A Picture is Worth 140 Characters

With shorter attentions spans, the ubiquity of high-quality cameras in our phones, and multiple platforms to share images, photos are becoming a critical marketing tactic for events. Images can convey the mood of an event with more authenticity than any carefully worded tweet. The images taken at an event show what is really happening and hopefully make people want to be a part of it. While it's not critical that images be National Geographic quality, some thought should go into how photos from your event will look. Create an environment that encourages and enables great photos.

We've pulled together a couple photo-centric considerations to add into the event planning mix. Continue reading

How Events Can Embrace the Circle of Life

Spring conjures up images of new life. From birds hatching to flowers blooming to trees re-growing their leaf canopy. No matter the species, all living things need three things to thrive - food, water, and a hospitable habitat.

The idea of greening events is not new. Event planners and venues have been looking for ways to make events more sustainable and reduce the amount of waste produced from these mass gatherings. Reducing paper with mobile apps and providing recycling and composting options are popular ways to shrink a carbon footprint. We wanted to go beyond those tried and true methods and look at events as a living being, examining how to provide the keys to life in a way that benefits not only attendees, but the planet as whole.

Food: In terms of appetizers or snack foods, serve food that does not require utensils to reduce the waste from throwing away plastic forks or water to wash what is used. Instead of pre-packaged chips and trail mix, serve these bulk-style allowing people to take what they want in reusable containers or on their meal plates. Plan ahead to donate uneaten food to a soup kitchen. Work with the caterer and the venue to ensure that uneaten food can be safely wrapped up and delivered to a facility that accepts fresh food donations.

Water: Instead of offering bottles of water, provide a dispenser of water and have attendees fill reusable water bottles (that could be given out at registration and branded with the event logo and/or sponsor logos). If you decide to use disposable containers, look for smaller options so that less waste is created or consider alternative recyclable packaging such as Boxed Water cartons.

Shelter: Choose a location that is accessible via public transit (where available) and provide details on how to use the city's transit on your website. Chose hotels that are in walking distance of the event. Consider providing shuttles to and from the airport to minimize one-off trips of attendees. Also consider going smaller and more local. Could you reduce the environmental impact of travel by holding smaller events in a variety of locations? Finally, look for ways to get people outside and moving with group walks, fitness activities, or even outdoor networking. This reduces the amount of electricity needed and space consumed by keeping everyone indoors.

We'd love to hear your tips on how to make events more friendly for both guests and the environment. Let us know what you've seen and done in the comments.

Zeroing in on Meeting Security

From time to time GovEvents will come across information we feel our members and audience would benefit from. Here's something we wanted to share:

Are you covering all your bases?

At an employee-training event held inside a San Bernardino, California, government building on Dec. 2, 2015, employees were in the midst of the typical office-worker talk that swills around water coolers. Everything seemed to be moving along smoothly. It appeared to be a very good day, partly because the training would wrap up with the office holiday party. Spirits were cheery.

One employee left early but soon returned with his wife. The couple entered the building and opened fire, shooting more than 100 rounds of ammo, killing 14 of his co-workers and wounding another 22. The attackers fled and were later gunned down in a shoot-out with law enforcement on a public street.

On Sept. 11, 2001, 19 Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four planes that departed from airports in the northeastern United States. The 9/11 attacks killed 2,996 people, injured more than 6,000, and caused at least $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage, and incurred $3 trillion in total costs.

Many meeting planners who worked after the 9/11 attacks have their own horror stories to tell. The country was reeling, and planners had to deal with their own losses, personal as well as professional. There were cancelled flights, high attrition, low conference turnouts, demands for registration refunds and a host of other challenges. Since that fateful day more than 15 years ago, the meeting-planning industry has bounced back, but it has also become complacent.

"Sept. 11 was an eye-opener for everyone. It changed everything...everything except human nature," says Ian Poush, a partner at OPS Security Group in Philadelphia. "Fifteen years is quite a long time, and, simply put, our attention shifted. The reality was that terrorism was news, but it was not really happening in our backyard, so people stopped paying attention."

Business is good. Terrorism is a threat, but, as a nation, we're generally prosperous.

Terrorism Attacks Around the World

Attacks in Paris, Brussels and Berlin have been in the news but are an entire ocean away. And although the United States has experienced other terror acts on American soil before and after 9/11--such as the Oklahoma City bombings, Boston Marathon explosions, and mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and Fort Hood military base near Killeen, Texas--none of them has had nearly the same impact as 9/11.

Stories about emergencies, security and safety seem to pop up nonstop, however, thanks to the 24-hour cycle of social media and news sources. It's a giant wheel, with many spokes, including active shooters, terrorist attacks, power outages, contagious diseases, stolen equipment, data thefts, weather disasters, political upheavals and economic blunders.

"Now, there is an increase in civil unrest and a style of attack that the West, until recently, was not used to seeing," Poush says. "These factors have put the spotlight back on security."

For those who plan and manage large events, such as conferences, these recent acts of terror remind us that we must be proactive when it comes to security, both cyber and physical.

Planners need to ask themselves, "Do I know how to protect my attendees? Do I really need to do so?"

"Planners have a legal duty to take care of their attendees," says attorney Tyra Hilliard, CMP, an assistant professor of business and hospitality at the College of Coastal Georgia. "To live up to this duty, they need to use due diligence when planning and managing a meeting, including choosing a safe facility and suppliers."

She says that to create a safe space, planners don't need to have an absolute obligation, but they must do "what a reasonably prudent meeting planner would do to ensure that the meeting and attendees are safe."

This begs the question, "What is safety and security?"

Safety Versus Security

"Safety and security are often used interchangeably," Poush says. "However, they are not the same. Despite some fluidity in their definitions, generally speaking, security is more of an active effort to control something, whereas safety is thought of as a combination of physical and emotional states causing one to feel free from harm, or 'safe.'"

Hilliard agrees. "I think people use these terms in combination, but, in my mind, they are two different things," she says, pointing to Black's Law Dictionary, the well-known legal tome that defines safety as "the freedom from injury, harm, danger or loss of personal property whether deliberate or accidental" and security as "protection; assurance."

"These make sense to me," Hilliard says. "Safety is well-being. Security is measures put in place to ensure well-being."

Poush asserts that the ultimate goal of any security plan should be safety. So what is the industry doing to better prepare planners?

"With today's increased threat of terrorism, we have brought the industry together to harden the target our venues and events create when we gather people together," says Brad Mayne, CFE, president and CEO of International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM).

As a member of the Exhibitions and Meetings Safety and Security Initiative Council--which includes insurance brokers and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) representatives--he works to ensure that the program is successful and that the meetings and exhibition industry is safer.

"We have a need to protect our $280 billion economic impact through stronger safety and security programs," Mayne says. The alliance includes IAVM, International Association of Exhibitions and Events (IAEE) and Exhibition Services Contractors Association (ESCA).

Mayne also says that IAVM is applying for a Safety Act Designation, a DHS-sponsored program that not only creates an online portal with access to "effective anti-terrorism products and services," according to the agency's website, but could also provide those who qualify certain legal liability protections. In the beginning, the IAVM initiative would cover mostly convention centers.

What Other Groups are Doing

Planning major events that attract hundreds, even thousands, of attendees presents unique challenges no matter the makeup of your audience or the location. But what if your group's members are always targets?

Some groups routinely employ their own security. The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC), for example, uses the services of OPS Security Group.

"As a diverse organization serving the LGBT community, we must always be prepared to respond to the unique needs of our constituents and to prevent disruption from those who may not agree with our mission," says Rick Fowler, NGLCC's vice president of meetings and education.

The organization hired OPS to "ensure that attendees are participating in a fully inclusive and safe meeting space," he says.

At NGLCC meetings, security includes coordinating with local police and fire officials, medical professionals and EMT providers.

"The plan incorporates a seamless combination of visible, uniformed security professionals and nonuniformed security professionals that blend into the crowd," Fowler says. "Our emergency action plan comprehensively covers any type of disruptive event, should it be a protest, weather event, medical emergency or physical safety incident."

Some of the services provided at NGLCC meetings include event-access security, emergency response preparedness, pre-event and daily security briefings, and staff training.

Handling Medical Emergencies

Planning and preparing for threats also includes medical emergencies. The writer witnessed the following incident.

A few months ago at a reception held at a public college, an attendee collapsed. For a moment, time seemed to stand still. Suddenly, someone shouted, "He collapsed! He collapsed!" Someone called 911 while two other people performed CPR. Everyone else stood by, cemented in place, some with hands clasped to their mouths.

The planner ran next door to the campus health center and grabbed the on-duty nurse, while people administered CPR. All the while, the 911 operator was still on the phone.

"Continue CPR. Do you know his age? Is he on any medication?" the operator asked. The attendee's wife was nearby, stricken with grief and shock. "He's 72 years old," she said through sobs.

"Everyone, the shuttles are here and ready for departure," another meeting planner said, trying to get people to exit and move on to the next event. The good Samaritans who started CPR continued to take turns, while another stayed on the phone with the 911 operator.

It felt like an hour had passed, but from the time the 911 operator answered to the time the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) team arrived, a mere seven minutes had elapsed. EMS took over with an automated external defibrillator (AED), put the man on a stretcher and off they went to a hospital.

The man didn't make it. It was tragic to witness, but after his death, the questions began rolling in. Did the venue have an AED? Did the staff know CPR? Was the drive accessible to an ambulance? And how do we prepare for the next emergency?

Ask the Right Questions

The incident demonstrates the importance and varied nature of safety and security planning. Do you know what to do if an attendee collapses? Or if a cocktail-table candle starts a fire? What about intruders to your trade show? Or an injured international attendee? Or a hack of your member files? What about political protests or a gun-toting extremist?

Now more than ever, planners and their companies need to be prepared for whatever comes their way, and knowing what questions to ask is a necessary beginning.

Hotels and venues have the same goals, with many sites employing 24-hour security, which can include personnel, cameras and programmable door locks, among other safeguards.

Often a wide range of staff, from sales to housekeeping, are certified in CPR and first aid, and some personnel have ties with local emergency responders and hospitals.

American Hotel and Lodging Association, along with Overseas Security Advisory Council and its Hotel Working Security Group, have created a standardized hotel-assessment tool that enables tour operators, meeting planners, airlines and third-party service providers to conduct security, safety and health surveys of hotels.

It's not a challenge to demonstrate that, in some respects, being a meeting planner is similar to being a CEO. Both have their hands in all of the company cookie jars--including executive, administrative, human resources, marketing, finance and communications--and always deal with some unexpected issue.

Some planners might assert that it's impossible to plan for every emergency. That's probably true. Often, it takes a specific incident to get wheels in motion to fix a problem or ramp up plans to deal with the next situation. It's important to be active, rather than passive, though. When it comes to the safety of attendees, your organization and yourself, it's more important than ever to be prepared and proactive, and to ask the right questions.

Simple Safety Steps for Planners

Safety and security pertain to everything from taping down an extension cord to preventing a madman from entering your venue. Here are some important safeguards that need to be in place at the hotel or venue hosting your event.

• Make sure exit signs are working.
• Confirm Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance.
• Obtain a list of contacts for emergency responders from local fire, police and medical agencies.
• Include the property's security staff at preconference meetings.
• Know where local hospitals are located.
• If you have international attendees, know where their embassies or consulates are located (and find U.S. embassies for your international meetings).
• Make sure venues are compliant with local fire and electrical codes.
• Tape down cables, extension cords and any other potential tripping hazards.
• Use battery-operated candles instead of lighting traditional wick candles.
• Back up and protect data and registration files.

Sometimes, the simple steps are the easiest to overlook, so keep a checklist and make sure you cover these basics.

Keeping the Bad Apples Out

Meeting planners don't have to come up with safety and security plans all by themselves. Get other parties involved and make sure to engage venues, vendors and local agencies as needed. Reach out to other colleagues to see what they're doing. Here are some steps to keep the unwanted out.

1. Require attendees to wear name or registration badges while at the meeting (and have them take them off when not at the meeting).
2. Make sure hotel staff has a list of attendees and knows what registration badges look like.
3. Hire extra staff or a security firm to secure venue entrances, and ask to see room keys at hotels.
4. Train staff to know what to do or whom to contact when they see someone who doesn't belong.
5. Use polygraph or psychological evaluations when hiring new staff and employees.
6. Hire off-duty police officers to roam venue space and create a police presence.
7. Provide active-shooter training for your staff (and confirm hotel staff have been trained, too).
8. Create evacuation plans for your staff members in case they need to get attendees out in an emergency.
9. Make first responders aware of your presence.
10. In your request for proposal (RFP), ask what other groups will be in-house during your meeting dates.
11. Check the local convention and visitors bureau's website to see what other groups are in town.
12. On your registration forms, ask for attendee emergency contact information.
13. Keep abreast of news and weather so that you can plan and prepare.

Alan L. Kleinfeld is a writer and speaker who has been in the meetings industry for 20 years. He is a consultant, an adjunct professor and a public safety officer.

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It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over: What To Do After The Event

Return on Investment (ROI). It's a huge priority in buying technology and services. We ask, "How will this solution help us do our jobs faster and more efficiently?" We look for calculations around long-term savings based on an initial outlay of cash. While we are methodical in our ROI calculations for technology development, we're less inclined to look at ROI when it comes to our own professional development. With training oftentimes a volatile line item in budgets, it is important to show the value of these events to employers who are paying for your attendance. Even if you are footing the bill yourself, it's good to know if the money was well spent.

We've written before about how exhibitors can get the most out of their tradeshow investment, but how do attendees ensure they get ROI? We've come up with a couple tips to use as you head into the wave of springtime events.

Continue reading

Wellness in Meetings: Interest Outpaces Implementation

From time to time GovEvents will come across information we feel our members and audience would benefit from. Here's something we wanted to share:

Incorporating wellness practices into our dietary, professional and recreational routines sounds like a great idea. But when the time comes to follow through, it can be tough to swap Sunday morning waffles for a green smoothie, or trade a mindless tv show for a meditation session.

A similar disconnect exists in the meetings industry, according to a new Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study from the Incentive Research Foundation (IRF). The study measures the prevalence of wellness initiatives in incentive travel and meeting programs.

In November 2016, IRF collected completed surveys from 109 meeting planners and 34 hoteliers. Nearly 60 percent of surveyed planners had at least 15 years of industry experience.

Half of in-house planners called themselves personally enthusiastic about wellness and sustainability. These planners identified wellness as a critical focus for their company at approximately the same rate, and 43 percent said that their organizations have wellness programs.

However, that foundation has not translated to an emphasis on wellness and sustainability in meetings, in design, policy or budgets. The survey found that only 17 percent of companies connect their wellness programs to their meeting strategies. Even fewer organizations budget for sustainable meetings, place a strong emphasis on well meetings or maintain wellness meeting guidelines.

Planners can't place the blame entirely on companies or clients, however. Only one-third of meeting planners have booked a health and wellness speaker for an event, or selected a wellness destination for a meeting, in the past 24 months.

"Each year, companies in the United States invest billions of dollars to both help their employees get healthier and additional billions to help them meet face to face," said IRF President Melissa Van Dyke. "The research featured in The IRF Wellness in Meetings and Incentive Travel Study leads us to question how integrated these efforts within organizations are--and what the meetings and incentives industry could do to create better synergies."

Clearly, sustainable, wellness-based meeting practices have room to grow. But even if the industry isn't ready to adopt composting and acupuncture, there is interest in creating healthier, greener meetings.

According to the IRF Survey:

-The majority of meetings planners agreed wellness is a critical focus for either their company (87%) or their client's company (74%).
-40% of planners characterized meetings as "mostly healthy," while 19% responded "very healthy."
-The top standard preferred food & beverage wellness inclusions for meetings and events were healthy snacks (83%), water and reduced calorie drinks (82%), and fish, chicken and lean meats (80%).
-Smoke-free facilities (90%) and free access to fitness facilities (80%) were the top-ranked standard or preferred meeting design elements supporting wellness.
-Offering water and reduced calorie drinks as the default (77%) had the lowest expected impact on F&B budgets.
-Emerging wellness practices include "mindfulness breaks or resources" and "guides to nearby health facilities."

Now it's up to corporate executives, meeting planners and hoteliers to work together to turn interest into implementation. View or download the full IRF study online.


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