Same as it (N)ever Was: Returning to In-Person Meetings


Sitting in the Edmonton airport waiting to board my flight home to the Bay Area and winding down my first work trip in 20 months, I couldn’t help but experience a sense of the familiar – checking flight reservations, Uber to / from the airport, security lines, boarding, take-off, and awaiting the bell that signifies reaching the requisite altitude that allows me to open my laptop and get back to work. And yet, with apologies to the Talking Heads (Once in a Lifetime — YouTube), this is not the “same as it ever was!”

As we enter a new phase of the pandemic, having gone from regularly traveling to meet with clients to a complete shutdown of travel and seeing the world through Zoom to inching back to travel, so much has changed since those pre-pandemic days.  This change has sparked several lessons for successfully navigating this continued evolution.

When thinking about potential in-person meetings, it’s important to consider certain factors.

  • Will meeting in person truly add value or can the conversation succeed virtually?
  • Are the participants comfortable with being in person:
    • Is everyone vaccinated? Had recent negative tests?
    • Is the room large enough for participants to keep some physical distance?
    • Will participants stay masked during the meeting?
  • Are you prepared to travel:
    • Do you know the COVID-related requirements of the state or country to which you’re traveling?
    • Are you comfortable with those requirements and can you abide by them?
    • Are there electronic platforms they use to maintain information (such as ArriveCan for travel to / from Canada)?

You will want to understand and take care of these requirements in advance of your trip; don’t want to get stuck and not able to get home!

Finally, you’ll want to remember that, just as we had to adapt meeting planning and facilitation to virtual settings, successful in-person meetings look different. Framing the agenda, planning activities and conversations, when and for how long to break can all be different when you’re in the same room (and not just on the same Zoom call).  Pay particular attention to how you capture or share information.  We’ve all become adept at “sharing our screen” for a power point deck or shared document. How will you do this in person? Is there a monitor? Will you go old-school and use flip charts?  If so, remember your markers! And, what if only some of the participants are on-site while others are joining remotely? (more on these “hybrid meetings” in a later post).

Bottom line . . . don’t just expect to return to how things used to be.  Do your research, gather your documents, thoughtfully plan your meeting, and be prepared to adapt!  If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that we should expect the unexpected and be flexible in the moment.

See you in the sky!

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