A few months ago, a non-COVID related disaster struck my family. The COVID lockdown was new and top of mind all the time, but the moment we arrived on the scene, we forgot about it entirely. After standing in the middle of a group of twenty people for about an hour, I suddenly remembered, “oh my gosh! The coronavirus!” None of us were wearing masks because all of us were focused on the situation at hand. That night we started a 14-day quarantine and breathed a huge sigh of relief when we realized how lucky we were.
My neighbor passed away last week. Family and friends poured in to give their regards, and with the hugging, crying, and kissing, no one was six feet apart.
A beach local to us was mobbed by thousands of people vacationing over the holiday weekend. No one wore masks, and everyone was packed into a super small area.
When emotions are high, when family and friends are around, it is tough to social distance.
Why does social distancing break down in some situations when we have proved we can do it well at the grocery store? Well, because there’s very little socializing at the grocery store. Also, the trip is relatively quick; we don’t stay long enough to get comfortable. Food shopping is not a particularly emotional event (usually). And grocery shopping is not a vacation; people tend to feel safer on vacations. But in-person events are just the opposite in every single way.
Event planners can do everything right, only to have attendees do everything wrong. Attendees intend to stay safe, but in the moment, we might not be able to trust ourselves to do the right thing. What do you do when a favorite colleague who you haven’t seen in two years goes in for a hug? When it is time for lunch, do you sit across a large round table, or do you drag your chair closer so you can hear the person on the other side? What do you do when you find that your mask is covering your expressions, and people are misinterpreting your meaning?
Event planners are working overtime to figure out safe strategies, and maybe super safe hybrid events will be the answer (I can’t wait to see all of these new models because I think they will pave the way for greater member engagement in the future.) But can we trust ourselves to behave in a business-as-usual conference this fall or winter? So what is the solution? Lean hard into virtual. There are so many nay-sayers for virtual conferences. But with enough experimenting, we can figure out how to offer many of the benefits in-person meetings offer and more.