How To Have An In-Person Event Safely

On August 3rd, I was sitting at my home and I was nervous.  Why?  Because as a board member of OPPA (Ohio Promotional Products Association), we were about to head to Kalahari to host the first in-person sales event in our industry since the pandemic.  We were excited to see all of our peers.  I was excited to try and get back to business.  But we were all nervous.  (I talk about it in this video).

We wanted to create a successful event, but we did not want to set the industry back.

Over the course of the next few days, the OPPA Board, with the support of suppliers and distributors, held the Sales Safari at Kalahari.  It was an in-person event that allowed suppliers and distributors to meet face to face for the first time since March.  And by all accounts, the event was a success.  Not only was the attitude around the event a grateful one, but the feedback we received was that we “made everyone feel safe,” and we took the necessary precautions to be safe.

This is by no means saying that we should open the flood gates.  Discretion is still the better part of valor.

But as we move toward the end of 2020, we do need to figure out how to push forward.  So here are some lessons we learned, actions we took and ways you might be able to have an in-person event safely.

Choose The Right Venue

I was so impressed with the Kalahari facility.  As soon as you walk up to the doors, you see signage that explains their policies on masks and social distancing.  When you walk through the doors you see hand sanitizing stations and more signage.  That level of communication set the tone from the beginning.  They were taking this very seriously…and it helped reinforce what OPPA wanted to accomplish.

Lead By Example

If you want the people at your event to follow the rules, your team better too!  There is so much mixed messaging and confusion out there already, you don’t want to contribute.  The OPPA team was on board from the beginning.  Everyone was great about wearing masks and taking part in the protocol, so it was easy to ask everyone else to do it too!

Communicate…Then Communicate Again

At several points during the event, our Board President Kyle McGovern stepped in front of the group to give the full info on what we were doing…and why we were doing it.  Our Executive Director LaDonna Belcher did the same.  Over and over, we talked about the measures we were taking, and why they were important.  We also gave attendees with options on what to do if they ever felt uncomfortable.  This communication was great for explaining why every step was important, but it also showed a level of transparency  that is important when working through something new.

Have Zero Tolerance

Once the rules were set (and we will get to a few of those in a moment), we worked hard to stick to them.  The gravity of the situation was clear.  We needed to be diligent in order to keep everyone safe.  The eyes of the industry were very much upon us.  With that in mind, there was no room for “non-believers.”  If you wanted to attend, you had to follow the rules.  The end.  If you don’t want to follow the protocol (or you can’t), that’s fine…but you can’t come.  I think that sort of discipline is critical to keep everyone safe.  If potential attendees want to shout about their “freedom,” simply explain that they have the freedom to stay at home.  It’s really that simple.

Masks, Masks, Masks

Here’s a secret.  No one LOVES wearing their mask.  It’s an inconvenience.  But to be honest, it’s a minor one.  Study after study has shown that they help to keep you from spreading the virus.  Please don’t send me your videos from “Doctors” who say differently.  If you want to have an in-person event, everyone needs to wear a mask.  It’s safer.  In addition, as I have talked about on the blog before, everyone wearing a mask makes everyone feel more safe too.  And that matters if you want the attendees to learn and grow from the event.  Oh…and if you don’t like it…don’t come to the event.

OPPA. provided everyone that walked into the event a mask, just in case they did not have one.  There are some great ones out there that can help promote the brand and the event…and you can find a few here.

Take Temperatures

And speaking of what happened when participants walked into the event, every person had their temperature taken.  That way, if someone is showing symptoms, even unknowingly, you have the chance to catch them before they mingle with the rest of the attendees.  My suggestion is, take temperatures each day, just to make sure something has not changed overnight.  There are some great touch-less options (find a few here), and I would recommend getting several so you don’t cause a back up when people are trying to get in!

Hand Sanitizers…Everywhere

As you might expect, the final item attendees got when they walked in the door was hand sanitizer.  We also had sanitation stations throughout the event.  This is where it was great to partner with Kalahari, because they have them everywhere too!  The end result was that it felt like anytime you wanted to sanitize your hands, you could.  That helped attendees be safe AND feel safe.

Limit Social Hours

One of my favorite parts of a normal in-person event is getting together to socialize with some drinks.  That’s great…but it’s a place where things can go wrong.  With the best of intentions, alcohol might ease the attention to detail on following protocols.  You don’t want  to do “everything right” and have one overly friendly Happy Hour ruin it!  It’s not about being the “fun police,” it’s just about being smart so there is not an outbreak after an otherwise stellar event!

These are just a few precautions I recommend taking if you are considering hosting an in-person event.  It might seem like a lot to manage, but I can speak from experience when I say, “It was worth it.”  It felt SO good to be meeting face to face with other professionals again.  If you want to look at some products that might help you host an event, feel free to check out our shop here.  

Congratulations to the OPPA Board for having the courage to be first…and to take the steps to do it right.

Written by: Kirby Hasseman

Kirby Hasseman is the CEO of Hasseman Marketing & Communications. Kirby hosts a weekly Web show called Delivering Marketing Joy where he interviews business leaders from around the country. Kirby has published four books. His most recent is “Fan of Happy.” His book, called "Delivering Marketing Joy" is about doing “promo right” and is perfect for people in the industry and customers. He also wrote “Think Big For Small Business” and “Give Your Way to Success. All are available on Amazon.