Guest safety has always been a top concern for meeting planners, but now, in addition to planning for “natural disasters” or “force majeure,” they have even more considerations, such as terrorist threats/activities, environmental impact, data security and privacy and guests’ overall well-being. Here are some things to consider when planning your next convention or conference.
First Things First
- Evaluate the venue and surrounding region for safety and security concerns, as well as the frequency and severity of known hazards.
- Establish a risk profile for the event, venue and attendees, and heed red flags such as poor communication, last-minute changes or pending weather events.
- While on-site, inform attendees about indoor relocation and outdoor evacuation stations, the nearest exit from each meeting room, the nearest hospital, closest pharmacy, and where to report an emergency.
Data Privacy and Security
- Assess whether your technology provider's security policy makes protecting your event data a top priority.
- Find out what response plans your provider has in place to protect your data in case of a breach to its own servers.
- Weigh the risk of using a provider that owns your event data. Ensure that your data is protected if integrated with event apps and other systems.
- During your virtual walk-through of the event, think about the many different touch points that an attendee’s personal information might be exposed to.
- Establish a zero-tolerance policy for homophobic, racist, sexist or any other biased language at your events. Publicize this on your website and during the event. Also, clearly communicate your stance and expectations to your team, attendees, sponsors and vendors.
- Instruct panelists and speakers to use gender-neutral terms, with the pronouns “they, them and their” to be most inclusive.
- Be mindful of gender identity. If you document sex or gender through your registration site, be sure to include “transgender” and “I do not wish to self-identify” as options. If the property allows it, implement an “All Gender Restroom” sign outside of the main meeting area during the event.
- Apply the “Force Majeure/Excuse of Performance” clause. Demand this clause during negotiation. It allows you back out of a contract without liability or damage costs if the state in which you’re planning the conference enacts any anti-LGBT legislation between the time of signing the contract and the time of program execution.
Most planners have already begun to accommodate special meals upon request. Yet with a growing trend of a variety of dietary needs, it is important to consider all potential dietary restrictions, and ask attendees to note them at the time of registration.
Some suggestions include:
- Allergies – Soy, nut, etc.
- Gluten Free
- Dairy Free
Pro tip: Be kind to your budget by providing a variety of menu options that satisfy all of the most common dietary requirements. Ensure that alternative options provide sufficient nutrients and don't stray far from the overall theme of the meal.
- What you choose to serve can make a significant impact on your meeting’s sustainability goals and a positive impact on your eco-conscious guests. Focus should be on organic, locally produced and sourced, in-season selections, and sustainable seafood. For your coffee and tea options opt for fair-trade whenever possible.
- Include how to limit food waste into your planning and discuss with your caterer.
- If felt markers will be used (e.g., with flip chart paper), ensure that they are non-toxic. The odor from many felt markers can trigger reactions for people with chemical sensitivities. Ensure that any invitees and speakers/presenters are aware of this requirement in advance of the event.
- Consider requesting that guests be mindful of fragrances in respect for other attendees.
- Ideally, gifts should be something attendees will want to continue to use long after the event. They should also be easy to transport. Large, heavy or fragile items will often be left behind, creating unnecessary waste.
- Be sure to research and offer alternative modes of transportation. Questions to consider: Have we included attendees that have mobility or accessibility challenges in our planning? Have we communicated our plan to the staff, vendors and volunteers?
Heather Smith Teegarden, CSEP is a former member of the Northwest Meetings + Events editorial advisory board. With more than 20 years in the event industry, she has a fondness for checklists, except for that of her personal, never-ending to-do list.