Our team recently attended the Connect conference in Orlando at the World Center Marriott. It was nice to get back on the road, but the experience was extremely different. Sharing our experience with you is important because as you plan and attend live events, you should know what to expect.
Despite a late arrival at the airport, the parking lot was wide open and there was no line whatsoever at TSA. Several of the airport restaurants were closed. The flight was relatively full, everyone wore a mask and very little food was served. Upon arrival at the World Center Marriott, we were told there would be no housekeeping unless requested. Only a couple of the food outlets were open, all with a limited menu. Even room service was limited and pre-packaged. Our team appreciated the hotel’s strict policy on mask-wearing. The venue was equipped with ample signage, floor decals, and sanitation stations.
Renee Jacobs, our EVP of Conferences and Exhibitions, was especially impressed with the safety protocols. “Connect implemented a Safe + Clean Plan which focused on protecting our health so we could focus on conducting business. This included new processes along the entire event journey,” says Renee. “Everything from liability waivers to mailed welcome kits to daily temperature checks and distributed PPE. As event organizers, it is critical we do our part in combating this virus by promoting healthy best practices at in-person events. I believe Connect did just that and I walked away optimistic that in-person events can still take place in these changing times.”
Connect welcomed attendees with an evening function that lasted 90 minutes. This was spread across a huge pre-function space with little food served. To minimize lines, there were multiple bars, each boasting a specialty drink. The only other evening function was a short closing reception on the tradeshow floor. At both social functions, attendees were unfortunately not socially distant in lines. The tradeshow itself was sparse. The few booths were spaced out more than normal. Vendors utilized socially distant theater seating for education on the show floor with headphones for participants, which were sanitized between sessions.
Each morning attendees were sent a brief health survey via text message. Connect then required attendees to bring their “passing grade” to a room where temperatures were taken. If your temperature was normal, you wore a distinct color sticker on your name badge. All lunches were double-sided to-go buffets. Attendees picked up a bag and chose between sandwiches, sides, and drinks. All coffee and tea stations were touchless – the attention to detail on items like this is what you need to bring to your clients’ events.
Our COO, Carvie Gillikin, was most impressed with the hospitality. “We were welcomed by the staff at the World Center Marriott with open arms. The gratitude began with the bellman and extended throughout the property. During breakfast on day one, our server greeted us and thanked us for being there,” says Carvie.
Every day, we attended vendor one-on-one appointments. We were given a list of appointments and seated at the end of an 8’ banquet table. Vendors moved to each table for 6-minute meetings with 2-minute breaks, seated at the opposite end to maintain social distance. Masks were required despite the social distance. Over half of the appointments were in person with the remaining held virtually.
Attendees brought their own laptops for the virtual appointments. One criticism: the handling of the virtual meetings. It was unclear which appointments were virtual vs live. A vendor would suddenly pop up on your computer screen while you expected a live meeting. In hindsight, this would have run smoother if attendees were informed which meetings were live vs virtual in advance. It is important to get ahead of logistical challenges with a solid plan and a team ready to combat them. Thankfully, the second day of appointments ran smoother.
Our team is extremely happy to have attended Connect. It is especially important to me that we support our industry. Clients must know that we support live events in the safest viable way. The key takeaway: it is possible to attend live, safe and effective events. Regardless of technical difficulties and social distancing, engagement is truly incomparable at a live event. There is nothing like making human connections and networking in person, even if it means wearing a mask. This event was a glimpse at the light at the end of the tunnel and it was beautiful.