What Do In-Person Meetings Look Like Heading Into 2022?
Today’s in-person meetings look a little different than we’re used to. The need to go the extra mile to ensure the comfort and health of attendees and all the people that make events possible has added another layer to planning and execution. The LAI Live event producers have been on the ground collaborating with groups to get their events up and running, while making sure they’re following all the guidelines in place for safe, engaging meetings. To learn more about cities for your next in-person meeting, click here.
Here are some in-person event tips and best practices for the remainder of this year and heading into next year, based on what we’ve seen at recent events.
Health and Safety Protocols
One of the most noticeable differences in the in-person event experience is how spaced out everything now is. In following social distancing guidelines, front row seating is often pushed back further than pre-pandemic layouts to give the audience a comfortable buffer from the stage and the speaker. With a theater seating setup, we’re also seeing the seats spaced out several feet from each other. The use of overflow rooms is also common to make people feel more comfortable and for sessions that have higher attendance than can be accommodated in this new era of meetings.
Speakers who participate in multiple sessions throughout the event can be assigned one microphone each to use for the duration of the meeting. The microphone can be disinfected between uses. For all other speakers, rather than rotating, provide one microphone per speaker per session and disinfected the mics regularly.
Meals for larger groups have also evolved to accommodate social distancing. Most events are choosing the grab-and-go pre-packed bag route, but there are some that are still offering sit-down meals. As far as table seating goes, we’re seeing that groups are opting for a crescent format with up to four people per table to optimize for social distancing. Keep in mind that, if you choose this way of dining, you’ll want to provide plenty of seating and table areas so that attendees have a place to enjoy their meal. No one wants to find themselves sitting on the floor!
Virtual Program Participants
With pandemic guidelines varying from one location to the next, we're seeing some program participants make the decision to remain virtual due to the lack of vaccine and mask mandates in some areas. Should you encounter this roadblock in your planning, you'll need to decide whether to replace program participants who wish to remain virtual or make accommodations for them — keeping in mind that not all A/V teams have virtual capabilities to do so.
The Event Day Experience
Attendance Is Promising
Event professionals were unsure of what to expect when they made the decision to go back live with their meetings. Were people ready to meet in person again, or were groups investing their time and resources planning an event that would have disappointing attendance? Our team can report that attendance at events nationwide has been solid and continues to rise. If people can see that you're taking the precautions necessary to create a safe meeting experience for everyone involved, they are more likely to attend your event since the in-person experience is one that just can't be replicated virtually.
In locations where an indoor mask mandate is in effect, all attendees are required to wear their masks, as are speakers. Speakers are usually permitted to deliver their talks with the mask off, though they wear them as they enter and exit the stage. When there are multiple speakers on the stage, speakers are asked to keep their masks on, but can take them off or pull them down when speaking — such as when answering a question during Q&A. At events we’ve produced recently, a speaker would often put his or her mask back on as soon as it was no longer their turn to speak. And for those that kept their masks on the entire time, there were no issues at all with muffled audio.
The overflow rooms definitely come in handy, even when sessions have enough seating for those who attended. They provide an extra option for people who were wary about being in overly crowded rooms and are a must-have for events if the possibility presents itself.
Venue Safety Updates
Many venues have updated their services to be more safe and secure, which can lead to some adjustments to their traditional offerings. For example, one roadblock we’ve run into is that the venue disabled the water stations and padlocked the fountains. While there was water there for purchase, most attendees didn’t anticipate having to spend four dollars on water, especially after being so accustomed to the free drinking fountains and bubblers that were the norm in the past.
Key Takeaways for Event Professionals and Meeting Organizers
Each in-person event in this era brings new insights and takeaways for event professionals and organizers. Here are our top takeaways from recent events:
1. Make Decisions Early
As restrictions on in-person meetings began to ease in the second half of 2021, many event professionals and meeting organizers remained indecisive on whether to return to in-person shows or continue down the virtual route. Understandably, there were concerns that plans would continue to be affected by ever-changing pandemic guidelines and restrictions, and important decisions were being made later in the game — often with some flip flopping in between. Now that we've all had enough time to assess the current event landscape, meeting organizers are making the decision to go in-person or virtual earlier in the planning process and sticking with it. The earlier you decide, the more time you'll have iron out all the other logistics and deliver a stand-out show.
2. Read the Fine Print
While in-person events are holding strong, venues and vendors aren't looking past the unpredictable nature of the pandemic. "Force majeure" was a thorn in the side of many businesses all through 2020 and into 2021 as planners backed out of contracts due to the unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19. Moving forward, you'll notice that venues and vendors have clauses written in to account for the possibility of COVID cancellations, as it's no longer seen as an unforeseen circumstance. It's important to read these terms carefully before signing any contracts, as it will be difficult to cancel for pandemic-related reasons in the future.
3. Communicate Vaccination and Testing Expectations Well in Advance of Attendee Arrival
Many groups are requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test prior to entering the registration area. Planners should be communicating this information out to attendees beforehand so that there are no surprises or hold-ups at the point of entry. Also be sure to have a clear, well-marked area away from the main conference for attendees to show their proof.
4. Allow Extra Response Time from Staff
The venue staff — in-house providers, food and beverage, security, housemen, etc. — are all understaffed. While things may seem urgent as you’re trying to keep your event moving forward, it’s important to allow for extra response times since there are less people to handle your requests. Even for planned needs like security in the unloading dock or item delivery, if the venue is busy that day, the service provider may not be able to deliver at the time needed.
5. Plan Ahead and Have a Backup Plan Ready to Go, Too
If there’s one thing we all know about events, it’s that anything can happen. Besides the typical questions that come up during a site visit, think of all the possible roadblocks your event could face — such as padlocked water fountains — and develop plans for working around them. After that, consider the ways your forward thinking could be unraveled. For example, selling bottled water is a viable solution to not having access to fountains and bubblers. But what if attendees don’t want to pay for bottled water? Let them know that they can bring their own reusable bottle which they can replenish at a refill station. While this will require extra collaboration with the venue to determine the best method of implementation, it also provides an opportunity to have a sponsor host the refill station. Sounds like a win-win!
LAI Live Can Help You Plan Your Next Meeting
Planning your next meeting, but not sure what to expect? The LAI Live team can help you navigate the constantly changing landscape of in-person and virtual events. Contact us to get started.