How One Association Put Together an In-Person Event During COVID

The Fertilizer Institute safely and successfully organized a September face-to-face meeting for 50-plus people in Indianapolis. Here’s a look at how some of the pieces came together.

While many associations are planning to hold all their events virtually for the foreseeable future, some have managed to successfully host smaller, in-person events since the COVID-19 pandemic began in the U.S. Among them: the Georgia Society of Association Executives and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

Although associations and attendees are eager to gather in-person again, many are still wondering how they can plan and execute a safe face-to-face comeback. To get some insight on this, I talked to Corey Rosenbusch, president and CEO of The Fertilizer Institute. In September, TFI held its 2020 World Fertilizer Conference in Indianapolis.

Rosenbusch admits that TFI had a few things working in its favor that made a two-and-a-half-day, in-person event possible. First was the format and size of the meeting. “This conference is really about providing attendees with opportunities to have scheduled, one-on-one business meetings and network with one another,” he said. “We didn’t need to worry about having thousands of people in a giant ballroom and then moving them from breakout session to breakout session throughout the day. In years past, attendance at this conference was about 750.”

The second advantage was that the conference venue—JW Marriott Indianapolis—gave TFI a risk-free contract, according to Rosenbusch. “We truly could not have done it without them,” he said. “They went above and beyond from the planning stage through to the actual event. They were so eager to bring people back to their space and show everyone how it could be done safely.”

Guidelines were also clear from the start. For example, attendance was capped at 200 to ensure that the meeting could be held safely and within federal and local government guidance. Also, there were no sit-down breakfasts or cocktail receptions scheduled.

To help participants be as safe as possible, TFI established policies and procedures for how to handle the one-on-one meetings that were happening throughout the conference. For example, they put limits on how many people were allowed in rooms and suites to maintain social distancing, and hosts and guests needed to wear masks. Food and beverage items were also prepackaged.

In addition, participants received a bag when they arrived that contained a mask, hand sanitizer, and thermometer so that they could monitor their temperature if they wanted. While no daily health check or formal waiver was required, Rosenbusch said they wanted to make sure everyone had what they needed to feel comfortable.

While TFI wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of participant feedback, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. “Some people told me it was the best TFI meeting they’d ever been to,” Rosenbusch said. “They appreciated that they were able to really have conversations with people—and they’ve also thanked us for breaking the inertia and putting on an in-person event.”

TFI’s T3 Fertilizer Conference was held online this week due to its size, but the organization plans to host its Annual Business Conference 2021 in California in February. “We’ll see if we can pull an in-person event off again,” said Rosenbusch. “But, of course, that will all depend on what CDC and state guidance says is allowed.”

Like many association execs, Rosenbusch is looking forward to the return of in-person events and conferences. “Associations are conveners—our job is to bring people together,” he said. “We’re all missing that and so are our hospitality partners.”

Is your association planning to host any upcoming in-person events? Please tell us about them in the comments.

(FG Trade/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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