Cathy Breden, IAEE executive vice president and COO, welcomed Open Forum participants during our first Coffee Talks, a monthly gathering on the last Friday of each month in IAEE Open Forum. Cathy jumped right in with questions…

Cathy recently attended the SISO CEO Conference in April 2021 and was impressed with the protocols they had in place. They used the Fern Health Check program and all attendees had to submit either proof of vaccination or proof of negative test. With Fern Health Check, users submit proof through a portal and then each day you receive a text for a “health check” asking if you are displaying any symptoms. First question for the group,

“What are you thinking about COVID testing and/or vaccines for attendees?”

The answers were varied and insightful to say the least…

Heidi Mitchell, Sr. Trade Show Manager with the National Safety Council offered that for her upcoming event, they are looking at requiring proof of vaccination or proof of negative test.

Erika Welling CEM, DES likes the health check program and heard about that system and will be checking it out further. Erika added that they just completed an event in Las Vegas and they chose to use a release waiver asking attendees to release them from chance they contract COVID and communicating their rules to follow all the event and facility protocols. Erika acknowledged that this will not protect them from a lawsuit, but it helps to establish in the mind of the attendee the COVID risk responsibility and communication of show expectations as it relates to safety protocols. It also helps attendees feel comfortable about the event safety measures.

Cathy offered to share a waiver that ConvExx put in place. Thank you, Ray Luca with Event Advisory Group for sharing it so quickly in the discussion! You may find it here. Cathy followed with two examples of release waivers and sample text – you may find them in this Open Forum discussion. Just click on Open Forum in Communities, then Discussions, find Coffee Talks and you’re in!

Lynn Fisher, CMP, Vice President of Conference & Expo with the Texas Apartment Association offered another example of waiver text. Lynn’s experience and lessons learned from producing the TAA ONE Conference and Expo in San Antonio, TX on 14-16 April 2021 was written up as an in-depth interview by the IAEE team. You may read it here. It offers great insights into planning your next event in an ever-shifting world. Lynn found that attendance at her in-person event was quite different as almost all were executive level (influencers/decision-makers). She noted that most companies have had budget cuts along with travel bans, so the mid-level attendees were cut. Exhibiting companies love this and even with a lower attendance, they were thrilled with the quality of attendees. TAA’s members were very excited to finally meet in-person.

Kara Dao, Senior Director, Client Engagement and Operations with JDC Events agreed with Erika’s insight, “…you can’t stop a litigious machine. Being proactive though helps distill the intention. I agree that making people feel comfortable is a great idea and will truly impact everything. It’s all about the communications and managing expectations going into the event and onsite. Additionally, Kara added, “There are numerous protocols out there. We’ve been approaching in-person holistically. First, we collect all the compliance programs from various providers then collate these into a meaningful actionable plan. Using a risk assessment template helps. From there you can develop your mitigation plans, crisis management and comms plans, too. It starts with knowing what’s existing. Oh, and it helps to understand both tracing and general COVID safety guidelines.”

Great feedback Kara – thank you!

Elli Riley CEM, Senior Director of Exhibit & Meeting Services with HIMSS asked, “We are looking into the Health Pass app (through a few different companies). Did you personally feel the process of putting your personal information into an app was intrusive? I believe this is expected in order to properly validate vaccines, correct? Great question! Kara Dao offered up that she is using the Health Pass app as an attendee for an upcoming function. “So far so good and easy peasy. It didn’t feel intrusive but maybe it’s because the organizers were so clear on the ask before entering the app. They positioned the why behind the ask so I didn’t even question it.” HIMSS next show is taking place in-person om 9-13 August in Las Vegas they are offering a digital event at the same time.

This is an important aha moment: Using a health pass app can work if you are very clear on the ask before entering the app. The positioning of the WHY needs to be very clear to thwart any negative assumptions.

Stacey Mills, CMP, CEM, Senior Director of Conference and Trade Show Operations with IAAPA, wonders that even if testing or vaccine would work for a smaller event, is it feasible for an event her size of 20,000 to 30,000 people? At this point, IAAPA is not planning on either requirement. Stacey wants to know what are others doing. Allison Carpenter, CEM, CMP, Director, Exhibits & Sponsorships with the National Defense Industrial Association added, “For our larger event that we were going to host next month (it went virtual) we were looking to require a negative test, but honestly, that was before vaccines had ramped up so much.” Justin Moore, MBA, CEM, Director of Meetings and Events with the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America commented, “I think the vaccine rollout has helped out tremendously. Here in Texas, the vaccine is available to anyone above the age of 18 that wants it and they are actually closing vaccine sites as they don’t have the demand to keep them open.” Wow!

Patricia Giannini Henry, CAE, CMP, CEM, Director of Events with APCO International Inc commented, “As of right now, for our show in August (roughly expecting 4,000) we are not testing or requiring vaccines. Our attendees are emergency communications professionals. We will have temperature checking (already in place at the San Antonio convention center) and other safety measures.” And Patricia offered her show’s web page for their health and safety plans here. Patricia notes that APCO is expecting a 25% decrease in attendance and tracking that way right now. Their event is in-person only, no hybrid option.

Robyn Davis, CPTD at Exhibitors WINH LLC added, “Being on the supplier side, I won’t have to make those decisions for anyone aside from me 🙂 But, I am interested to see how organizers choose the right fit for their shows… Personally and professionally, I’ve been keeping an eye on how things are progressing and, even just in the last few weeks, it “feels” quite different… For example: here in SC, we’re seeing fewer restrictions and more “normal” interactions! The internet seems to be feeling more positive too, with more safe/successful event experiences to share more recently!” That certainly is positive news!

Cathy is attending World of Concrete on 8-10 June and will let everyone know what the protocols will be for attendees. Also stay tuned for several IAEE TV episodes documenting protocols that Informa used to hold World of Concrete.

How is everyone managing attendee expectations? Also, exhibitors?

Cathy noted that she had received an email that morning (30 April) from one of IAEE’s members in Austin, TX who just completed her meeting with 2,700 attendees and 375 exhibitors. It made for great news for a Friday aka Fri-YAY!

Joe Federbush, President & Chief Strategist with EVOLIO Marketing replied, “From several exhibitors (big ones, various industries), I keep hearing concerns about lower attendance numbers than in the past (pre-pandemic) and the impact on their ROI. It seems it’s more important now than ever to share data with exhibitors/sponsors about attendee quality – less about quantity. Therefore, transparency about quality like attendees’ job-levels, buying roles, and interests are more important than they’ve ever been assuring exhibitors that lower attendance does not mean lower ROI. But, it’s chicken and egg of course, because you need the fresh pre-reg data to ensure the quality is there and that’s often not available until being close to the event dates.”

Jeff Sacks, CMP, Managing Vice President, ESN with Maritz Global Events confirmed, “Joe, you are spot on. We have a client that has done two F2F shows since the Fall and while their attendance numbers were of course down, the feedback from the exhibitors was that those on the trade show floor were of high quality and many of them reported sales at or above the last pre-COVID show. Quality vs. quantity is precisely right.” Elli Riley, CEM with HIMMS added, “Joe, completely agree with you about being more transparent with exhibitors about who is coming. This is a tough year for exhibitors to invest and they want to ensure they will have a good ROI and more show organizers can do to help them the better for all (short term and long term).”

Kara Dao – preach it! “It’s all about communication, communication, communication. You have to tell all participants (attendees, exhibitors, VIPs) what to expect AND what is expected of them. Managing expectations and mapping participant journeys has always been our jobs. It’s on steroids now! Robyn Davis agrees, “Yes! The more communication the better… but, also, making sure that your word stands. If you don’t know (or you thought you knew, but something changed), say that, but don’t say something that isn’t likely to be true or that you don’t know for certain yet. Communication is only helpful when everyone can trust it.”

Words of wisdom from Erika Welling – “The short answer on managing expectations as far as what we did was communication, communication, and more communication. We posted our safety protocols along with links to local government protocols and facility protocols. We updated our contracts with information and we sent out the waiver prior to the event indicating we will have them sign prior to entry. We word crafted so to help them feel this was in the interest of all attendees and how much care went into the measures we were taking for their safety.

What are the plans were for Expo! Expo!?

Thanks B. Murphy, CEM with Fern Expositions for asking! Cathy noted that IAEE will be following the IAEE Essential Considerations for Safely Reopening Exhibitions and Events, along with the CDC guidelines at that point in time. Too far in advance to say what those will be as they seem to change all the time! Karo Dao agreed, “This virus and its affects are constantly evolving. As an industry we are required to be nimble and ready to change on a dime. However, by the time Expo! Expo! comes around, there will be some strong benchmarks and protocols in place.”

Randy Bauler, CEM, Corporate Relations & Exhibits Director with American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) asked for suggestions from the group on transitioning to hybrid. What we heard:

“You have to look at your show strategy and determine if there is an audience who can be well served by providing digital content. That digital content…will it augment / enhance the F2F experience? It’s really 2 separate events you’re planning.” – Cathy Breden, CMP, CAE, CEM

“We just finished our 2021 meeting a few weeks ago which was 100% virtual. We are now starting the process of strategizing how our 2022 hybrid meeting will be presented. So many considerations and we do remain at the mercy of the virus. Overwhelming feedback from our attendees this year however was that they are looking forward to being back to face-to-face. It’s going to take a lot of planning and staying on top of the public health trends, etc. I think we are going to have to have Plans A, B, C and possibly more as we move forward!” – Jane Dahlroth CEM, CMP-HC, Senior Director of Meetings & Exhibits with American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics (ACMG)

Melodie Anderson CEM, DES, Exhibits Manager with the Institute of Food Technologists asked what other organizers are doing. For Melodie, she added, “Some of our companies still have travel bans. In addition, 20% of our attendees are international. Our event this year is digital, with a hybrid event planned for July 2022.” Kara Dao offered great insight, “As organizers for several corporations, associations and federal agencies, we are planning all hybrid events through to next Fall. Our team predicts that tech is here to stay and that we will use tech to expand audience reach in meaningful ways but also to ensure strong H&S standards. I guarantee more health and safety tech will get launched along with single stream capabilities within venues. It’s all about the TECH.”

Paula Herz, CEM, Director, Sales (East) with Shepard asked, “Has anyone heard how corporate travel bans are doing? Any word on federal travel restrictions? That seems to be the biggest issue in getting attendance both in registrations and exhibitors back to somewhat normal.” Justin Moore, MBA, CEM said, “It really depends on the organization about corporate travel bans. Most small to medium exhibitors are ready to get back out to travel and work with clients. It’s your big Fortune 500 Companies that are slow to react. Most of their employees are ready to get out and even some are willing to pay for travel on their own just to go meet with clients and prospects.” Cathy also mentioned that there is a great COVID study conducted by Exhibitor Media on exhibitor sentiment if you haven’t seen it. View the findings here.

Joe Federbush added, “From what I’m hearing, many big companies are planning on Sept/Oct to lift travel bans. Interestingly, those who were originally planning travels bans to end in July have moved them to Sept, and those not planning to lift bans until 2022 have moved them to October.” Randy Bauler, CEM chimed in, “Depends on the industry. For healthcare events, travel bans for healthcare professionals (doctors, nurses, etc.) still in place. Healthcare exhibitors vary, but many follow the show or event lead.” Heidi Mitchell noted, “For our event, we are hearing travel bans will start easing up in Summer 2021 (June-August) but looks much better in Fall (September – November).”

Cathy also added to Paula’s question, “The Hospitality and Commerce Recovery Job Act is the main focus of the ECA Legislative Action Day on June 2. This bill champions incentives to get attendees and exhibitors back to events. This bill brings jobs back by providing recovering measures for the trade show industry and their workers through restart credits. We really need everyone to register and attend to get this bill passed. You may find more information and how to register here.

For those of you planning physical events, what is your plan for F&B / receptions? Inside or outside?

“Outside is obviously preferred. How feasible that is is certainly another challenge on event planners.” – Richard Vallaster, CEM, DES, Marketing Director, Event Management Solutions with Personify A2Z Events

“Outdoors = we do them, we dread them.” – Kara Dao, CEM

“In the event I just produced most of the guest speakers are overseas and due to these countries still in lockdown we had them live streamed in which actually worked well and we were able to get even more celebrity speakers this way so in future we will do both.

Our dinners and receptions were a combination of sometimes inside and sometimes outside. Some were banquet and some were seated, all were served by wait staff of course. It worked well and this was a very high-end crowd. It is different everywhere. Servers had to serve everything. We had seating for every event. We also had touchless water and coffee urns. The attendees enjoyed all the events and for the most part followed the safety protocols although were so happy to be out and socializing that their conversations over ran some timing.” – Erika Welling, CEM, DES

“While I love the idea of outside…August in Texas, not so much! We are planning for as minimal touch points as possible and physically distancing seating. Some receptions will be in rooms with adjoining patios where we can allow for some outside/covered areas.” – Patricia Giannini Henry CAE, CMP, CEM

“The hotels we’ve been working with for in-person August and October events have been wonderful. They’ve offered lots of suggestions, for example for a reception, there has to be seating for everyone (which isn’t ideal for networking but may be what we have to work with) and they are offering to have staff going around to take drink orders. Also, all food will be covered/pre-packaged. Not the most networking friendly event, but may be worth a shot! – Allison Carpenter CEM, CMP, Director, Exhibits & Sponsorships with the National Defense Industrial Association

“I was thinking of bucket seating in larger squares for example. I also liked a layout that used a seat accompanied by a little side table for the food and drink that was distributed. This table use helped to create the social distancing too. In addition to outdoors, pre-packaged helps. Not just from a contamination standpoint but also because its outdoors and covering items keeps bugs away too. Working on with a venue – all bite sized items, separated on trays individually, sneeze/cover guard and server who is gloved/masked and serving tongs each item. If you think about this it’s simply good food handling anyway, COVID or not!” – Kara Dao, CEM

“We just finished an in–person event and has a mixture of inside and outside venues. We’re located here in Texas so the rules may not apply to the rest of the nation. F&B costs will be much higher and guarantees will need to be given much earlier due to venues having a hard time securing some food products. You’ll need attendants for everything and social distancing rules will apply. And, they will change daily! I redrew a gala plan for almost 700 people twice while onsite as the protocols changed! You’ll also need attendants to serve everything from coffee and/or water. Water will not be readily available, drinking fountains are turned off and you’ll most like want to provide that service for them. The events will look/feel different, but the attendees will still enjoy the experience.” – Lynn Fisher, CMP

Biggest concern in your world about Q3 and Q4 this year?

“My biggest concern is that the US is reaching a point where herd immunity looks impossible. Since we cannot achieve it, it seems like we will be interacting or co-mingling with both vaccinated and unvaccinated people in every environment the minute we leave our homes. And depending on location, masks may not be required. While we have the choice as an event, businesses, etc. to set our own policies I (sadly) see the tolerance and the enforcement waning.” – Rich Vallaster, CEM, DES

“In some states like in Nevada if we do not reach a certain percentage vaccine level we may not open up to events as expected due to the Governors edict. The biggest concern from all around is skilled and un-skilled labor. In a normal world when there is compression of exhibitions and events there is this concern although now there is more compression as events move to the later part of the year and on top of that finding the labor to produce is an issue. It is tough turning on the light switch after all that has happened.” – Erika Welling, CEM, DES

Cathy noted the upcoming ESCA campaign addressing labor in the exhibitions industry. Kara Dao, CEM noted, “I’m looking forward to the efficacy of that campaign. I truly FEEL for the ESCA members and fully support their efforts. It’s going to be an uphill battle for them and we, as organizers, need to support ESCA’s efforts fully. Otherwise, who is going to get the work done? Skilled labor is at a premium prior to the pandemic, what now?”

Allison Carpenter CEM, CMP’s biggest concern is that hosting an in-person event won’t be financially feasible/beneficial with all the restrictions (capacity, etc.) and the added costs.

“Biggest concern for our events team actually came as the country shut down and continues for us now. One of our team members expressed concern about hotels being able to get housekeeping crews once released. And then, are venues, suppliers etc. able to get enough staff to deliver these events now? And if so, what is the quality of that labor crew now. An example is the lack of teamsters and deco labor in Houston pre-pandemic. I recall several shows where the management team members were dropping deco and all hands on “dock” to get a show in.” – Kara Dao, CEM

What about your contracts? Have your service providers/hotels been more flexible? How have you amended them?

Kara Dao, CEM offered, “Contracts – we see all venues, suppliers, hotel partners, production houses, caterers being as flexible as possible. We have to understand they cannot build in the discounts and concessions of yesteryear. It costs the channel more therefore it costs more to produce. Amending budgets has to occur before amending a contract. And then, I would say expect to pay about 20% more at least across the board. We also are not seeing any more willingness to move dates free of charge. Calendars are too full for that, for the most part. It’s all bunched up.”

Erika Welling, CEM, DES added, “The venues have been really flexible with our contracts and grateful that we continued with our in-person event even though we had a smaller version which gave us exposure for future although cost us money instead of making money (we felt it was a great investment in the future). All along the way with numerous changes and pirouettes to the ever changing COVID protocols. They have been so very gracious. We too had a paired down version of our event and yet we were in a room where typically would house 5 times the amount of attendees.”

If you missed this live version of Coffee Talks, join us for the next round which occurs the last Friday of each month. Gain real time insights from your community! See you next time!

Posted by Nicole Bowman, MBA | IAEE

I am the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for IAEE. I oversee all marketing functions of the association and do advocacy work on behalf of the industry for the Exhibitions and Conference Alliance as the Executive Director of Exhibitions Mean Business.

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