Five Things Attendees Should Expect From In-Person Meetings in 2022

The pandemic continues, but the meetings industry has adapted to offer a new kind of in-person event. Here’s what you might experience when you return to live gatherings.

It’s been a tumultuous two years, but trends suggest that the worst of the omicron spike is behind us and safer days may be ahead. This could mean that you’ll soon find yourself at your first large-scale in-person meeting in years.

So, what’s changed—and what hasn’t—since you last stepped into a conference venue? Here’s what to expect.

New Health Precautions

Event organizers have taken steps to make gatherings as safe as possible during the pandemic. Don’t be surprised by mandatory safety measures, which often include COVID-19 tests and temperature checks upon arrival, mask requirements (even for speakers), redesigned venues to accommodate social distancing, and requiring proof of vaccination. If the event allows both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, expect to see different rules in place depending on an attendee’s vaccination status.

“Event organizers can decide to implement multiple layered prevention strategies at an event or gathering that will include people who are fully vaccinated and people who are not fully vaccinated,” states an FAQ from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last-Minute Changes

The highly contagious, unpredictable nature of COVID-19 makes event delays, postponements, or flat-out cancellations not just possible but likely. You may have to leave an event early if suddenly there’s a confirmed case of COVID-19 among attendees. Consider the immediate next steps should this happen: Will you have your own car, or will you need to rely on public transportation at a moment’s notice? And how will it affect your travel plans?

Fortunately, almost two years into the pandemic, your event’s organizer probably has a contingency plan in place for any pandemic-related incidents.

A New Feel to Networking

Many of your fellow attendees will have been cooped up at home for the better part of the past 24 months, which means mingling with others after a presentation or during a happy-hour reception might be more uncomfortable and exhausting than any of you remembered, warns Paige Francis, a technology executive and Forbes contributor.

“Take it easy your first conference back and return to your room to relax. As a reminder, you don’t need to shut down the bar your first conference back,” she wrote.

Venue Changes

In addition to social-distancing-related floor redesigns, many venues have set attendance limits, put a cap on how many people can use facilities at once (be ready for longer lines), and restricted access to certain amenities. This extends to food and drink offerings, according to LAI Live’s Kevin Williams.

“One roadblock we’ve run into is that the venue disabled the water stations and padlocked the fountains,” he wrote on the company’s blog. “While there was water there for purchase, most attendees didn’t anticipate having to spend $4 on water, especially after being so accustomed to the free drinking fountains and bubblers that were the norm in the past.”

On the other hand, you may see state-of-the-art equipment such as touchless hand sanitizer dispensers, kiosks, and restroom facilities, and plexiglass dividers between seats or tables.

Travel Protocols

Getting to your event won’t be the same, either. If you haven’t flown since the pandemic began, prepare for a number of changes: Airlines affiliated with Airlines for America have added requirements for masks and proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test along with enhanced cleaning procedures, according to the organization.

This is the first of our three-part series on attendees’ return to in-person meetings. Check out part 2, about meetings etiquette in the COVID-19 era, and part 3, about self-care in a stressful meetings environment. For a planner’s guide to the return to in-person gatherings, see our Deep Dive package.

(FG Trade/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!