As 2020 draws to a close, meeting planners are preparing to get business back on the books and resume face-to-face gatherings in the new year. Most events are expected to be smaller, with research from Northstar Meetings Group showing 41 percent of event organizers plan to hold more intimate gatherings in the months ahead.
To that end, Northstar's Small Meetings and Distinctive Venues event, held digitally on Dec. 8, brought together 65 industry professionals to network, as well as discuss how to host in-person events in the coming year that are intimate, impactful and, most importantly, safe. The digital event included one-on-one appointments with suppliers, plus education sessions led by industry leaders.
In the first session of the day, Christy Lamagna, founder of the planning firm Strategic Meetings & Events, offered sage advice on how meeting planners can come out of the current crisis with their careers and businesses stronger than ever. She noted that the industry has overcome past crises, and Covid-19 is no different.
"I went through 9/11, and everyone said no one was ever going to fly again and one was ever coming back to New York City. Look where we are now," said Lamagna. "This is my third watching of the meetings industry come to its knees, but we always get back up again. Our knees are scabbed, but they're not broken."
Lamagna stressed the importance of creating thorough and transparent safety protocols in order to bring the event industry back. She recommended that planners offer pre-event forums, Zoom calls or Q&A sessions, allowing participants to get their travel and safety questions answered before registering and during the weeks leading up to the meeting. She also encouraged planners to channel their worries into learning new skills, expanding their networks and seeking out strategic alliances with colleagues, relationships that will last long after the Covid-19 crisis ends.
Later in the day, a panel of three event organizers took the virtual stage to share their experiences planning and executing in-person meetings right now. Among them was Nancy Davis, chief creative officer and executive director at the Global Wellness Institute, which held its annual Global Wellness Summit in early November. The event, which was originally scheduled to be held in Tel Aviv, Israel, was moved to Palm Beach, Fla.
"We have a very global audience that attends our events, so we knew we had to do something when the pandemic hit and the borders started to close," said Davis. "We didn't want to cancel, although many people said, 'Why don't you just cancel or take it entirely virtual?' But we're a wellness organization and we know the importance of connection and community. And we just thought, we should really try to pull this off."
About 115 people attended the in-person event, along with more than 500 virtual attendees. The group worked with the Breakers Palm Beach and Dr. Richard Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the U.S., to develop the highest level of safety protocols. All in-person attendees were tested for Covid-19 prior to the event, and their temperatures were checked daily. Masks were required at all times, except when people were actively eating or drinking, and medical staff were available on site. Event vendors were tested for Covid-19 and had to quarantine before the meeting.
Also on the panel was Andrea Smith, industry relations and communications manager for the Vernon Company, which specializes in graphics and promotions. Smith discussed how she is currently planning a company event that was just moved from April 2021 to September. She urged planners to "visualize walking through the event as a participant," and go above and beyond to address any potential concerns they might have.
Aspen Krajewski, regional senior producer for the destination management company PRA, agreed and also stressed the importance of ensuring that meeting suppliers abide by strict health and safety protocols.
"One of the things that we set out to do very early on is look at the recommendations from the CDC and industry organizations, and put together a supplier standards document," said Krajewski, who has worked on five in-person events since July. "As we begin to operate again, part of our procedure is to have all suppliers sign off on this agreed set of standards… We can execute events. It's just going to look and feel different than we're used to, but it is possible."