Carl H. Winston is the founding director of San Diego State University’s L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. He shared with PCMA the following op-ed column.
What Is the Future of Meetings?
It is almost impossible to imagine that nearly every meeting in the world has been canceled or postponed. For meeting professionals, it is the end of most work and their livelihoods.
I have been around enough decades to know this will pass and we will reboot, restart, and meet again. We will. As human beings, we crave human interaction — we need to meet, now more than ever. And, businesses know that live meetings and face-to-face sales are required to grow and thrive.
Face-to-face meetings have been pronounced dead more than once, notwithstanding the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis we’re experiencing today. When video conferencing started years ago, some predicted it would mean the end of live meetings. When email came online, our paper usage was supposed to plummet. It didn’t — it grew. This history suggests that social events may very well lead the way in recovery. Business events will follow as the world needs face-to-face interaction as a tool of the marketplace. And, we need to travel and meet for our own personal enjoyment.
What Will Meetings Look Like as We Recover?
There will be a lot of predictions around a “new normal” in meetings. Tables of 10 may become tables of four or six. Buffets may become extinct. Preset tables might be a non-starter. Gloves and mask dispensers in every meeting room? How about instant tests for all meeting attendees or a doctor’s note required in order to attend?
I can imagine some of these things actually being tried. The market will tell us how far we need to go to change our event environments. Time will tell.
What’s the Major Lesson We’ve Learned from this Pandemic?
Safety, health conditions, and cleanliness have been escalated to the top of all our checklists. This will apply across the entire supply chain from transportation to food, from sleeping rooms to furniture, and from audiovisual to staffing to everything. Safety verification along the supply chain may become the gold standard for future meetings.
Think about it. The leaders of organizations have a fiduciary obligation to ensure a safe, sanitized, and healthy environment for our workplaces and events. Some of us will take a leading role in this elevated level of accountability and become the trusted source for this. Are you ready?
PCMA has created a COVID-19 resources page to help event professionals find reliable information about the pandemic and to share events industry-related resources to ensure they are prepared now and in the futures.