The Meetings and Events industry has felt the direct effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the course of the last 8 months, we have had to elicit creative ingenuity in how we had previously planned and managed our events, mostly which were in-person, face to face events. With obvious concern about hosting live events, many pivoted to the virtual world whereby we sit in front of a small screen and become a part of a large audience. I say many, but not all.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Marie Caci, one of our independent contractors hailing from Boston and a member of our network for the past 5 years. Marie recently completed a live, in-person opportunity providing on-site management Monday through Friday for 6 consecutive weeks. I was excited to speak with her to learn more about her experience of working on-site in the era of a pandemic. I wanted to gain insight into what her experience was and get a better understanding of the protocol required to do so in these times. Here is an excerpt of our interview.

Marie Caci, MTA, CMP, CPCE, CSEP is an Event Management Consultant for clients servicing various industries for 25 years. As a three time event industry certified professional who holds a Master’s Degree in Tourism Administration, she is also a former adjunct college professor in Hospitality; Event Management; Public Speaking, Business and Marketing courses at five Boston-area colleges and universities.

1) With this in-person, live event, were you required to participate in a safety training? If so, could you share with us a little bit about what was involved in that training?

I was required by the client to watch an hour-long safety training video. The training addressed the safety protocols the clients’ required and shipped cleaning products, hand sanitizers, masks, gloves, face shields, daily health screening questionnaires for staff and attendees, as well as signage addressing the observance of these protocols. The video also explained the clients’ procedures explaining how to address non-compliant attendees, if necessary.

2) What safety practices were offered to you while working on-site?

The client had been affected by the pandemic with postponements of their in-person gatherings, thus were determined to ensure they were adhered to. They included the use of .hand sanitizer, social distancing regulations, face masks, face shields, protective gloves, cleaning products and signage, as well as sealed materials were provided.

The client enforced these guidelines by requiring daily health screenings by the team members as well as all attendees.  Any interaction between staff and attendees was done wearing masks and gloves.  No direct contact with attendee materials was performed without protection. Despite the fact, the attendees were doctors who potentially had been in possible prior proximity with possible patients affected by the pandemic, documentation provided identified they were always protected using PPE equipment. We were provided with a health questionnaire which everyone (staff and attendees) were required to fill out DAILY.  Questions asked were about recent contact, possible exposures, any possible symptoms, recent travel, etc. 

On a side note, however, the attendee numbers were low, interaction with them was easy to keep at a social distance.

3) Given your experience, what were the biggest challenges you encountered while working at an in-person meetings during COVID-19?

For me, as a Boston city resident, traveling to the event was done using public transportation. Unfortunately, the MBTA proved to be far less diligent imposing the required precautions. Although, face masks/coverings were required, other than signage, this was not enforced.

4) Understandably, venues assume a lot of responsibility when hosting an in-person event. What safety precautions did the venue have in place to ensure that you and the attendees were protected and safe?

Our venue was hyper-vigilant regarding following all CDC and our local and state regulations put into place for safety. The staff was diligent with constant cleaning, taking temperatures upon entering, wearing gloves, obeying social distancing, as well as providing an abundance of hand sanitizers throughout the public areas of the hotels. Common areas were restricted with number of guests and signage explained the compliance policy followed.

5) In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge to planning in-person events at this time?

It is my personal belief that the greatest hindrance for being able to host risk-free in-person events is because of the overall general population’s failure to comply with the given CDC guidelines.

6) Do you think virtual meetings are able to replicate all the important aspects of an in-person meeting?

Virtual meetings provide current information, brief interactions to its attendees, as well as an alternative vehicle of receiving information, especially if distance is a factor. However, virtual meetings are incapable of fully connecting the event experience to its attendees as it lacks the ability to use all five senses as well as engagement in non-verbal communication. Complete engagement requires a connection containing a strong balance of verbal, non-verbal communication as well as a full sensory experience, which can only be found in in-person meetings.

7) When do you envision your company’s returning to in-person and/or hybrid meetings and events?

With an announcement of a vaccine put into production this week, it seems hopeful to believe hybrid and in-person meetings and events might be able to return by Summer of 2021, if these vaccines are proven effective and the number of cases drop considerably. This will depend on the distribution and effectiveness of the vaccine. I do believe safety protocols of mask-wearing, social distancing, and the frequent use of hand sanitizers will remain in place until this pandemic has been completely eradicated and budgets can return.

8) Given your experience working at a face-to-face event recently, would you feel safe doing so again?

I would choose to work face-to-face events again during this time because I choose to understand importance of following safety regulations. I believe safety protocols of mask-wearing, social distancing, temperature checks, and the frequent use of hand sanitizers should remain as standard protocols until this pandemic has been completely eradicated.

Cara O’Neill is a Project Manager at GCG Event Partners where she has happily set up shop for over 15 years. Her professional background may be in the meeting & event industry; however, she enjoys the multi-tasking involved in her day-to-day operations contributing to marketing GCG and the many services it provides. You can connect with Cara on LinkedIn here.

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