If we believe that as meeting and event professionals our number one responsibility is the people who participate in our meetings, then we need to look at what this means. We are responsible for their safety, their enjoyment, their learning, and their overall experience, each with their own importance, and our own role in the same must be understood.
With the ongoing tragedies that happen at events, it is critical that safety is always top of mind. Understanding there are factors within our control, and that we must also respond to factors are outside of our control (such as extreme weather) allows us to focus on what we can plan ahead for.
Factors that deem a program safe include:
- the destination,
- venues that are suitable to the group size, with adequate exits in the event of a fire or other emergency reason for a mass egress,
- security measures suitable to the group profile, and
- choosing activities that carry a reasonable amount of risk for the fun they will offer.
Along with these choices come carrying appropriate insurance, having guests sign waivers as dictated by the activity suppliers, and yes, using common sense in your decisions that will impact the participants’ safety. This includes an awareness of food allergies to what is being served, and avoiding situations where alcohol is over-consumed and can lead to unsafe or inappropriate behaviours. Naturally larger and more public events require additional care in planning by those experienced in crowd management and public safety, but this is a larger topic than this article.
Enjoyment and learning are inextricably linked. Science shows we learn more when making relevant connections to our own situations and when we are positively engaged in the experience. We have all been in situations where we move from room to room, rarely interacting with those around us, uncomfortable as we fail to make connections. Human connections are a key raison d’être for meetings. As planners, finding ways that we can allow time, space and reasons for people to meet and have conversations with others over common subjects – from shrimp on the buffet to the great entertainment, an interactive game played at a welcome reception to seeing who is on the leader board on the gamification enabled mobile app, and even table discussions in breakout sessions – all are reasons to connect that we can enable.
A key area where we can have an impact is in crafting appropriate environments and shared experiences. But when it comes to experience creation, we are often distracted by details such as history – how the meeting has always been done, what we are being told the meeting host wants, what we believe should happen based on our own realm of experience.
We must at every step consider ourselves in guests’ shoes, literally. Take the time to walk through each step of the event, from how easy it is to register, the travel experience, and all that happens on site. How are we aligning the brand with the experience so that it feels cohesive to the guests – through the use of colour, seating, music, entertainment and shared topics of interest, these will all play into each person feeling that they have been taken care of and their time has been well spent. As a participant, when you are taken care of, make connections and leave a meeting or event feeling richer for the experience, you will want to share your positive experiences and you will want to return again the next year. This is the end result of understanding that people are our number one responsibility, as is owning the steps to take that will elicit this result.