10 Tips to Make In-Person Meetings Comfortable Again

February 16, 2022
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2022 ESPA Annual Conference in Kansas City.
2022 ESPA Annual Conference, Kansas City, Missouri

Since the pandemic began, event service professionals have taken a prominent role in helping meeting planners deliver a safe conference at every locale. 

After all, service pros have the local relationships, the insight on ever-changing mandates and industry knowledge from their experience working on a variety of events every day of the year. 

When we at Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA) held our first in-person, annual conference in two years this past January, we used best practices that allowed us to produce a safe event. With the rest of the country transitioning back to in-person, here is our roadmap for a comfortable experience.

[Related: Learn COVID-19 Protocol Best Practices Gleaned From ESPA’s Annual Conference]

1. Take Action Before the Event

Pre-event decisions are the secret to success when it comes to producing comfortable in-person events during the pandemic. Regularly review the CVB website, which is a resource for local requirements and guidelines. Decide what the test or vaccine requirements will be for attendees. (ESPA required all attendees to show proof of vaccination, or a negative PCR COVID test performed within 72 hours of the conference. Then, we asked advanced health screening questions to further mitigate any risk.) 

2. Hold Partners to the Same Standard

Review the health protocols of your venue, including fresh air ventilation and cleaning practices, and contractors (i.e., your AV team) to ensure their standards meet or exceed yours. If not, require them to follow your standard during the event. 

3. Use Technology to Your Advantage

Don’t put your staff in the position to police registrants. Use an app to collect proof of vaccination and tests results as well as answer any questions before the event.

[Related: 3 Health-Screening Solutions for the Return to In-Person Events

4. Request Reassurance

Recommend that registrants get the vaccine booster if they qualify for the shot, and to take a rapid or at-home COVID test prior to departure.  

5. Use the Honor System

Ask registrants to support and abide by the established safety protocols for the best interests of all attendees and agree to remove themselves from the conference if they start experiencing any COVID symptoms. They should also notify a staff member, who will assess the impact it may have on other attendees. 

6. Require Masks

Consider requiring that attendees wear masks indoors—except for eating and drinking—and on transportation. Provide N95 masks—no cloth or surgical masks—to all attendees. 

7. Double-Down on Comfort

Give attendees the option to choose different-colored lanyards to communicate their comfort levels while networking. For example, red could mean, “I’m keeping my distance,” while yellow would express, “I’m being cautious; I’m okay with talking and elbow bumps.” Green would signify the highest level of comfort: “I’m feeling okay with hugs and high fives.” 

[Related: A COVID-19 Convention Services Roadmap to Recovery

8. Offer Seating Options

Allow attendees to choose their own seating preference. For instance, each session room could offer one seat per six feet, classroom seating, as well as banquet rounds with four seats. For the general session, you could offer theater seating spaced three feet apart. 

9. Make F&B Faster and Safer

Serve individually packaged breakfast items, which could be wrapped bagels and muffins, individually packaged fruit, yogurt and granola. Present a plated lunch by attendants wearing N95 masks. Organize coffee breaks as an individual grab-and-go, alleviating the chance of lingering and the need for multiple people using the serving utensils. Possible examples could include individual glasses with smoothies, crudités or apples with caramel sauce. 

10. Relax

You got this. Event service professionals are ready to help meeting planners deliver memorable in-person conferences once again that are comfortable for all attendees. 

Read Next: Opinion: You Need Event Service Profs More Than Ever. Here's Why 

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About the author
Paola Bowman, CMP, CMM

Paola Bowman, CMP, CMM, serves as the president of the Event Service Professionals Association, which provides education and a forum for members from CVBs, hotels and conference centers across North America. She is also destination services manager at the Arlington CVB in Arlington, Texas.