Three Lessons from Catching COVID-19 for Event Producers

I caught COVID-19 in early October. It was considered a mild case and I have since recovered. I never experienced shortness of breath or worried about my long-term health, for which I am very grateful.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

My symptoms started exactly six days prior to the start of a three-day in-person client event — one with a need for high-touch execution across multiple venues on back-to-back days.

I want to note that our client’s main focus through the whole planning process was safety. The events were fully private, far below restriction headcount and everyone had the great fortune of being privately tested before coming together, including event staff. We implemented the highest possible standards of safety protocols and took all possible precautions.

The lessons I am sharing are valuable for clients, event producers, project managers and executive directors who are leading events (in-person and virtual) and want to reduce the risk of project disruption while we ride out the pandemic rules, ensure maximum safety throughout the planning process and eliminate client reputational risk throughout.

My ‘hindsight is 20/20’ learnings will likely help you avoid the potential disaster of a critical team member getting sick, reduce the spread of COVID-19 through your team and set you up to have a steady hand if the worst-case scenario happens, like it did for us.

Now, back to the story and, more importantly, the lessons.

Once I started to feel symptoms (approximately 72 hours prior to diagnosis), I went into isolation. As soon as I received my positive test result, our team sprung into solutions mode, focusing our energies on activating a not yet written Plan B for my physical absence, bringing newly added team members up to speed and sharing all the instinctive (and almost unteachable) ‘things’ to consider for every minute of producing this kind of live experience.

After getting sick, living in isolation for 18 days (I live with someone so our collective term was longer), leading my team from afar, directing an event via text messages and FaceTime, and the long work hours to ensure all elements were covered, here are my top three tips.

Implement a ‘No Project Team Members in the Same Room’ Rule
This one is hard to imagine for some team constructs but critical if working on a big project where your team members are critical to success.

Businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 corporations, mandate that no two C-suite executives can fly together on the same private or commercial plane. This governance is in place in case the worst-case scenario were to happen to ensure the company is guaranteed some consistency of leadership.

So, from the first day of a project, implement an immediate ‘no two team members in the same room’ rule that’s in force until the pandemic isolation/quarantine restrictions lift.

The reason this is so imperative is someone can be carrying the virus without yet having symptoms and therefore anyone that person comes into contact with for longer than 15 minutes (regardless of wearing a mask or distancing) has to go into isolation for 14 days, if that person starts to show symptoms.

This means project leaders not only have to replace the sick person to be physically present for the event or project execution, but you have to also navigate working with the ‘close contact’ teammates in isolation from afar.

Just as important is that no event VIPs be in the same room while event planning. One of the main and unfortunate learnings was all meetings with event emcees and client VIPs should be virtual until show day. Avoid the disruption of having to substitute key parts of an event due to exposure to someone who ends up testing positive for COVID-19.

Strategically Plan for Staggered Site Visits or Multi-Person Meetings

Right now, group site visits and property/venue walk-throughs as a full team are off the table. Even if producing an online-only show and touring a virtual event space, these thought processes apply.

Again, the restrictions placed upon those who happened to be around someone who tests positive for COVID-19 can be super stressful on the impending project and mean you lose physical access to senior team members with no notice.

Any good production manager and intuitive event producer can handle this, and it could be the difference between smooth project execution and navigating the bumps of government mandated isolation. Not to mention this plan will reduce the spread of COVID-19.

It’s recommended to strategically map out site visits. Make sure to block more time than usual for the full site visit. The venue lead and client/event producer should meet and walk the venue one-on-one, followed by the second venue rep and event ‘second chair’ with the event producer on FaceTime, if needed, and then the third venue rep and supplier/partner rep, and so on.

Plan for a virtual meeting within 12 hours of the site visits while all comments and notes are still fresh. Allow for some budget to cover more time from the venue side, if required.

This approach allows you to keep all event ‘department’ leads apart and you never have senior project leaders in the same room.

Duplicate your Leadership Team
Each member of the team has special and unique strengths that bring value to clients, many of which can’t be easily replicated, especially if you are the executive director on a project.

That said, never work in a bubble — ‘CC’ on e-mail was created for a reason. Share your thoughts and instincts with key team members often. This will enable on-site producers or coordinators to adopt a wider range of views and, in theory, duplicate you on-site.

Sit at your desk with Zoom open on mute (or perhaps with volume on but video off). Have key team members do the same but with Zoom on to enable impromptu teachings and conversations.

Team members will surprise you and step into their own leadership roles when there is no safety net. It’s a powerful thing to watch.

Lisa Marks is owner of Brand Alive Inc., a corporate event strategy and planning company in Canada that she founded in 2018 to help world-class brands build human culture through strategic experiences. Lisa is an award-winning global event industry leader and champion, with more than 13 years’ experience in the events industry. Most of her career was spent brand-side as head of events at Shaw Communications, where she built a multimillion dollar portfolio, modernizing and amplifying the culture of Shaw. She presently sits on the board of governors for the International Live Events Association and is chair of the Mealshare Aid Foundation. Lisa can be reached at [email protected].


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