What Will an In-Person Conference Look Like After COVID-19?

When in-person events resume, they will look very different. A new white paper by the International Association of Exhibitions and Events dives into what organizers will have to change to prioritize health and safety.

Even though cities and states are in different phases of reopening, it will likely be months before large conferences and tradeshows can resume. According to the ASAE Research Foundation’s latest Association Impact Snapshot survey, almost 44 percent of association execs who responded said the earliest date they expect their organization to resume in-person events is January 2021 or later.

Even though groups may not be welcoming onsite attendees soon, that doesn’t mean they’re not already thinking about processes and protocols they’ll have to implement to maintain high health and safety standards.

To help organizers with that planning, last week the International Association of Exhibitions and Events released a white paper, “Essential Considerations for Safely Reopening Exhibitions and Events, Version One.”

“Although we are eager to get back to our usual face-to-face business environment, safety must be the top priority, and we must look to the science and medical communities for the best ways to go about producing our shows,” said IAEE President and CEO David DuBois, CMP, CTA, FASAE, CAE, in a press release. “IAEE’s Health and Safety Task Force teamed with associations across the industry to collaborate with the Global Biorisk Advisory Council in order to make sure we are applying the best information available to us as this most recent pandemic progresses.”

The white paper covers everything from general health and safety measures to cleaning procedures for venues. Here, I’ll take a look at how four conference staples could change moving forward, according to IAEE.

Registration. Increased use of technology will minimize lines and contact during the registration process. Instead of a main registration area that could cause a large number of people to congregate in one place, associations should consider placing remote kiosks throughout the venue. In addition, groups may want to require advance online registration and mail name badges to attendees ahead of the event to reduce the need for them to even visit a registration desk.

Session rooms. Planners will need to work with the venue and local health and safety authorities to establish room setup and capacity. Having eight people sitting close to each other at a round table will no longer work. Tables of one or two people may become the norm.  Planners will also need to create a meeting schedule that allows for rooms to be sanitized between sessions.

Expo hall. In the past, a successful tradeshow was typically defined as one that had a lot of foot traffic. With social distancing guidelines in place, a full expo hall will no longer be possible. To manage crowds and allow people to keep a safe distance from one another, organizers may need to expand tradeshow hours, allowing for staggered access to the expo hall. “Exhibition organizers may provide the event’s attendees with access to the tradeshow floor during designated timeslots in order to evenly spread the attendance, in combination with prearranged meeting times,” according to the white paper.

Tradeshow booths. These will have to be designed to allow exhibitors and attendees to stand six feet from one another. Exhibitors will need to rethink tchotchkes and marketing collateral typically available for attendees to grab, and they will have to account for cleaning of spaces and surfaces throughout the day.

What protocols is your association developing for future in-person events to keep your attendees, exhibitors, and staff safe? Please share in the comments

(Dilok Klaisataporn/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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