Scene: The attendee arrives at a beautiful castle, with mountains painting the sky. Upon entering the gala, they pass through an incredible structure of fabric, color, texture, and light. The decor is charismatic and induces the feeling of sophistication and class. The over-sized signage for the meeting, jazz flowing from the tent, and servers greeting them with trays of delicious foods and wines gives the attendees a warm welcome. For centuries, the all-mighty ‘Sense of Arrival’ has been an important part of almost any event.
Make it Sexy
Travel-Industry-Dictionary.com defines sense of arrival as, “The special feeling a guest experiences during the first ten seconds or so after entering a hotel or other location.” Whether it is a glamorous gala or an important business meeting, planners have worked to orchestrate feelings of awe, amazement, or simply just – you are where you are supposed to be – through décor, signage, staging, and other means. The sense of arrival is more important now than ever. During the COVID (and hopefully post-COVID era), attendees will need to feel like they have arrived somewhere safe and well-managed.
Keep the glamour, the directional (we know those are needed everywhere), and the wondrous sense of arrival at the events. Keep the excitement. But do you know what is super sexy and exciting in 2020? The sense of arriving into a safe space. Making your attendees feel safe is the most glamorous thing you can do right now. Information keeps changing but the CDC has created a planning tool comprised of guidelines for all to know. Make sure the basics are covered and then dig deeper for other things you can do to keep your attendees assured. Make hand-sanitation stations sexy and make them easily accessible. These from Stylish Stations are hard to miss and fun!
Make it Interesting
There are many resources on the ‘How to Meet During COVID’ variety and plenty of blogs on the subject. We are here to talk about how to make meeting interesting. That’s what we do! Make things different and fresh. In the current climate you want to ensure attendees and staff have easy access to sanitizer. Add pretty stations on tables, bars, and at every corner.
Do you have people assisting with sanitation? Make them stand-out and be jovial. We’re a fan of anyone in a costume; how about a greeter or two on stilts squirting sanitizer into guests hands! Keep it obvious while also making it part of the decor. Hand sanitizer centerpieces? Heck yes! Have fun with what is now an essential part of every gathering. Show off that you are constantly cleaning during the event.
Make it Clean
Marriott has staff continuously cleaning during all hours and is proud to show of those workers. Dress up your event cleaners. Make them fun and obvious. Have signage ready for the attendees to direct them on how to participate in the event safely. Reminders on social distancing while also providing proper guidance on how to navigate bars and food safely is essential. Take time to make this clear to attendees while having fun with the delivery.
Knowing the sanitation regulations at the hotel, venue, or other attractions is essential. You also need to do some homework regarding regulations in the city and state your event is located. Put rules and recommendations on an oversized sign. You can always do more than what is suggested. This will reassure those attending the event that you are complying with these rules (make sure you are). This also gives you a place to point when the inevitable individual that has been sleeping under a rock decides to walk in without a mask and does not want to use hand sanitizer. This is better than the ‘idiot’ sticker we all want to apply to their forehead. Pointing to a sign usually, but not always, helps deflect a little blame from the rule enforcer.
Overall the use of sanitation and exercising caution is important for every event. Keep it obvious and like all corporate event management elements, make it unique. Add some flair and excitement wherever possible. Safety is the most important element in events these days but feeling a part of an amazing experience is a close second.
-Melissa Murray, Mosaix Group Owner
Asheville and Charlotte based event planner and owner of Mosaix Group, Melissa Murray, has spent the past few decades globe-trotting, client-pleasing, and venue-taming. She is equally at home steering the CEO of GE to his stadium seat as she is wrangling the Blues Brothers. Her track record is simultaneously an inspiration and a warning to her intrepid staff. In today’s blog, Melissa talks about hard lessons learned during her career as an event professional. From 9/11, to the recession, to the current COVID-19 pandemic, she shares what it’s like to run a business during a crisis.
It all Started in Vegas
The long and winding road of my event experience started in Las Vegas. Sinatra was our paid (and more than a little tipsy) entertainer and Lee Iaccoca was being celebrated for his amazing influence on Chrysler during his departure event. Being handed a walkie-talkie made me feel like an integral part of the action even though I was more of a human arrow and digester of bus fumes than a vital part of the event. My career has taken me all over the world and has been both thrilling and challenging. Events have changed tremendously over the years and so much of it has stayed the same. The challenges and disruptions of COVID-19 have been daunting and beyond severe but it’s not the first time the event industry had to turn on a dime to make a new reality work.
Over the past 30 years, Charlotte event planners, Asheville event managers, and event professionals from around the world have had to roll with the punches and pivot (getting to hate that word). While we have not seen anything on this COVID-19 scale, much of what we have experienced has helped us prepare for this new reality.
Owning a Business in a Crisis
The dot-com bubble taught us about contract negotiations, cancellations, and extreme budget reductions. 9/11? Many lessons were learned by that tragic event. Force Majeure clauses were analyzed, scrutinized, and tightened-up. My experience on 9/11 was waking up at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas expecting 3,000 pharmaceutical arrivals that day while having around 1,000 attendees and vendors ‘in-house’ – most of which traveled in from NYC. We learned to think on our feet and get creative to manage clients, attendees, suppliers, contracts, and most importantly, help with overwhelming emotions from all involved.
The recession brought along the lesson of tightening up the ship and watching every penny. All expenses were examined as corporate budgets were slashed and even modest spending was scorned. The contraction in both the volume of events during this period along with the event budgets had a tremendous effect on the event planners at that time. I learned many lessons the hard way. Mistakes are always more dramatic when finances are slim.
COVID-19 has thrown another curve ball into our industry. Maybe more of a curve asteroid. Lessons learned in the past are helping to carry us through this challenging time. My most important lessons from years past are helping me through yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
- Tighten up your contracts to protect you and your client.
- Save for a rainy day, week, month – or year (2020). Ok – maybe it is too late to do that now but remember what you just came from when we are all out of this. Save those dollars.
- Reduce spending. Know where every dollar is headed. What is the minimum amount needed to get you through? This is going to be a long ride.
- Take care of your staff. This is extremely hard during COVID-19. Many of us have had to lay off staff, furlough staff, or even let them go. Take good care of the ones left. Carry the burden in this uncertain industry. Make sure you check in with those that have been laid off. I’ve written letters of recommendation, helped with unemployment insurance, and referred them to other jobs.
- Clients are feeling the uncertainty and challenges too. Take care of them. Reach out. Give guidance and support (regardless if you have a program with them at the current time).
- Celebrate the small victories. Have you received reasonable cancellation fees, had a project move to next year rather than cancel, won a little contract for your new ‘start up’ within your company, received PPP or other grants? Celebrate it all.
- Take care of yourself. The never-ending happy hour was a way to numb the initial reality of this craziness; now it is time to take care of yourself for the long haul. Yes, you know this is going to be a long haul. There is a great deal riding on those shoulders. Take care. People are counting on you.
-Melissa Murray, Mosaix Group Owner