Safe and Healthy In-Person Events in 2021 and Beyond!

By Donna Rostamian • May 8, 2021

COVID-19 brought about the largest changes to the landscape of conferences and events. Associations’ meetings and education had to pivot in a new direction. This change has pushed association meeting planners to learn new insights into how to creatively introduce positive interactions for professional societies’ membership at virtual, hybrid and in-person events. Throughout this journey, associations learned how to provide new strategies for in-person events including innovative food and beverage offerings, imaginative seating arrangements, and enabling safe interaction between attendees.

Now with the approval of one of the largest fiscal stimuli in U.S. history, the progression of vaccine rollouts, and indications that states are easing restrictions for large events, the future of going back to in-person is on the horizon.

Post-COVID-19 Hotel Safety Protocols Keep Meeting Space Clean

The hotel industry has been the first to find ways to make their properties as safe as possible and welcome back travelers in a post-coronavirus world.

Hotel and event venues understand how important it is to adapt to clients’ new health and safety expectations, and have initiated four main strategies:

  1. Enhanced cleaning standards throughout their property meeting spaces, public spaces and guest rooms.
  2. Venues are using higher-grade cleaning products that adhere to CDC guidelines.
  3. Meeting planners are ensuring social distancing and reduced person-to-person contact by using social distancing floor decals, installing hand-sanitizing stations and plexiglass barriers at front desks, and requiring guests and staff to wear face masks.
  4. Increased communication between the hotel and its guests about all these processes.

Strong, Detailed Communications Encourage Smart Interaction

Good communication strategies have always been essential to the success of conferences and meetings. Now with new health concerns to consider, it is more critical to have a strong, detailed strategy with well-crafted messages during all phases of events. This diffuses stress caused by the unknown and builds confidence in your event. With the assistance of hotel partners, new instructions detailing health protocols like mask wearing, physical distancing and how to safely move between meals and breaks can be distributed to attendees.

Through friendly reminders about maintaining social distance, associations can still create opportunities for attendees to meaningfully connect. It is important for an association has a well thought out communication plan to outline safe behavior of attendees. The easiest communication path is using the five W reminders throughout the event from registrations to onsite.

  • Wear a mask when in public spaces.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Watch your distance: six-feet.
  • Walk the flow.
  • Wellbeing check: Ask attendees to stay home if feeling unwell.

Be Health-Conscious When Creating New Environments

Work with hotel partners to see how they are handling meeting room set up, ensuring attendees feel as comfortable as possible while allowing social distancing.

For daylong or multiday conferences, provide guests individual chairs that they can use for the duration of the event. Ask hotels to use slightly bigger chairs so attendees are more comfortable and less likely to move the chair. Think of this as their ‘owned space’ for the duration of the conference—that way you don’t have to worry about disinfecting it at the end of each session.

Additionally, each attendee should have their own individual table to avoid cross-contamination, as well as their own charging stations, to avoid having guests cluster near an outlet.

Think residential room seating, using hotel furniture or rentals to bring home inspiration with the addition of lamps, rugs and live plants. Have small living room chairs with side tables instead of traditional classroom or theatre seating. With the consideration of ensuring everyone is at least six-feet apart, you can set up a mix of socially distance seating in zones. By strategically placing furniture, draping, florals, and greenery, you can keep guests apart while also keeping the room from looking large and empty.

Don’t forget about the floor. Add markings on the floor such as six-foot round carpet or vinyl appliqués and event arrows to direct the flow of traffic, which will assist in keeping attendees from gathering too closely.

Create Richer Learning Environments through Technology

As face-to-face events come back, you can use today’s accepted technology to combine the strength of in-class instruction. Technology-enhanced learning can create a richer learning environment while engaging a larger audience that can be either in-person or online.

Event registration

Decrease onsite registration of attendees by moving registration online altogether, easing the concern for physical distancing.

Larger pool of speakers

When you are open to patching speakers into an onsite event, you have the opportunity to bring in well-known international presenters who are unable to come in-person but would be great virtual speakers. By adding a simple patch and in-person microphones to the audio equipment, this can allow attendees to ask questions and connect with the speaker.

Crowd Polling

Integrating real-time polls into your conference content is easier than ever thanks to new technology. You can even find phone applications available that will save you from renting dedicated polling equipment.

Industry virtual exhibits

Offer new opportunities to companies that have employee travel bans by offering iPad virtual tables.

Redesign Food & Beverage Offerings for Better Health

Hotel chefs have become very creative in providing new, imaginative menu solutions including snack breaks and plated meals. Additionally, hotel/venue partners are aware of new tighter budgets and revolving attendance. National chains such as Hilton, Marriott, and Loews are willing to offer flexible options moving forward on pre- and post-COVID contract terms. This includes cancellation policies, lower room attrition and flexible food and beverage minimums.

Pre-packaged items and batched non-alcoholic cocktails make refreshments easy to handle. Hotel catering staffs can prepare meals and protect them with transparent dividers. Consider using Bento-style containers – a three-course-in-one concept for meal or appetizer selections. We work in partnership with hotel chefs to create inviting meeting food options to meet the needs of today’s events.

Enhance Social Connections While Leveraging New Trends

Social connections have always been one of the main reasons people attend in-person events. Ideas and people thrive on high-quality networking. WJ Weiser strives to create these meaningful connections by leveraging new trends and technology in more productive ways. We are dedicated to enhancing programs and engaging larger audiences in safe and healthy ways as we move back into in-person events.


About The Author

Donna Rostamian is an executive director and senior director of conference and meeting services at WJ Weiser & Associates, a Naylor company.