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Katie Bohrer

Founder & CEO

Onwardly

Katie explains how she’s been able to move forward with in-person events during COVID while maintaining safety measures that aren’t just mandated, but put it place for the peace of mind of her attendees.

Successfully working with in-person events during a pandemic

So for Onwardly, we focus on helping people move their messages forward and doing that through really meaningful events, and finding ways to be super creative like this event so that it does become a story that people wanna tell in the future and that they talk about for years to come. That it doesn't just stay within those four walls or those four days of a conference. How do you extend that beyond the actual experience? So I had the unique opportunity to produce over 30 in-person events since July of 2020.We were one of the first companies... I was in a role with ALHI, an awesome hospitality organization, and we decided that somebody has to go first, so let's figure out how to do this safely.

Since then, I've done over 30 in-person events, international as well. And I think that there's a lot that we've learned in bringing events back about how to keep people safe, how to make people feel secure, about how to make people feel comfortable saying yes to attend an event. I mean that's half the battle. All of our hotel partners and venues and destinations have figured out these incredible ways to make travel safer by wearing masks, distancing, encouraging increased levels of sanitation, spacing. There's so many things that we can create in professionally organized events. And beyond that, now it's our message to start to share the success of those events and how it can be done and what's possible. I think that we have an opportunity as event planners to really innovate in this space.

 

Health and well-being over protocol and mandates 

And so now I think we're transitioning from not just a protocol conversation, but really a health and well-being conversation, and what are the wellness considerations for the attendees. So beyond just what the rules are, how do we actually make people feel comfortable? Because that definition has changed for a lot of our attendees.

So how do we consider their well-being? Do we provide extra spacing just because it's comfortable, not because somebody requires it? Do we do a pre-conference call to communicate everything that will happen just because that makes people feel more comfortable to say yes to our events? Just beyond even COVID protocols, what have we learned that we can apply in the future that just makes our events better overall? So I think when we talk about this sort of challenge with getting people back on flights and in a meeting and on the road, just for business travel as well... 'Cause a lot of people are leisure traveling, so that's a really interesting piece.

 

Demystifying travel and encouraging your attendees to get on the road

You have to get people to go and experience it. I know there's a few speakers here, and this is their first trip in 18months. And so realizing that you have people in this space that haven't actually been out on the road, we have to show them what that looks like. And thenI feel like a lot of that is offering the opportunity for them to experience it. If people have traveled for leisure, they're starting to learn the way that hotels and airlines and all of our travel partners take care of them. But as a meeting organizer, you have to do the same thing for your experience. So I think that if you have a meeting planner who's considering bringing an event back, they really have to go out and experience it. They need to get on a plane, book a flight, book a trip, go see a destination and allow the destination to show you what's possible and what can be created.

If you're running into resistance from yourC-level... And there's a lot of considerations there with risk management and what a company decides to allow their attendees to do. If you're able to create an experience where they can go and actually see it for themselves, that's such a different success story than someone that is still sitting in their home after 18 months and hasn't been able to see this. Understanding that there are people that can't travel for whatever reason, but I think it's important for us to go out, actually experience it, and then figure out how we can do this safely. I think the stats around the fact that there's such a low transmission rate for events that are set up with protocols by professional meeting organizers says that... And really, they're saying that transmission rate is lower than some of the things that people experience in their day-to-day lives.

So how do we actually show that when we do it right, when you have professional organizers, when you have incredible partners that create spaces that are safe, like how do we actually bring people to those environments to experience it?