Ideas for Social Distancing at a Networking Event

Author: Convene Editors       

Social Distancing

Is social distancing at a networking reception possible? The PCMA Catalyst community explores options that would keep attendees and staff safe.

PCMA’s Catalyst community offers members a platform to ask each other questions, share ideas, or, as the website says, “communicate and collaborate.” Here’s a sampling from a recent Catalyst discussion.

“My association is proceeding as planned with our Annual Conference mid-July in Georgia,” Alexis Sivcovich, director of member services for the Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association, told the PCMA Catalyst community. “I’m working closely with the hotel and other planners as how to safely execute meetings — providing masks, distanced room sets, appointment-based expo sessions, etc. — and we are having trouble coming up with a creative solution [to practice social distancing at] our networking receptions. We typically do open bars with passed hors d’oeuvres and food stations, but our norm isn’t looking possible for this year. I was wondering if anyone had yet tackled the new in-person networking receptions?”

We have our largest event in November and, while it’s looking more and more like we might take it virtual, I have been dreaming up ideas as networking is a huge component to our event.

You could do a “virtual networking party” — which might be more of a heavy lift on the front end for your team than it’s worth, but here it goes:

1. Have the hotel deliver a bottle of beer/wine/soft drinks and a cheese plate/light snack to each guest room 30 minutes before the designated networking time. You could ask people what their preferences would be on a registration form, especially if you have guests who prefer not to drink alcohol, are allergic to dairy, etc.

2. In your online conferencing platform — we use Zoom — create pre-assigned breakout rooms with four-to-five attendees in each room. Each networking group would have 10-15 minutes to chat before being put in another breakout room with different people. Repeat this X number of times. Even better if you could figure out a way for people to share their digital business cards with each other.

Not sure the best way to make this happen, and I’ve never seen it in action, but it could work!

— Rachel Posada Fletcher, associate, events and operations, PIE Network

Not sure I have a solution, just some thoughts that may create helpful dialogue. There is much to consider for a networking reception: the number of people who are “free to roam”; how people access food and drink [in a safe way]; ability to connect informally without too many restraints; how staff flows/interacts with guests. I am thinking of what I would term a “Twister Reception,” referring to the board/floor game “Twister” with colors to direct your next move. Masks could be used to designate color possibly, with some be multi-colored.

The guests would be permitted to choose their color which could be associated with varying degrees of exposure/ interaction to allow them to determine their level of interaction. “Red” guests are willing to interact with more people, “blue” guests are not.

Subsequently, it would be a tiered networking event giving those who choose limited exposure to network with like-minded, more cautious attendees, providing a sense of security and appreciation for their level of comfort. Certain areas of the room would be designated by color. I am not sure what exactly that would look like.

Every staff/server is assigned a color to designate their food station and essentially the only people they will be in contact with. Subsequently, “blue” guests would be served by only “blue” staff whether they pass hors d’oeuvres or serve from the “blue” area. “Red” guests are served by only “red” staff.

All that said, you may offer the virtual networking as an option as well. I would suspect those that do attend are willing to get on a plane, etc. Just brainstorming here, but hope this helps get some ideas going.

— Marc Dooner, national sales manager, Visit Raleigh

RELATED: 5 Strange Potential Solutions for Social Distancing

What Events Professionals Need to Know About COVID-19

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 future.

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