Lunch and email check or break 2-4 p sessions 4- 7 break- on own time. 7 p dinner This gives attendees time to readjust to the rigid schedule of in-person meetings.
It allows them time to network with other attendees they have not seen in a while.
This gives people space to run their daily lives while being at an in-person meeting. Themes are fun but the best approach I’ve seen all year is the Fun Family Reunion vibe. Coordinate a game of family feud.
Hire a fun cover band like the Spazmatics where your people can dance the night away. Hire a fun speaker like Erin King or me to deliver a high-energy message that keeps your audience giggling and learning, at the same time.
Have music at breaks like a local marching band or choir.
Seek out local TikTok or Instagram influencers to introduce speakers, be moderators or engage in breakouts to keep things fun and interesting.
Employ an improv troupe for an interactive team experience.
If you don't have the budget for anything above, use your executives and leaders to create some unique fun. EXAMPLE: This summer at CEMA Summit the President went on stage in her pajama pants and suit jacket. This was a cheap, easy and fun way to keep people laughing and guessing.
Comic relief is healing. We all need a good dose of humor and healing right now.
Your next meeting is a rare opportunity where people are forgiving. It doesn’t have to be perfect and it’s a fertile breeding ground for creativity and innovation. Try something you’ve always wanted to do but were afraid it wouldn’t work. If it doesn’t work, there’s no harm because people are happy to be out of their houses and reconnect with their industry face to face. These are just some of the best practices I’ve experienced or seen customers implement this past year in the return to meetings. I double-dog dare you to implement just one of these nuggets at your next meeting. I bet you won’t regret it. Mandi Graziano is Vice President of Global Accounts for HPN Global, an industry leader for conference site selection and global venue finding. She is the best-selling author of Sales Tales: The Hustle, Humor and Lessons from a Life in Sales. Her business Facetime Coaching Company helps people and companies grow as individuals and business leaders. In her practice, she speaks to groups and keynotes virtually or live about trending topics such as: Business Bedside Manner, ReEntry to Business and Life & How to Have Fun In Sales while Crushing Your Business Goals. For more information about Mandi visit www.mandigraziano.com #conferencetips #sko #saleskickoffs #meetingsandevents #meetingprofs #hotelprofs #eventprofs #conferenceplanning #meetingsmeanbusiness #havefun #funMeetings #keynotespeakers #funkeynotespeaker #businessbedsidanner #salestalesbook #salestales #mandigraziano #hpnglobal