In light of major events and meetings being cancelled around the globe due to COVID-19, the new coronavirus, there are no doubts event planners everywhere have questions about their own upcoming events.
To answer these questions, CMEExpo reached out to Clark Grue, chairman of Meetings Mean Business Canada, to put together a comprehensive guide on what event planners should be doing during the pandemic.
CMEExpo: What factors should planners consider before they cancel their event?
CG: There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. All events are different. So size, location, geography, and jurisdiction all impact this answer. My recommendation on this would be to look at things like your industry, location of your event, who is coming to your event and from where, to make an informed decision…all of these things matter when you’re considering a cancellation or postponement. But the best advice we can give to meeting planners in Canada is to visit the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) website. There’s a link on how to mitigate risk at an event and how to plan around health-related concerns. It’s a very helpful tool and gives some guidance to planners on being prudent about their events and remembering that the first concern is the health of the delegates that are coming to the event, and the staff that work the event.
CMEExpo: How can event professionals mitigate the risks at an event?
CG: If you choose to continue with your event, it’s important to communicate with your delegates about how you, the planner, are working to set up the event for success and how you are working to make it as safe as possible.
You might consider sending communication before the event asking delegates to avoid greeting people the way they’re used to. The natural way we greet each other is with handshakes and hugs or even cheek kisses. Really those delegates should be reminded of that and given a protocol for how to greet one another at your event to avoid risks. It’s also important to note that in your message to your delegates, you explain these precautions are not to instill fear, but so that everyone feels as comfortable as they can at your event, and to make sure you’re meeting about the task at hand rather than COVID-19.
CMEExpo: Do planners/event owners need to release a statement about their event and COVID-19?
CG: I think that’s a case-by-case basis. But I believe in today’s world, it’s important to communicate for several reasons. One, to allow delegates to make their own decision about attending a meeting or event. And two, to set some protocols if they do come. Communication is an important safety component here, both physically and mentally.
CMEExpo: What if no one comes to a planned event because of COVID-19?
CG: This is a fear for many planners. I believe one of the things we should be doing more of is communicating. It’s fair to say in today’s world, to announce the event is happening and hoping delegates are coming is dangerous. I believe communication is really important, and one of these communications you as the planner can ask is “Are you coming to this event?” This way, you can get that data and the event is not a disaster. But also, if you discover that only half of the expected attendees are coming, you are able to adjust the environment that they’re meeting in so that way it’s safe and appropriate.
CMEExpo: What are some alternative formats planners should look into?
CG: The ones we’re hearing about the most is an online format or a hybrid format. A hybrid format is where some people are meeting face-to-face but technology is brought in for those who can’t be there.
Another approach is to work diligently with your venue. The way we typically host an event is we have a room that holds 250 people so we can put 249 people in there. That’s how planners think from a fire code perspective. And this is not a fire code regulation type of situation. So if you’re continuing with your event, and you have a venue that has a bigger space to use, I would advise using that. Space out your delegates’ chairs and tables so no one is too close for comfort. Or, if you have a conference with one gender, perhaps both the men’s and ladies’ washrooms can be used.
Event planners are very smart. Once you start thinking about your event from a public health point-of-view, you’ll think of more solutions on how you can make your event safer.
CMEExpo: What is the best resource for more information?
CG: For Canadians, the Public Health Agency of Canada has done a great job with their risk mitigation document on their site, so I really point to that. The other one to point to is the Meetings Mean Business Canada website where we have a COVID-19 resource centre. And finally, the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s website also has a lot of resources planners can use.