How 300 In-Person Participants Gathered Safely at Convening Leaders in Singapore

Author: Casey Gale       

COVID testing

A lab worker swabs a Convening Leaders 2021 attendee in Singapore. Weeks before the conference, event marketing firm George P. Johnson and Marina Bay Sands submitted a Safety Management Measure plan to government officials that included antigen rapid testing.

In addition to the approximately 3,000 registrants participating digitally in PCMA Convening Leaders 2021, Jan. 13-15, another 300 attendees joined the omnichannel event in person in Singapore. They participated in two half-day programs on Jan.13-14 at Marina Bay Sands, which served as the event’s global broadcast center.

In early January in Singapore, the seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases hovered around 30 per day. In order to keep the risk of transmission to an absolute minimum, Convening Leaders organizers — including PCMA team members and event marketing firm George P. Johnson (GPJ) — worked closely with the venue and the Singapore Tourism Board to ensure the event was safe by putting such protocols as antigen rapid testing in place.

event covid testing

Attendees scanned a QR code to register for their tests. (Syafiq AB photo)

“It was our partners who really felt the need to do the antigen rapid testing,” said Tonya Almond, CMP, PCMA’s vice president of knowledge and experience design. “They wanted to be that example to the world — this is how a face-to-face event could look in the future.”

The rapid testing was not only a way to demonstrate how to meet safely; it also enabled PCMA to expand its in-person audience. The Singapore Ministry of Health’s strict gathering guidelines during the pandemic typically only allow gatherings of 250 people and “cohorts” of 20 people who are grouped together and travel throughout the event together. However, that networking bubble can grow to 50 people per cohort with the addition of rapid testing.

Weeks before the event, GPJ and Marina Bay Sands submitted a Safety Management Measure plan for Convening Leaders that included antigen rapid testing. The event was approved for slightly above the average allowance, for a total of 300 attendees — which required logistical planning of every last detail in advance to ensure a smooth on-site experience.

Attendees were grouped into six “zones” of 50. So that participants in each zone would share common interests, “we tried to put corporate planners, the association planners, and then the agencies together,” said Singapore-based Patricia Cheong, DES, CASE, associate director of development for PCMA. In their “Know Before You Go” emails, Almond said attendees were given the lowdown on how to adhere to the Safety Management Measure plan, including the requirement to mask up at all times except for eating, how rapid testing would be conducted, what group they were assigned to, and where they needed to report for the first day of the event.

Two participants wait for results of their COVID-19 tests at Convening Leaders in Singapore. Attendees were grouped into six “zones” of 50 people each, who were seated together for everything from waiting for test results to eating to sessions. (Syafiq AB photo)

A New On-Site Experience

Once attendees arrived at Marina Bay Sands, they went to their assigned zones. Each zone had a specific area for registration and badge retrieval. During the registration process, attendees answered questions for a quick health screening and also checked in with their Bluetooth-enabled contact-tracing token, which the Singapore government distributed to its five million residents in the fall of 2020.

“Once attendees got their badge, they proceeded to the next station [within their zone] to do swabbing” for the rapid testing, Cheong said. “There was a certain route.”

meeting safety

Special signage, both on the floor and at eye level, directed attendees to their proper zoned seating and how traffic should flow in the area. They also were reminded to stay a safe distance apart. (Syafiq AB photo)

This entire process, including the rapid testing, took place on a separate floor from where Convening Leaders was being held, in case an attendee tested positive and had to be rerouted out of the building. At the swabbing site, attendees were told how the testing — carried out by local healthcare provider Jaga-Me — would be handled. After they were swabbed, attendees waited 20-30 minutes for results in their designated holding area, spaced out for adequate social distancing.

“They received a [SMS] message that indicated if they were negative, which meant they were good to go,” Cheong said. Every attendee tested negative on both days. After getting the all-clear, attendees received a sticker indicating their negative status and were allowed to proceed to the level where the event was taking place.

GPJ coordinated logistics on site, from creating specially designed signage that reminded attendees about practicing good hygiene to securing student volunteers to usher attendees throughout the safety route and into their proper group area on the event floor.

“We implemented a one-way traffic flow at the event space as well as exclusive entry and exit points for each zone, where practicable,” said Anna Patterson, GPJ’s vice president and managing director. Additionally, GPJ identified hotspots for potential crowding, such as bathrooms, and used measures such as making social distancing reminder announcements over the public address system and dispersing participants for coffee breaks and lunch in a controlled manner with staff guidance. To ensure attendees kept to their zones, GPJ arranged for a mix of solid partitions and queue stanchion poles throughout the space.

“A lot of the planners were there to see how this was done. They wanted to see whether it’s feasible … for their own events as well,” Cheong said. “I think it was a good learning case study for them to see all these safety measures in place. They were saying that, from their perspective, everything went really, really smooth.”

Casey Gale is associate editor at Convene.

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