Lessons Learned from the Pandemic Meeting and Event Design Program

Even before COVID-19, event organizers had a laundry list of items to tackle when planning an event. The pandemic has added a whole new host of considerations to ensure the health and safety of all involved.

As someone who always strives to learn new things, challenge ideas and provide value to our events team and clients, I decided late last year to pursue Pandemic Meeting and Event Design certification. Developed by the Event Leadership Institute in partnership with Meeting Professionals International, the course provides planners with strategies, tactics and resources to move forward with in-person events and meetings in this new world.

The timely program is broken down into six modules and features live online class meetings, a peer-based community forum and a ton of resources. Topics covered are those most impacted by the current health crisis and include event timeline matters, risk management, sanitization, food and beverage handling, and venue implications.

Here’s what we discussed each week and the content that resonated with me most.

Week One: Developing a New Event Strategy

There is a constant need for planners to pivot, re-create and revise their event strategy since the implications of the pandemic change daily. We utilized tools like situational analysis, explored the best methods for effective data sourcing, and discussed intentional strategies and designs to meet the needs of all participants in an event in a post-pandemic environment.

Over the week, I came to realize it’s okay for plans to change course and it is important to remain agile and adaptable. This means being open to experimentation and making real-time adjustments, continually mapping the flow of attendee sentiment (for example, surveying members to gauge their willingness to travel to and attend an in-person event) and ensuring contingency plans are in place.

Week Two: Project Oversight and Risk Management

We covered how to develop and monitor an event SOAR analysis. (SOAR is an acronym for strengths, opportunities, actions and results.)

What I found most interesting in this module is that risk assessment models help with planning. We discussed how to transfer risk, budget for it and reduce the negative effects on an event. The main methods used to mitigate risks are insurance policies and waivers. It’s also advisable to seek legal advice about contract clauses.

Week Three: Design Formats

We explored experiential design, movement patterns to keep crowd flow safe and spatial design options for risk reduction.

I learned it’s important to consider the look and feel of key event elements like product demonstrations and launches, trade show booths, and networking and social gatherings early in the planning process to ensure they can be conducted safely.

Week Four: Site Selection and Evaluation

This week looked at establishing criteria for location and venue selection, and how to evaluate venues for suitability and protocol guidelines. There are three main questions you should ask: Who needs to come? When does it need to happen? When does it need to occur?

What I came away with is that you may need to ditch your standard site selection template. There are now many more factors that come into play than the venue alone. When determining a site for your event, you also need to take into account what’s making headlines in your potential host city/country; whether a virtual inspection is possible; housekeeping practices at the host hotel; the rules and regulations at the destination airport; food and beverage practices; and the venue’s security protocols.

Work Five: Attendee Experience and Safety

It is crucial your attendees’ experience and safety are top of mind. So, when developing your event, it should be attendee centric from inception to execution. As much as possible, the experience should be contactless. This can begin with the registration process and flow through different facets of the event. For instance, mail a swag bag in advance, digitize data, use QR codes to scan session attendance, pre-package food and drinks, utilize virtual business cards, assign attendees to specific rooms and so on.

The big takeaway this week was that contactless does not mean connectionless.

Week Six: On-site Event Standards and Response Plans

In the final module, we explored guidelines and enforcement protocols for various event elements and how to train on-site teams to mitigate risk. Key considerations included ensuring the event has a ‘guest centric’ approach, staggering and controlling arrival times, health and safety protocols like hand-sanitizing, masking and distancing, and having a post-event plan that supports contacting attendees should anyone develop COVID symptoms.

What stuck with me is how important it is to set attendee expectations before the event. This ensures they are aligned with your vision and attendees buy into your standard of safety.

Shayna Asgill is an event manager with Redstone Agency Inc., one of Canada’s most innovative event and association management companies with a strong focus on digital events. Shayna has developed her planning expertise while working on a variety of events ranging from conferences, festivals, workshops, virtual events and fundraisers.


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