Any volunteer who is familiar with the process for planning FICP’s Annual Conference can tell you that work begins more than a year in advance to determine event goals, outline educational and networking activities, and identify new opportunities to engage and delight our attendees.
For our signature 2020 event, that work began in earnest prior to the 2019 FICP Annual Conference, using a similar process and set of expectations, with a backdrop of Washington, D.C. By late February, our Annual Conference Event Team had selected a theme, and hosted an in-person planning meeting and site visit. Main stage speakers had been determined, as had evening event locations and key details for each. By late March, it was clear we’d need a new path, without much clarity for how to proceed – a scenario that was similar to what meetings professionals across the globe were quickly coming to realize.
Between now and November, through this Reimagining the 2020 FICP Annual Conference blog series, we’ll showcase what we’ve adjusted and will be doing differently in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and other current events, to deliver a relevant learning experience that helps you plan your meetings and events in this uncertain environment. Here’s how our journey to a “new normal” Annual Conference began earlier this spring.
While our staff team normally sets up a news feed for the city where the Annual Conference is taking place, it took on a new relevance as we began to monitor the impact of the pandemic in Washington, D.C., and measures being taken there to control the spread of the virus. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s official COVID-19 page is monitored frequently to understand how that city would reopen and when, as well as the health guidance provided. Gatherings the size of our anticipated conference attendance are not currently permitted, but we anticipate larger groups will be allowed by November, and are working through plans to accommodate our attendees.
We have also closely monitored recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically for event organizers to understand and prepare to carry out those practices. Our attendees are encouraged to review the latest guidance from both the CDC and the D.C. mayor’s website for the general public as the event approaches, as well.
We are fortunate that the event team includes representatives from the Washington Hilton, which facilitated frequent communication to understand if the hotel was closing, and when it would reopen, along with what measures would be implemented to reduce in-person interactions and increase guest safety. Hilton has partnered with RB, makers of Lysol® & Dettol®, to help deliver an even cleaner stay for its guests with the creation of the Hilton CleanStay program.
Like many of you, via FICP Chats, TheNetwork and informal channels, we talked to other meetings professionals to understand how they were proceeding, and read and watched webinars, articles and similar offerings from third parties on various aspects of planning future meetings.
Budgets & Logistics
The recommendation to socially distance our participants at least six feet apart raised similar concerns for the Annual Conference as it has with many of you. We began exploring how many attendees we could accommodate and how best to maximize our contracted space, and determining if that number would be sufficient to justify hosting the event. While we will revisit this frequently, we are comfortable that we can fit our anticipated audience, with some adjustments to our general session set up, F&B plans, and room sets in breakout sessions. More on that topic will be detailed in future blogs.
We also have regularly reviewed our event forecast, and made adjustments to incorporate new expenses such as personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff, while seeking to offset other costs. Typically, our hospitality partners have generously provided for and sponsored many of the breathtaking experiences you see at FICP events, and we recognize they are among the hardest hit by this pandemic. As such, we will need to adjust some of our onsite experiences and sponsor participation to deliver value for them, and our attendees, with the consideration for the realities of their businesses.
Check back later this week for part 2 of this blog, focusing on registration policies and event marketing.
Director, Event Services