When event programs were turned upside down due to COVID-19, companies with a strategic meetings management program, or an SMMP, were well-equipped. These programs provided companies with immediate visibility into all meetings and events, allowed them to leverage attrition clauses to cancel contracts with lower liability, and saved millions of dollars in potential costs.
Now that we’ve made it through the “crisis management” phase that sits at the core of an SMMP, many program owners are wondering how they can demonstrate the value of the program to facilitate a safe return to in-person events.
Everyone knows that health and safety is a chief concern to get people meeting again in-person. So how does an SMMP help? Keep reading to learn how to leverage an SMMP to keep guests safer at your events and provide peace of mind to your organization.
Evolving your SMMP to include safer in-person events
At its core, strategic meetings management is meant to provide guidance for how meetings and events — whether in-person, virtual, or hybrid — should be executed and planned within your organization.
As you expand that definition to include heath and safety considerations, think about these additional benefits of an SMMP for safer in-person meetings and events:
- Publish your company policy on your events webpage, or somewhere easily accessible by anyone in your organization.
- Maintain up-to-date health standards for in-person gatherings. Remember, this may be different based on region.
- Create an organized project workflow and communication strategy that includes partners, vendors, and attendees to ensure everyone feels confident and comfortable with your event plan.
- Maintain a list of approved in-person vendors or require safety standards for all vendors in the RFP process.
- Include and clearly outline any legal, financial, and safety risks for everyone involved.
- Negotiate clear contract terms with all vendors that will save the company money in the event the in-person event is cancelled.
Explore how to make in-person events safer using an SMMP:
How can you accomplish the standards set forth above by using an SMMP as the framework? It’s easier than you think. One of the key areas for maintaining health and safety standards starts with planning out your space and creating guidelines in your program for space planning. Here are three key steps:
1. Create safety-minded layouts.
The World Health Organization’s recommendations for small public gatherings includes that they should happen at outdoor venues. If that’s not a possibility, indoor spaces are acceptable as long as they are well-ventilated, well-cleaned spaces. You’ll know if an event space is well-ventilated if you see windows that can open and if you smell fresh air. If not, check with the building management about what, if any, air is being circulated indoors, and how you can increase natural ventilation. Some indoor venues are going so far as to invest in new HVAC or air filtration systems specifically built to cleanse the air of virus particles.
But no matter which venue option you choose, you still need to designate physical areas where participants can and cannot go. To organize where people should be over the course of the event, you’ll need to create strategic floor plans.
By now it’s common knowledge that event attendees who are not from the same household should maintain six feet of distance from each other. Although this seems simple at first, you also have to account for speakers, venue employees, and everyone else in attendance. With all of this information in mind, here are some ways to use Cvent Event Diagramming to create a safety-minded layout for your next in-person event:
- Place chairs, tables, and podiums six feet apart. Ensure consistent spacing on all sides by using accurate room measurements to properly scale your design so your vision maintains compliance and looks exactly how you thought it would once it’s physically set up.
- Use both 2D and 3D event diagramming. The first gives you a bird’s-eye view of the space so you can arrange furniture, space out assigned seating, and place your stage. The second helps you virtually walk through the venue and look at your plan through the eyes of your attendees without having to visit the space.
- Try remote collaboration. Virtually meet with partners and event venue managers to go over your layout and update it in real-time. Hold virtual walkthroughs to confirm safety guidelines are met while creating a plan everyone is happy with.
- Color code and tag key areas. Some seating and standing areas will need to be taped off if you aren’t able to space everyone out properly. Make sure you color code these areas so other collaborators know to avoid using them too.
- Automate compliance. Add custom distance standards to your diagram check. Cvent Event Diagramming will highlight areas that don’t comply so you can fix issues before they come up.
2. Ensure compliance with mandated standards.
The guidelines put out by your city, state, and country will largely dictate how you can safely plan and execute in-person events, and all planners will need to comply with these standards. Compliance is another area where SMMPs shine. Program owners should help their organizations know and understand these regulations by posting on their event websites and updating their meeting workflow to ensure any in-person events adhere to these mandated standards.
However, these standards are continually evolving based on pandemic case numbers, new travel quarantine rules, and changes in research. If you use Cvent Event Diagramming, you’ll be able to make adjustments to your layout quickly by simply dragging and dropping.
Additional best practices include waivers for anyone attending, temperature screening, and COVID-19 testing. Your event management technology can collect these signatures, either through registration or at on-site check-in. No matter what your area currently requires of in-person events, you should make sure to include the following in your waiver:
- Attendees are expected to wear masks in all public areas of the event venue.
- Attendees agree to not attend the event if they exhibit any flu-like symptoms such as sore throat or coughing.
- Attendees with known recent exposure to COVID-19 within the past 14 days are forbidden from participating.
It’s worth noting that some people who are asked to sign waivers are distrustful of the organization requiring them. In their eyes, waiving liability could also mean waiving responsibility. To combat this and foster goodwill among event attendees, include jargon-free explanations of the steps you and your events team are taking to maximize their safety. Doing so will put their minds at ease and show that you consider compliance a two-way street at all in-person gatherings. When they sign the waiver, they’ll know that you’re both agreeing to a certain set of controllable behaviors, which is a win-win. You can even include images of your event diagram so potential attendees know what they can expect as they make their decision.
Also, make sure you follow the latest pandemic protocols by keeping up with the in-person event rules from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and state and local officials. You can even follow local officials on social media for up-to-date notifications. For example, offices like the City of Los Angeles offer daily pandemic briefings via Instagram with news on business closures, health statistics, and travel restrictions. If big updates such as instant bans on certain public activities and indoor space usage happen, you can adjust your plan on the fly through flexible layouts and centralized communication tools.
Keep in mind that what you plan for today might not be what’s required of your event tomorrow. So leave some wiggle room in your timeline and budget to accommodate last-minute changes.
3. Update company-wide policies for in-person events.
If you have an SMMP in place, now is the time to take a good look at your existing event policies or write a policy if you are looking to implement a program. These company-wide standards give employees something to base their decisions on in moments of uncertainty.
No matter where you are located or what your event goals are, the following company-wide policies should be on your list:
- Require venue diagramming. In addition to wearing masks and providing hand sanitizer, making sure your guests can safely stay six feet apart from one another at all times is critical. Venue diagramming makes it easy to maximize floor space, accurately estimate max occupancy based on guidelines, and offer room between furniture.
- Establish important tools. All in-person events should provide hand hygiene stations, closed lid bins, and distance markers for areas such as check-in and bathroom lines.
- Streamline guest communication. Decide what health and safety information all guests will receive before, during, and potentially after the event, plus how the information will be shared in an accessible way.