View the full panel discussion on EIC’s “Meeting and Event Design Accepted Practices Guide” on-demand here
As meeting planners work to hold in-person gatherings again, and review the numerous different protocols and plans from travel providers, they are faced with the challenge of figuring out just where to start. To help navigate these challenges, members of the Events Industry Council's APEX COVID-19 Business Recovery Task Force joined in a webcast to discuss its new "Meeting and Event Design Accepted Practices Guide" and how planners can put its insights into action.
The goal of the EIC has always been to "help elevate the profession and offer educational opportunities for community," said Amy Calvert, CEO of the Events Industry Council. "As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was being felt, it became more important than ever to determine how we can help support the event community and rebuild trust, which led to the formation of the Business Recovery Task Force."
David Kliman, president of The Kliman Group, and Liz Warwick, vice president of meeting management and event strategy for Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, who chairs the Meeting and Event Design working group, also focused on the idea of trust in discussing how the "Meeting and Event Design Accepted Practices Guide" was developed.
"The key piece everyone was wrestling with was trust, and that was really built into the objective of creating this document — to reestablish trust with key stakeholders, whether that's the decision makers, meeting planners or venues," said Warwick.
"The key piece everyone was wrestling with was trust, and that was really built into the objective of creating this document."
Elizabeth Warwick, vice president of meeting management and event strategy for Liberty Mutual Insurance Group
To help create greater confidence that in-person events can happen safely, Warwick and her sub-committee developed a number of resources that make up the guide. These include a meeting and decision grid (mapping health measures that should be implemented depending on the risk level), an outline of communications considerations, as well as attendee guidelines and a specific code of conduct that all meeting participants must agree to in order to get them actively committed to creating a healthy event.
Download the Guide
The full "Meeting and Event Design Accepted Practices Guide" is available for download, for free, by visiting the Events Industry Council resources page here
But while the guide covers a lot of ground, the presenters stressed that it is a just one step in what will be an ongoing, collaborative process of responding to industry needs and changing circumstances.
"It's really a jumping-off point," said Kristin Horstman, senior director of strategic events for Salesforce and co-chair of the COVID-19 Business Recovery Task Force. "It's the opportunity for you to open the dialogue with your leadership, with your association partners to say, 'Hey, we're going to have a meeting. These are the considerations we need to think about.'"
She emphasized that a goal for the guide is to "build confidence" with face-to-face events, even if that begins with gatherings of just a few people.
"Within days [of the pandemic] we lost confidence in travel and in meetings, and we have to build it back up," she added. "Let's just be real everybody: This year is tough. Are we going to be able to gather again in large groups by the end of the year? Maybe not. But you've got to think about what's your strategy going forward?"
Kliman explained that the Event Design Guide was the "first rollout," and that there would be a number of additional guides coming out in coming weeks, covering additional work streams, such as accommodations and the workforce. All of these will be available on the EIC website for free, and updated continually to account for new data and developments, such as the impact of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Putting It Into Practice
By way of example, panelists and audience members shared their own recent experiences planning in-person gatherings or attending them, while drawing on the Guide as a resource. Northstar Meetings Group executive vice president and group publisher David Blansfield, the session's moderator, shared the "Journey of a Meeting Attendee" video of his own recent trip from Connecticut to Washington, D.C. for the Meetings Mean Business board of directors summer meeting.
Mike Dominguez, president and CEO of Associated Luxury Hotels International and co-chair of the APEX Task Force, discussed ALHI's recent Executive Women in Leadership Meeting, held in Naples, Fla., which drew 30 planners in person. He described how spacing considerations and smaller groups led to higher levels of engagement between attendees, and that having the clearly defined code of conduct for attendees to follow helped keep everyone on the same page with so many new safety demands.
"We had a call three weeks ahead of time to let everybody know what to expect," said Dominguez. "We let them know, 'this is what's going to be happening at the hotel. Here are the expectations [and] everybody's signed the code of conduct.' It wasn't about liability, it was making sure you're making a commitment to do what we're asking you to do."
He emphasized that this kind of clear guidance is key to instilling a sense of confidence in attendees as they return to traveling again.
"People have different risk tolerances and we need to be really accepting of that and find ways to allow that to shift our thinking about the experiences we're trying to deliver."
Amy Calvert, CEO of the Events Industry Council
"These are people whose livelihoods revolve around travel. And the commentary was, 'they were scared to get on a plane,'" said Dominguez. "But it's because you just don't know what to expect, and once you've done it, you're like, 'I can go do it again.' That's going to be the biggest challenge for our industry: How do we get people to take that first step?"
Calvert added that this means understanding that there is no single approach that will work for all attendees or stakeholders.
"People have different risk tolerances and we need to be really accepting of that and find ways to allow that to shift our thinking about the experiences we're trying to deliver," said Calvert. "It comes down to that feeling of creating a safe and welcoming environment. We're being called to find new and different ways to think about that."