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The Return of In-Person Meetings: Overload or Opportunity?

All the work in front of planners seems almost overwhelming, but it does provide a chance to step forward and demonstrate leadership at a critical moment.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has affected every industry to some degree, those who are educators in elementary and secondary schools seem to have had the most difficult transition to the new environment.

My two sisters are among that group, and the stories they’ve told me about trying to educate pre-teens via Zoom calls on odd-numbered days and socially distanced, masked, in-person sessions on even-numbered days are pretty depressing. In fact, they and their colleagues have been using a bit of levity to commiserate with each other, in the form of a motto: “If you didn’t cry at work today, you’re definitely not a teacher.”

I’m certainly hoping that meeting, convention, and trade-show planners are not being driven to tears during their workdays—but I would understand if they were. With most of 2020 dedicated to converting in-person meetings to the online format in a way that fulfills the organization’s objectives, many planners are now starting to turn their attention back towards the in-person realm. One major task ahead of them is to develop a revised set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) that addresses the most pressing concerns related to bringing businesspeople together in an environment where Covid-19 isn’t fully under control.

In the October cover story of MeetingsNet’s digital magazine edition (broken into easily digestible parts on our website, starting here), we’ve dug into five areas of event coordination that are surely new on planners’ radar screens. From enforcing new masking and social-distancing behaviors among attendees, to conducting on-site health screenings, to assisting any attendee who becomes ill and requires quarantine, there must now be a prescribed series of steps for planners to follow.

Even with seemingly mundane issues, there is a new urgency. For instance, while planners and attendees alike are generally happy when there’s a bit of fresh air moving through a meeting space, the necessity for that air to now be highly filtered—and for planners to know which questions to ask facility managers regarding that—is something that simply never had to happen before.

Revamping the event-planning process to ensure safety in the Covid-19 era means a whole new SOP playbook, and more to address before, during, and after each meeting. However, it’s also a chance to provide leadership as you create new policies and procedures that allow your organization to finally bring people together again. It won’t be easy, and at some point you’ll probably want to have a good cry. But at least you don’t have to keep pre-teens engaged on a Zoom call.

I’d love to hear about how else your SOPs are changing for 2021 meetings. Feel free to contact me at [email protected].

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