ELI Modified In-Person Event Profile: Leigh Bentley, SERVPRO®
Every year, SERVPRO® holds an “Elite Retreat” to recognize 90 of the Top 100 Franchises from across the U.S. and Canada. It’s an incentive trip that franchisees look forward to every year. In 2020, the company decided to continue the tradition of honoring its top-performing franchises despite the COVID-19 pandemic, but with a modified in-person event in Miami, Nov. 5 – 8.
“Very simply, our goal was to meet safely in person and celebrate the successes of 2019 while recognizing the challenges of 2020,” said Leigh Bentley, Meeting Services Division Manager at SERVPRO. (Attendees qualified for the 2020 incentive trip based on their 2019 volume.)
Developing the Event Plan
SERVPRO developed a Code of Conduct that addressed expected behavior and safety protocols for attendees to follow before the event, during the event, and after the event, which was shared in advance. The company also scheduled two Zoom calls with attendees to talk about the social-distancing practices being implemented, both to drive compliance and to help attendees feel safe attending the event.
“We stressed how this event would feel much different from past years, with an altered agenda, curfews in the area, and mask requirements,” said Bentley. “We had attendees sign that they had received the Code of Conduct to ensure they would take it seriously.”
Key components of the Code of Conduct included:
- Encouraging attendees not to travel if they were sick or if they had been exposed to COVID-19 within the past 14 days
- Following CDC guidelines including social distancing and handwashing
- Wearing masks when around others or when required by the event or hotel
- Alerting conference organizers if an attendee tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of returning home after the event
“We over-communicated the mask requirements, and the hotel had markings on the floor indicating six-foot distances and hand sanitizing stations throughout the property,” said Bentley. “We also placed plexiglass at our registration counter and provided clean pens to sign waivers, doing everything we could to keep attendees and staff members safe.”
Room Setup and Attendee Activities
This event was purely an incentive trip, so attendees were on their own for much of the time (although there were planned breakfasts and dinners and an optional South Beach Art Deco & Food Tour, limited to groups of 10 people.)
The traditional welcome reception was turned into an outdoor dinner to help minimize attendee movement and interaction. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate – the wind was incredible – so the dinner was moved indoors, using both ballrooms to ensure social distancing. Tables were arranged with “X” seating, with one couple at the top of the X and the other at the bottom of the X.
“The hotel set lovely buffet stations, behind plexiglass, with their team serving our guests,” said Bentley. “Attendees were to wear their masks unless they were eating or drinking. Most of them complied willingly. We only had to remind a few people when they would get up to return to the bar.”
Breakfast was available for the next two mornings on a two-hour flow, enabling SERVPRO to use only one ballroom. The hotel offered a similar buffet line for the food as well as a staff-served coffee station and Bloody Mary and Mimosa bar.
Even with the pandemic, more than 100 attendees came to the four-day, three-night event this year. Bentley sent a post-event survey to attendees when they returned home and received many positive comments about the experience, the success, and how happy attendees were to travel, meet with others, and enjoy a different view than what they’ve had the last seven months.
“We did not receive any notifications of someone testing positive after the event,” said Bentley. “There was one gentleman from the Chicago area who became sick about seven days after returning home, but he did not have COVID-19. Perhaps the best outcome, however, was that attendees seemed much more willing to attend other in-person SERVPRO events based on how we managed this one. That gave us some encouragement regarding our annual convention, which is scheduled for June 2021, and typically draws about 3,000 people.”
Bentley summed up her experience this way: “There is something special about in-person events that just can’t be replicated virtually. We were thrilled that our protocols and precautions made attendees feel comfortable enough to attend in person and, to our knowledge, kept everyone safe from COVID-19.”
- Encourage masks to be worn unless attendees are actively eating and/or drinking. “Some of our guests thought that as long as they had a drink or plate in their hand, they could remove their masks. In hindsight, we should have been more strict about this,” she said.
- Depending on where people are traveling from, they may have varying levels of comfort with in-person interaction. SERVPRO franchisees were comfortable sitting together, mixing, and mingling, but every event organizer should know their audience and plan activities and social distance protocols accordingly.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of Executive participation and interaction. “Our executives enjoyed the chance to mingle with their top-performing franchisees, and vice versa,” said Bentley. “We spaced our seating arrangements so that an executive and spouse could join a table of two franchisees (and their spouses) to support interaction without compromising social distancing standards, which worked out very well.”
Looking for more insights on how to elevate your decision-making framework to return to modified in-person events? Our next Pandemic Meeting & Event Design certificate course starts soon.
In addition to self-paced weekly work, the course features weekly live classes with industry thought leaders from leading organizations like Delta Airlines, Caesar’s, and many others, plus course updates for one year!
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