In this episode, we discuss health and safety for live corporate events. Amber Heintz, Bishop-McCann’s Vice President of Program Operations, discusses what you need to know when preparing for in-person meetings. Listen in to learn what health protocols you need to consider as you return to live programs. Topics include:
- Health trends due to COVID
- Prevention strategies to minimize risk
- How to handle an outbreak
- Communications for live events
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Hi, and welcome to The Events Experience, where we take a deep dive into everything event planning. I work for Bishop-McCann, an agency devoted to creating JOY through meetings, incentives, and events for big name brands. On this podcast, myself and our company's experts will discuss all things events, so keep listening to hear all about the latest tips and trends for virtual, live, and hybrid events.
Hi, everyone. I'm here with Amber Heintz, Bishop-McCann's vice president of operations. Amber has over 20 years of broad-ranging experience in the events industry, and she motivates her team to reach operational excellence while creating amazing experiences for our clients. In today's episode, we are going to be discussing live corporate event health protocols and how important it is to take the time to thoroughly consider how you can make your event as safe as possible. Thank you so much for chatting with me, Amber. I know how busy you are, so I really appreciate you coming on today!
Oh, I'm happy to be here! I'm excited to talk about this and to chat with you today.
Yes, me, too! So first, let's start off by talking about what health trends you're seeing in relation to COVID.
Oh, of course. Well, the last year and a half, things have changed significantly. Not only the environment, but also the trends have changed significantly. We started in one way, and then we continued to evolve as we learned more in the time that we've had to really hone in on those health trends, or topics if you will. You know, a few of the things that we've been seeing coming up for really just the meetings themselves (on-site meetings, things of that sort) is there's a plethora of trends. I think it really depends on a few different things. We have our partners, our hotel partners, our client partners, all of those types of people who are really a part of making all these decisions about where the comfortability is. So it's really not one person's ability to decipher the health items that are needed to have a program but really a group of people who are necessary for that. But we've seen things such as asking for vaccine statuses. That certainly is a piece that people are talking about right now. The health questionnaires, I think many of us have seen plenty of those. But those are things that people are including in their meeting apps and including even pre-event, you know, where people are needing to really just make sure that people are well aware of what they're getting into.
I would also say we've seen a few groups asking for showing of negative tests prior to coming to a program. So not only electronically, but sometimes just physically, that sort of thing, but mostly electronically. I think we've seen a lot of contactless pieces of technology that we're working on here, which has been nice and efficient. You can change things on the dime and kind of roll with the changes if you need to. I would also say an interesting piece, which I really do like—especially if there's some real uncomfortability with coming on site—is sending testing kits home to the people prior to arriving on site. I know there's plenty of places to be able to get tests, but just being able to have that personal touch of being able to send that, so people don't have to go out and worry about where they're going to get a test or anything like that is nice. Being able to send those, and also being able to do them on site at the program. So we've offered those on site with InHouse Physicians and other physician partners, as well, to be able to just make people feel very calm and comfortable, but also feel like that there's the highest level of health. I think that's really important.
Yeah, definitely. Especially with just how things have been in this environment. I think this is such an important topic to be talking about right now.
So with those trends in mind, what are some things that were commonplace in 2019 that are changing now in 2021?
You know, of course, there's plenty of those which in some ways jumpstarted our industry, to be able to leap forward 10 years in the future to kind of what everyone wanted—an electronic and technologically savvy industry. So we've kind of been forced to leap forward, and in that way, it's exciting. There's a lot of excitement around that. I would say there were a lot of changes from 2019—one is touchless registration. That's one of them, I would say. You have people who are able to register on site for the program through their app saying, "I'm here, you know, don't need to worry about me." You don't really have to stop by a registration desk or something of that sort. But you also have people who are sending representatives to pick up items, one for a group of fifteen or something of that sort. I would also say virtual and hybrid, obviously were not (or what you might call blended - the virtual and blended meeting) in the picture in 2019 really. It was there in the background, quietly doing its thing, but really just catapulted to the forefront. We have now more than one option to be able to fit the need of the time, the environment, and really attendees.
You know, if you think about before, it was kind of one option and nothing else - you either came in person or you didn't really do it. Or sometimes people feel slighted, if you will, if we're doing it via streaming or remotely somehow. It didn't feel right. But there's so many, so many companies now that can determine what makes sense. You know, the number of meetings that a company has is kind of being asked now. Before it was, we have to have it physically. But now there's a lot more questions that in 2019 may not have even been on the radar. It's kind of rinse and repeat or "of course, it would be a live meeting." So there's a few things. I'd say the other piece would be kind of the work-from-anywhere mentality, changes to company landscapes, and how companies are working in and of themselves, which then affects, of course, our industry. And there's all sorts of changes that weren't there in 2019 that definitely kept us on our toes this last year.
Yeah, definitely a completely different landscape, like you said.
Do you think that these trends that we've been talking about are here to stay permanently or do you think eventually these will be things of the past?
You know, I think it's an interesting question. Of course, I would like to say, "Yes, they're all staying, and we've made a lot of headway here." And I think we have made a lot of headway. I also believe that some of them will stay for a while. I think once maybe the virus is contained a little bit better, you'll continue to see those health trends that people really enjoyed, aspects like making sure things are clean and fresh, and people feel comfortable and safe in that way. But maybe you might see people shaking hands at some point. You may see people giving a hug here and there when all this kind of starts to happen. And so in that way, I don't know necessarily that it will all stay. I think health standards will be expected as we move forward, of course, a certain level of health standards. But I also think that there will always be a place for virtual and hybrid meetings. It's just that I think that in-person will continue to reign supreme in a lot of ways. But that doesn't necessarily mean there's not a place for virtual or hybrid. I think that some of the results of having virtual and hybrid have made it more efficient for people. And, you know, you have a workforce that you’ve taken out of the field, if you will, (some people were taken out a field or wherever you're taking them from) and having them travel to and from somewhere. So there's some productivity pieces—where does it make sense to have this meeting in person from a productivity standpoint and from a company cost perspective. You need to ensure that the messages and the goals that are necessary for that program are there, and determine what's going to hit better there. I think that's the biggest piece.
People need to evaluate what their goals are for the program and then fit them into that slot. I still do feel like in-person will rank a little bit higher, but maybe some of those other smaller groups and smaller, more individual things will continue. And maybe there might be a virtual component. You know, right now the virtual and in-person, when you have a blended program, those audiences are treated very much the same. They're going on different tracks, but they have a very similar experience. Now, maybe that will continue or maybe it will not. If you choose to do virtual, maybe it's recorded for listening or something of that sort. I'm not sure. We're kind of feeling that out still to know how that works. But still that collaboration and connection—I would love for that to stick and to find new and different ways to present information, to get things into people’s hands from a technology perspective, whether it be a live or a virtual environment. So I'm hoping some of them stay because I think some of them are exciting. And I hope that the innovation that our environment has created in our industry, I kind of want that to stay for sure.
For sure, yeah.
Yeah. So there's a few I'd love to stay there.
Yeah, and hopefully we do see that some of those do stick over time. So like you were saying, live, you think, will kind of reign supreme a bit. I think if there's one thing that COVID has shown us, it's "man, this in-person connection is a big deal." And when you don't have it, you really miss it.
So, with those live events in terms of prevention strategies, what are some things that planners should consider putting in place to minimize risk?
Yeah, I think that's a good thing to think about because you're right. I think that we have a desire to be with each other physically. So how is it that we can do that and people feel safe and comfortable coming and going to and from the meeting? The first thing I would suggest is, again, it's a group activity -- meaning you've got to get your partners, your partners seem to have their team of associates involved. Everyone needs to come together, and you need to do it based on a 360 view. What are all the things the outside environment is telling us? What is it that's happening there? So you need to realistically review the environment, review your attendees, review internal policies for work, and the environment of what hotels or what venues are available to you, what facilities are available. What are their health protocols? A lot of times you can have as many health protocols as you want, but if the facility that you're at maybe isn't as strict as you'd like to be or stricter than you would like to be (you know, vice versa), then you really have to evaluate those. So there's a lot of or a variety of pieces that need to go into that. But a few of the things I would say that would be important is you need people to feel comfortable to be honest. To say, "Not feeling well, I'm staying in my room." You know, you do want to create that environment where people aren't afraid to say that they're not feeling well or that they're going to be punished or they're going to maybe be looked down upon or something of that sort.
So I think creating a good environment where you say, "We're bringing you there, but again, if you're not feeling well, please, we're not going to get upset if you just stay in your room. We can have someone look at you and get you tested." That is a really big piece because I also know people are conscientious about their work. They want to be there because someone flew them there. But again, thinking of the bigger, common good I think is helpful. I would also say communication is very important. If there is a positive case, making sure we're communicating to the greater group of people, ensuring that we don't scare everyone, but also to make sure that they're feeling as though they're getting honest information in a very timely manner and telling them what their next steps are. So being able to kind of do that ahead of time to know what you would do if that case were to occur. Again, that's not just dictated to someone—that it’s a team sport, if you will—coming up with all those communications and what that means. Because, again, you have a lot of different policies from the hotel to your client partners to those individuals as well, even to airlines for their policies. So I also think the last piece is making the call based on the environment, as I talked to you about before. If something were to happen, again in this environment, there's so many different scenarios that could or could not happen. I think it's a matter of trying to prepare yourself for as much as you can. You need to feel capable that you have the right players that you can reach out to, that they all know they can reach out to you—to come together quickly, to observe the environment, and to make a quick call that you feel is in the best interest of the greater good of the attendees. So I think those types of pieces, you know, mitigating at the beginning where you can have contactless registration that we mentioned, or things where you can show that you have passed a test or any of those protocols (again, you can ramp those up). I think all of those are great. Having in-house physicians on site just in case you really feel like you need a quick answer. Yeah, I think all of that is helpful.
And with all of those prevention strategies, obviously we put those preventative measures in place to try to keep an outbreak from happening, but we do know that that can occur. So what is your opinion on a COVID outbreak at an event? How do you handle that challenge when you're faced with that?
Sure. I think, again, figuring out what we have on our hands here in a quick, timely manner is important, and asking people to maybe isolate themselves if they're not feeling well—not maybe, asking anyone who is sick to isolate themselves. Then we can figure out what's going on, making sure that we can get people tested as quickly as possible. Because, again, you don't know if you're dealing with the flu. You don't know if you're dealing with COVID. You don't know if you're dealing with some other thing, like allergies. I know that that's always on a lot of people's minds “what am I dealing with here,” which some of that can be confusing.
It can be, yeah.
Yeah. But if you do have an outbreak, I mean, I think just everyone understanding that we're all in this together and having people isolate so we can get them what they need. Again, that important communication is necessary not only to the people who are not feeling well, but also to the people who are feeling well that are trying to figure out what's going on. There's kind of two groups of people, if you will, to ensure that we're communicating honestly, timely, and effectively with, so people know what their next steps are. They know what's necessary, and they know what's going on. People like information, and the lack of information will cause a stir. Making sure that you can maybe get on top of that is super important. And again, you know, knowing what your partners require will also help if an outbreak does come up and what the protocols are to isolate and whatnot, if you physically need people to isolate when they're still at the program.
Right. And you had kind of touched on communication. We know, as you were saying, just how important communication is, especially now, this is the most important time to be doing that. So in terms of that, how can we ease some of that anxiety that attendees might be feeling and make sure that they're excited to get back in person?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. We want people to be excited, too, especially if you're going to invest in all of this to get people there. You know, sometimes this may be people's first trip out, and they're feeling a little nervous. They're not sure what to expect. And so you want to talk to those people first and foremost. And so I always just assume everyone's kind of there because the others will see what they need to see. But I think just reassuring people what the reasoning is for the program to ensure they understand step by step what is necessary and what they're going to encounter each step of the way. Talk about the air travel if you’re providing air travel. What does that look like? What is it that you're going to need in order to feel safe and comfortable when you're traveling to the program and back from the program? When you arrive at the hotel, this is what you can expect, and this is what you will see. And we will be reminding them of the health protocols that are being taken. You will see hand sanitizing stations around every corner. You will see temperature checks all over and things of that sort—whatever it is, whatever you're going to be doing. I think it's important to explain to everyone that there will be contactless registration if there is. And what does that mean? Your app will provide you with all the steps that are necessary. There's hospitals, doctor's offices, and testing facilities listed in your app, if indeed you do that. So anything you can do to provide them with all the tools to get there. Then reminding them that this is an exciting time and that you can still have fun and be healthy at the same time. Really get them jazzed up with the messaging, the creative, the visuals, and the content that's coming because you don't have to be boring while you're still following health protocol. You can have fun and you can do things. You can really just have an amazing time, which is what our industry does. It really tries to bring people together to make a connection. And that's what we want to do. The experiences are where the connections come, so we want those connections that are memorable to be the positive ones.
Yeah. So to finish up this episode, are there any other tips you would give event planners as they face the return to live events?
Yeah, if I think about that, I think that it's really just a matter of evaluating your environment in the moment, not making knee jerk reactions. Because I think it's been a year and a half of just trying to figure it all out, and I think we're a little bit smarter than we were when we started. Just evaluating what is necessary. So take a deep breath and really look at the programs, what's needed, what's not. And don't forget, if you're going to have a hybrid meeting or blended meeting, shall we say, don't forget the people who are virtual. Don't forget the people that are live. Make sure they all feel very special and included. It does take a little bit more time. Give yourself a good amount of time to make that experience worth it to your attendees, to yourself. Give yourself that wiggle room if you're able. Obviously, there's some people that can't. But when you're able to, please take that time, and try to enjoy the opportunity to be together, if you choose to be together. If you choose to be virtual, you can also have a ton of fun there, too. We've seen that all year long!
So don't cross that out. Don't cross it out. You can still do that and not go, "Oh, you know, we have to do virtual." That's not it at all. There is a time and a place for all of it. And I think it's a matter of trying to figure out what your goals and objectives are and having some fun with that.
Well, thank you so much, Amber, for talking with me today! I just really appreciate your time.
Thank you! I had a great time. Thanks for having me.
Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The Events Experience. Don't forget to subscribe to our podcast and create JOY wherever you go!