The stop-and-start nature of the past 20 months has complicated many things, including the critical decision whether to hold an event in person or virtually. Associations are weighing several variables and making sure their events will meet members’ needs.
“Should I stay or should I go?” Good question. It’s a famous conundrum of song—and our current reality as many associations continue to grapple with deciding whether to go ahead with an in-person event. Predictably, in a world full of unpredictability, there is no easy answer.
The Water Environment Federation decided to go ahead with the in-person component of its October 2021 annual meeting in Chicago because they realized through informal conversations with members that many of them wanted to meet face to face. “They want that chance to connect, but they’re also looking to us to ensure as much as we can that they can meet safely,” said Stephanie D. Jones, CAE, WEF’s senior director of conferences and education.
WEF made the decision by weighing evidence-based and anecdotal information. The group looked at other associations that had successfully hosted events. They analyzed the risks and determined whether they were willing to accept them.
“Each organization has to do that for themselves,” said Jones. But using the World Health Organization’s mass gathering COVID-19 risk-assessment tool and seeing if venues are GBAC STAR certified are good places to start. “Basically, we made the decision based on believing we can meet safely in person,” she said.
Jones recommends looking at the level of risk in the city or county where your venue is located and determining where your attendees are coming from. For example, are they coming from communities where COVID-19 spread is higher? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker is updated daily with information on local rates of transmission, hospitalization, vaccination, and more.
“Don’t host an event just to host an event.”—Aaron Wolowiec, CAE, Event Garde