The psychology of “Cave Syndrome” real: After having lived through a 15-month-long global pandemic that claimed millions of lives and forced governments to legislate masks and social distancing, people are anxious to get back to “normal”—in the sense of both their excitement for and fear of socialization.
Even after being fully vaccinated, the mentality of being in a public, indoor space sans mask and six feet of separation can conjure up a form of PTSD: a “trauma response to one of the most tumultuous years in recent history.”
STEP 1: Develop your protocols. As meetings and conferences start to block calendars with the return of in-person events, how do organizers manage the excitement of gathering in-person while accounting for the equal presence of fear? By carefully planning, developing, and communicating health and safety protocols to your event community, and then revising those protocols as regulatory guidelines and stakeholder preferences continue to evolve — as the Incentive Research Foundation(IRF) recently did during its recent 2021 Education Invitational, onsite and in real-time.
STEP 2: Communicate your protocols. A full-service Association Solutions client of MCI USA, the IRF held the Invitational — its first in-person event since the pandemic began — at the beginning of June, and pre-event masterfully communicated its plans and protocols for the get-together. By providing clearly stated guidelines and answers to frequently asked questions, the IRF not only prepared attendees to carry out their own COVID-related precautions but also demonstrated that the event would be a safe space for people on every part of the fear spectrum, from totally comfortable to mildly freaking out.
STEP 3: Adapt and revise your protocols. But that turned out to be just the beginning. In the weeks leading up to the event, the CDC relaxed its masking guidelines, and the American Hotel and Lodging Association and Invitational host property JW Marriott Marco Island Beach Resort soon followed suit. As a result, the IRF revised its mask policy days before the Invitational started.
Originally, Invitational attendees were going to be required to be , indoors and outdoors, but now masks would be optional for vaccinated attendees but still required for unvaccinated attendees. All other health and safety protocols that the IRF developed would remain in place, including requirements that attendees submit proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test before arriving, complete a daily symptom-tracking survey while onsite, and wear a contact- device on their name badge. And when the Invitational concluded, the IRF would perform health follow-ups with attendees at five, 10, and 21 days out from the event.
STEP 4: Communicate your new protocols. The IRF immediately shared the new protocols with attendees via a dedicated email message and the event website, retrained onsite staff, updated event signage, and increased its emphasis on the remaining, unchanged protocols. When the Invitational began, attendees responded positively to the protocols and the event was very successful.
STEP 5: Remember your protocols. While heightened healthy and safety protocols will be a part of meetings and events for the foreseeable future, they’ll never be static documents. Instead, continue to revisit them as regulations, guidelines, and social norms change, so your event community knows that their wellbeing will always be your first priority.
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