Together Again Expo

Innovating for Safety: Returning to Exhibits and Presentations

Stage at the Together Again Expo

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of flexibility and innovation. As Covid-19 continues to challenge marketers, we’re talking with our clients about how they can adapt to safely exhibit and sponsor events at meetings and conventions once again.

The reality is that Covid will be with us for some time. And while digital events have been a great pivot for these early months, we’ve heard and experienced a “pent-up demand for a return to live events.”

Those were the words used by Cathy Breden, CEO of the Center for Event Industry Research, at the Together Again Expo in Orlando as she described the consumer sentiment surveys she’s been reviewing.

“Exhibitors have told us they’ve lost leads and sales opportunities, not having the ability to build brand awareness they’re accustomed to at live events, and a difficult time in maintaining and building the types of relationships with current customers and prospects (that they could face-to-face). And of course many companies launch new products into the world at live events.”

Every business is different. Companies must make the call whether to attend and/or exhibit at conventions and meetings. In many cases, those decisions are driven by things like travel restrictions to and from destinations, as well as quarantine requirements upon return home.

But it can be done. And we are excited about the creativity and commitment to safety shown throughout the industry. When it comes to individual exhibits and presentations, the experts on our team are planning to:

Cut Down on Crowds – Reducing capacity within tradeshow booths is vital, and organizations like the Global Biorisk Advisory Council have issued guidelines to help ensure each person can have 6 feet of space around them at all times. At MPG, we’re reviewing current booth layouts and expectations to determine how best to keep visitor count at the “sweet spot” of reaching as many as possible while maintaining social distancing.

Make Traffic One-Way – MPG has always advocated experiences that have a distinct journey, including a well-defined beginning and end guided by friendly ambassadors who keep things flowing smoothly. Traffic control and pulsing is one of our areas of expertise, and we anticipate utilizing it even more in the coming year.

Design for Distancing – Overt and subtle cues help visitors stay in their own zones. Seats in our presentation theaters will be spaced six feet apart. Furniture can be placed strategically to encourage distancing. And touches like drapes, plants and lighting can help create a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

Go Touchless – At a time when touchscreens, games and other high-touch interactives could help spread disease, live presentations are going to shine. They’re a great way to deliver a complete message and engage your audience safely and succinctly. At the end of the experience, rather than handing out sample bags, consider giving a code visitors can enter digitally to get samples sent to them.

Give Branded Masks and Safety Swag – Our MPG team sees this as an opportunity for our clients to transform their visitors into walking advertisements.

Dividers, Partitions and Shields, Oh My! – In areas where people will be in close contact, we’ll use transparent partitions to provide extra barriers. We also are considering a transparent panel between our presenters and audiences.

Re-imagine Panels and Presentations – Space chairs and podiums six feet apart. Instead of a shared mic, use individual mics or a boom. Participants should wear masks unless they’re speaking. And instead of a large panel, consider pre-recording the conversation on a platform like Zoom, then playing it back live.

Sanitize and Sanitize Again – While each venue should have services and guidelines for disinfecting surfaces and air, plan and stock up for your own cleaning protocols as well. At MPG, we already know we’ll be disinfecting our presentation theaters after every show. It not only reduces germs, it provides an added sense of confidence that we’re taking care of every detail to help keep visitors safe.

For the time being, these are “the new norms of face-to-face engagements.” But with a few modifications, we can still provide a great experience. To discuss how you can create a safer exhibit at your next convention or meeting, contact us.

Safer Conventions and Meetings: Glimpsing the Future and Gaining Hope

A socially distanced general session at the Together Again Expo

Conventions and meetings are coming back: That’s the message we heard loud and clear at the Together Again Expo in Orlando. In some parts of the world, re-openings already are happening. But they will look and operate differently—at least until Covid-19 is no longer such a threat.

The Together Again Expo was designed to showcase how an event can enable those all-important face-to-face connections while helping ensure the safety of all involved. Masks: check. Temperature checks: er… check! Staying 6 feet apart? Double check. Yes, it’s possible!

Exhibitors and attendees demonstrated best practices while sharing new smart technology and services in the arena of social distancing and elevated wellness and safety. In many ways, we experienced the convention of the future.

So what does that look like? Today’s post looks at the big picture, while our next one explores individual booths, presentations and meetings.

#1 – Partnerships and Planning are Key …

… With Health Officials – In May, the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, a Division of ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association, introduced its GBAC STAR™ facility accreditation program on cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention. It provides “third-party validation that ensures facilities implement strict protocols for biorisk situations.”

The Orange County Convention Center, where Together Again was held, has the GBAC accreditation, and many other venues either have or are working on getting it. Together Again organizers also walked through with their facilities and plans with the Florida Department of Health.

One other innovation we heard about was medical concierge services, which can provide 24/7 advice and resources to event participants.

… With the Hospitality Infrastructure – Everyone traveling to an event needs to feel safe from the plane to the hotel to the places they eat and the transport they take to meeting/convention sites. Airports, hotels and other service providers should be implementing their own safety procedures and seeking third-party verification such as the GBAC accreditation.

#2 – The Basics are Essential.

Masks and Temperature Checks Mandatory – At Together Again, participants received branded masks, and those who passed the temperature check were given an “I’m cool” sticker to wear.

Social Distancing For All – In addition to design that encouraged the standard “6-feet-apart” rule (more on that below), ambassadors roamed the area to remind people to keep their distance as they conversed and interacted.

Sanitize, Sanitize, Sanitize! Everywhere we looked, staff were wiping down surfaces and using electrostatic sprayers and other disinfecting methods. New technologies were also on display, not only to clean but to instill confidence in participants.  

#3 – The Guest Experience Has Been Reimagined.

Lower Capacity Lowers Risk – Future trade show floors will have fewer people, with entry perhaps limited alphabetically by time of day.

Traffic Flows Flow Differently – One-way traffic and wider  aisles reduce crowding and allow for social distancing.

Central Session Spaces Replace Breakout Rooms – The biggest change we saw was a central staging area where general sessions and breakouts alike take place. Seats were positioned six feet apart, and one design concept showed each with its own desk, storage area and power so attendees could create their own self-contained “pods.” This arrangement may mean fewer breakouts, or repeating sessions to maximize attendance, but it reduces traffic moving from room to room and avoids putting people into smaller enclosed spaces.

Other, bigger-picture ideas were discussed, too.

For example, organizations may hold more regional and local events vs. single big conventions so attendees don’t have to worry about air travel and/or quarantining upon their return home.

And of course, the “hybrid” experience we’ve all been hearing about is here to stay. Even when Covid-19 is no longer a major threat, allowing people to experience at least some of an event digitally from home can actually build attendance for future in-person events by building awareness and interest.

With all of these protocols in place, we heard many Together Again Expo attendees say they felt more comfortable there than they did at their local grocery store. It’s a testament to our growing hope and confidence that with collaboration, creativity and conscientious attention to detail, we can bring back live events sooner rather than later.

To discuss how you can safely host and participate in live events, contact our team.

 

Together Again: What Re-Opening Live Events Could Look Like

Together Again Expo in Orlando

Last week we did something we haven’t done since February—we attended an in-person convention. It felt wonderful and a bit odd. In the five months since Covid-19 forced the cancelation of live events around the world, we’ve grown used to experiencing them virtually. But screen fatigue has shown us that nothing can replace face-to-face interaction, and we’ve eagerly awaited the time when we could all be together again.

It just so happens that Together Again is the name of last week’s expo, organized by a group of intrepid industry pros who wanted to explore and showcase how live events can safely re-open. More than 1000 people gathered at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando for a day of sessions and exhibits showcasing everything from state-of-the-art disinfecting to design for social distancing. Masks were mandatory. So were temperature checks. We found it hopeful and enlightening.

Why did we attend? Because, frankly, live events are an essential part of our livelihoods and those of others who provide services, goods and talent tied to tourism and conventions. An estimated 6.7 million jobs have been lost in the events industry this year.

But live events also are important to our clients. While everyone has made the “pivot” to digital (Another 3000 people participated in Together Again Expo’s live stream), we are hearing anecdotally and seeing in real time how virtual events can’t replicate the live experience. In a State of the Industry panel, Cathy Breden, CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, said in all of the consumer sentiment surveys she’s seeing, brands are reporting that they’ve lost leads and sales opportunities, as well as the ability to build awareness and relationships that they were accustomed to at live events.

Time and again during last week’s expo, participants asked the question: Is it too soon? Covid cases are still climbing, so should anyone be gathering for something as big as a convention?

As one panelist put it so eloquently, we are industry leaders, and leaders take risks. Someone has to go first.

Because live events won’t come back all at once, but they will come back. Some parts of the world are already seeing a return. And fighting Covid-19 is a marathon, which means the way we operate will be different for quite a while. We all need to be prepared to usher in the “new normal,” because while we want to get back to gathering and making money, the safety of attendees, exhibitors and staff is the most important consideration of all.

Over and over, this is the message we heard last week: We can do it if we work together.

Our team learned a lot at the Together Again Expo, and it gave us a lot of hope. In the next few days, we’ll be sharing more details and thoughts on safely reopening live events. We also welcome your questions and ideas. If you’d like to chat about how you can safely get together again, then contact us.