Gathering in a COVID-19 World

Andrea Doyle, Senior News Editor
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LAS VEGAS — It is not an understatement to say that COVID-19 is a global catastrophe. The virus has brought trade shows and other conferences to a screeching halt. In an effort to make sense of the chaos, in March, Martha Donato, Founder and President of event planning and management company MAD Event Management, along with her partner, CEO Marty Glynn, started weekly calls with industry friends from distinctive sectors in different parts of the country.

“We started with 15, and organically it just got larger and larger,” said Donato. “We are now at dozens of people, and we meet every two weeks.”

Steve Walker, Executive Director of Citywide Sales at MGM Resorts International, was one of the original 15. When Donato mentioned she would like to do an in-person event, it just made sense to do it in Las Vegas, “a city built on trade shows,” Donato said. With the help of Walker and Glynn, Donato decided to plan an event in Vegas for everyone who had participated in those calls for all those months. A group of 31 gathered in Mandalay Bay Resort on October 22 for the meeting, which they named Expo Recovery.

“May shifted to June to July to August, and we finally had the event in October,” she explained. “What we are is really a think tank, and the logical next step was to get the group together face-to-face to talk about all the issues we have chatted about since the start of COVID-19,” Donato added. “We made sure all the different sectors of the industry were represented. I am a show producer, and my point of view is not relevant without the views of the rest of the ecosystem; we can’t figure anything out myopically.”

Naturally, the overriding theme focused on safety. Not only did the group discuss the importance of health at meetings and trade shows, but it also experimented with some of the latest technologies available.

All lanyards contained a contact-tracing device the size of a normal badge. When six feet of social distance was adhered to, the badge glowed green; at three feet, it illuminated yellow; and at less than three feet, it turned red.

A Citizen Care Pod, a mobile testing site, was set up to expedite testing and screening.

The event included a multi-layered health-screening process using CLEAR’s Health Pass and utilizing on-site rapid, molecular COVID-19 testing that delivers results within approximately 20 minutes. CLEAR is partnered with MGM Resorts.

Health Pass is a touchless product that links verified identity with COVID-19 health insights — including a real-time health questionnaire, COVID-related test results and temperature checks — via integrated kiosks.

“Yes, there is fear,” Donato admitted. “But the only way to overcome fear is by starting to get out there. Technology is going to play a huge role, as is testing before and after events.”

Related. SISO Virtual Town Hall: Small Business Perspectives 

David Audrain, SISO’s Executive Director, was an Expo Recovery attendee. “The event showcased the processes and protocols that can be put in place to ensure meetings are safe,” he said. “It is most important that everyone feels confident, and every person at the event has been tested that day and is negative. It reinforced what I have been missing so much — face-to-face meetings.”

Meeting giveaways sure have evolved in 2020, said Donato. “Each attendee left with a rapid COVID test to take when they got home. You have to be so diligent today, and we were.”

Reach David Audrain at (404) 334-4585 or david@siso.org; Martha Donato at (845) 545-0638 or m.donato@madeventmanagement.com; Marty Glynn at (845) 258-3003 or marty@madeventmanagement.com.