Physically distanced (socially distanced) meeting design can be innovative and attractive while increasing attendee engagement.
Designing physical distance into your event spaces allows your attendees to sit back and engage in the event content, rather than worry about their health and safety.
As we begin to organize more face-to-face meetings, here are two rules of thumb to keep in mind for every event:
- Ensure a minimum of six feet of distance in all furniture set ups, meal functions, session designs, line queues and elevators
- Provide signage throughout the venue and in meeting spaces that reminds the group of guidelines, mask protocols and a minimum of six feet distancing
"It's really incumbent upon us as meeting planners and designers to take as much of the pressure and guess work off of the attendees as possible by crafting experiences with physical distancing and safety built in," said Katie Bohrer, CMP, VP of Meeting Design & Experience at ALHI. "When we're doing it well, we're actually enhancing the attendee experience overall."
Take it outside: Consider an outdoor space for registration if the destination and hotel/season are applicable to allow for fresh air.
Go digital: To reduce crowded spaces, it is a new best practice to provide registration items to guests prior to their arrival at the event venue. A few ways to do just that are to provide traditionally-printed materials digitally, and perhaps even convert printed agendas to an on-site app that can be accessed on attendees' smartphones. Not only does converting to digital eliminate hand-to-hand transfer of materials, but also keeps luggage light for return trips and reduces waste.
Scatter Arrivals: Another way to reduce crowded spaces during registration is to allow for scattered arrivals. For example, if a group is more than 100 attendees, consider eliminating on-site registration all together, or assign registration times to ensure attendees arrive on a flow rather than bunched together.
If on-site registration is a must, another best practice is to add more tables, lines and stations to spread the group out alphabetically and reduce crowding. As noted above, you will want to ensure registration tables include ropes and stanchions, and signage like floor clings to indicate a minimum of six feet of spacing.
Create Physical Barriers: For on-site registration, consider using plexiglass dividers, if available, at the tables so that they stand between event staff and attendees. In order to minimize hand-to-hand contact, any materials should be laid out for attendees to pick up themselves. We suggest placing automatic-dispenser hand sanitizer stations next to each registration table, considering the flow of the line so attendees can sanitize before and after walking up to the table.
If you cannot coordinate to have registration materials delivered with in-room amenities prior to attendees checking in, have everything available and bundled at registration to reduce hand-to-hand contact.
Give PPE Swag: Another best practice that Katie Bohrer, CMP, ALHI Vice President, Meeting Design & Experience discovered over the past few months is to include a customized personal protective equipment (PPE) kit for all attendees. These PPE kits may include branded face masks, hand sanitizer, temperature strips or thermometers, sanitizing wipes, and screen sanitizer spray or wipes for phones.
Meeting Set Up
However you plan to set up your meeting, one general rule of thumb to keep in mind is minimizing and directing group movement.
General Set Up
Stay Seated: One idea to consider is to keep your attendees in the same space and the same seat as much as possible over the course of the event. There are a few ways to coordinate doing so, no matter how spaces are set up. One way is to pre-assign seats so that the attendees return to their same seats after every break. Another idea is to allow attendees to select their own seats and provide tent cards so that they can claim their seats. Or, if possible, overset the room to allow attendees to choose a seat they feel comfortable in; you may find some attendees will choose seats even further distanced than how the room is set.
In & Out: In regards to entering and exiting an event space, it is a good idea to dedicate entrances in the back of the room and exits to the side, and ensure flow gives as much space for transition times as possible.
Walk This Way: To further direct traffic flow, consider placing arrows on the floor in the direction in which you would like the group to flow, as well as dividing the room into sections that you can call out to release at break times. For example, releasing the sections closest to the exits first by a color or symbol that is identified at each seat.
Breakout Set Up
Your Assignment Is: If breakout sessions are a must, it is still possible to direct and even minimize group movement. To direct attendees to their breakout sessions, consider pre-assigning groups to ensure room counts and maintain distancing of at least six feet.
Stay Seated: Or, for even easier transitions that minimize movement, allow attendees to stay in the same seats in the same breakout spaces, and instead, rotate the presenters. Not only will you minimize group movement, but keeping groups in one place allows AV teams to simply sanitize the stage, podium and AV items for the next presenter.
Whichever direction you decide to go with your meeting flow, you will want to ensure your attendees are comfortable throughout the event.
Collaborate: For collaborative set ups, consider seating two people per six-foot table with chairs placed on either side. Or, for rounds of three, set the tables in a triangle shape with the point in the back of the room, maintaining distancing throughout. Consider small pods with creative seating spaced out with a rug to help ground the area.
Go Solo: If your event calls for individual set ups, sit one attendee pet six- or eight-foot table for classroom-style; one attendee per three- or four-foot cocktail round (high or low) for cocktail-style; and place seats at least six feet apart and consider soft furniture for more comfort for theatre-style set up, with individual side tables.
Event Production & Staging
Going the Distance: It's not just the distance between attendees to keep in mind, but that of presenters, too. Your team should ensure that staging supports distancing of at least six feet between presenters, and if speakers will be walking up to the stage, dedicate an entrance on one side, and an exit on the other. If speakers will be at the front of the stage, the set up team will need to ensure that the front row of attendees will remain adequately distanced from the speaker.
Keep It Clean: As far as keeping things clean, any furniture or podiums on the stage will need to be sanitized when there is a change of speaker. Additionally, when available, allow for a separate mic to be provided to each speaker. If multiple mics need to be used, ensure there is sufficient time to fully sanitize equipment between each speaker.
Q&A: For Q&A sessions, consider alternative technology solutions like Sli.do to eliminate the need for a passed mic. If a mic runner is needed for your event, ensure that you have a sanitation plan in place that includes sanitizing the mic in between speakers.
Timing Is Everything: When it comes to the event run of show, plan to open doors to each session at least 30 minutes prior to the start time. As the attendee count increases throughout your registration period, increase how early the room is available to enter. You will also want to increase break times to allow for a staggered release of session rooms to allow appropriate distancing at break stations and in restrooms.
A terrific resource for more ideas when it comes to event production and staging during COVID-19 is a comprehensive document from PSAV outlining their best practices: MeetSAFE Guidelines Playbook.
Additional planning resources, some of which we have referenced here in Safe Meetings, are available through the Events Industry Council, which has curated event protocol resources from across the industry. Review them here.
We are committed to updating these guidelines as CDC and WHO guidelines evolve so we can maintain the highest level of compliance and safety considerations in our meetings.
photo credit © Zee Anna Photography