The following is a first person account of an in-person event held on April 12 & 13 by the Casket and Funeral Supply Association of America. This account is from Emily Wrinkle, CFSA Senior Membership & Meetings Coordinator.
I will never forget March 13, 2020. I was onsite at an event as the world around me was shutting down. I never would have imagined it would be over a year until we would hold another in-person event. But now, after a long year, I recently finished my first in-person event since the shutdown. Below are some of my biggest takeaways from this experience.
Step 1: Navigating 2020 and Postponing the Event
The Casket and Funeral Supply Association of America came to RGI in 2020; their planned November conference was to be the first event we held for them. Like many groups at the start of the pandemic, we were hopeful that by November 2020, meetings would be back to normal. WRONG! In the late summer, we began negotiating various contracts to postpone to April 2021. Hurdle one complete, 100 more to go.
Step 2: Planning the Event in 2021
The new year came, and things were looking promising with vaccines beginning to roll out. But we still faced challenges:
- Challenge #1 – Hotel Staffing Impact: Hotels have been severely impacted by the pandemic. We did not have a permanent event manager to work with until just weeks before the event.
- Challenge #2 – Last-Minute Scheduling: With so many moving parts and changing guidelines from various jurisdictions, we were not able to finalize some typically long-planned logistics until just days before the event.
- Challenge #3 – Health & Safety Protocols: Not everyone is prepared to meet in-person again. While our initial plans were for this event to be 100% in-person, we realized that this would exclude some potential attendees. So, we created a post-conference series of small virtual events to bring education to everyone we could. We also adhered to stringent health and safety measures on site.
- Challenge #4 – Everything Else: The list did not end there. The event required flexibility and we had to adapt often on-site.
Lessons From the In-Person Event
Returning to live events taught us that there are some things you can’t control these days– and that is a challenge!
CFSA was RGI’s first in-person event this year, and our first opportunity to roll out the safety guidelines we’ve spent over a year preparing. We adapted the WEC Duty of Care from MPI and communicated this regularly to attendees to let them feel safe coming to Indianapolis. And while having the NCAA Tournament right before our event created some logistical challenges, it was also a good thing for us. We were able to leverage the Tournament to say the NCAA chose Indianapolis for a reason, helping our attendees feel comfortable. We also required attendees to fill out an Attendee Code of Conduct consent form ahead of the conference, agreeing to abide by the rules set forth at that time in the duty of care. If not signed, we did not allow them to attend the event. It was important to emphasize the safety of attendees AND staff and make sure everyone followed protocols.
In this event, we became pioneers for in-person meetings as event planners and association members. We were able to safely bring back live events after a long time apart. Hopefully this kickstarts the trend to move back in person safely and responsibly.