Attention, meeting planners! Safe meeting venue ventilation for COVID-19 is critical. As we start thinking about returning to in-person events, it’s crucial to check that venues are upgrading their HVAC systems to handle potentially virus-infused air.
There has been little public discussion on this important topic. In this post, I’ll explain why questions about venues’ HVAC safety should be at the top of your site visit checklist.
Before we start, I need to make clear I’m not an HVAC engineer. My (perhaps) relevant background is an ancient Ph.D. in high-energy particle physics, and two years spent exploring ventilation systems—specifically air-to-air heat exchangers—when I owned a solar manufacturing company in the 1980s.
Since the pandemic began, the science on COVID-19 transmission has evolved rapidly. Because early theories turned out to be inaccurate, current preventative measures are frequently misdirected. So I’ve included a short history of theories of COVID-19 transmission that shed light on the reasons we’ve underestimated the importance of ventilation in creating safe environments for indoor events.
Next, I’ve outlined what current research indicates venues and properties should be doing.
Finally, I’ve aired my concerns about how well venues and properties are responding to the safety concerns I’ve introduced.
If allowed by the venue, masking tape is a convenient method to hang paper and cards on a wall. I recommend 1″ wide, fresh, name brand (e.g. 3M, Scotch) tape. A couple of 3″ strips of tape placed at the corners will hold a piece of flip chart paper securely. If you are going to be hanging many sheets of paper, you can use a continuous strip of high quality double-sided masking tape e.g. 3M 9415PC. Run the strip horizontally at about a six-foot height, and you’ll be able to hang paper anywhere along its length.
Although much more expensive than plain paper pads, flip chart pads with a 2″ strip of tacky adhesive at the top of each sheet provide a convenient method of quickly hanging flip chart paper without having to mess with strips of masking tape.
Self-adhesive paper rolls
One way to create large drawing surfaces is to tape roll paper to a wall using continuous strips of masking tape. If you have to move the drawing surface a few times, consider using an adhesive backed paper roll. Two products I have found but not yet used are manufactured by Pacon: GOcraft! and GOwrite!
GOcraft! banner paper is available in 12″ x 40′ and 24″ x 25′ rolls. The paper is backed with a post-it like adhesive. The manufacturer claims it will adhere indefinitely to a clean, hard surface and to textured surfaces like fabric covered wall for several days. You use permanent marker to write on the product and Pacon claims that no bleed-through will occur.
GOwrite! is available in 18″ x 6′ or 20′ and 24″ x 10′ or 20′ rolls which provide a dry erase surface to use with any dry-erase markers. According to the manufacturer, GOwrite! erases cleanly without whiteboard shadowing. You attach the product by removing a peel-off removable liner sheet. It will adhere indefinitely to most hard surfaces, but will not stay on textured walls for extended periods. Pacon claims that removal will not ruin surfaces. You can move it “two or three times” before its adhesion deteriorates and the corners start to curl.
Sticky notes are a great tool for “cards-on-the-wall” group techniques, like affinity grouping, and they are often the only things that venues will allow you to attach to their walls. For small groups, 3″ x 5″ notes may be large enough, but I prefer to use 6″ x 8″ Post-it® Brand Super Sticky Meeting Notes for large groups.
Thumb tacks, if allowed by a venue, are a convenient method for attaching paper and cards to cork boards. Buy map style not flat head pins. And at a pinch, you can use straight or safety pins to attach flip chart paper to draperies.
For mounting to fabric-covered walls, use these mounting squares, which provide an adhesive side that attaches permanently to paper or card, and a velcro-like side that provides strong yet removable adhesion to fabric-covered walls.
Cloth panel wall clips provide another convenient method for attaching paper and card to fabric-covered walls. They are more expensive than adhesive strips, but you can move and reuse them over and over again.
Vinyl dry erase pads are 27″ x 34″ white sheets, packaged in a roll, that stick to a wall by static electricity. They will not stay up indefinitely, but work fine for temporary use during an event. Because they stick to everything, they are not easy to install. So, put them in place before a session begins. You can write on them with either permanent (preferable) or dry erase markers. Like most inexpensive whiteboard substitutes they are hard to erase completely. Expect to replace sheets after a few uses.
Ideapaint is a treatment that turns any smooth flat wall into a dry erase surface. You must apply it correctly and it’s not cheap ($175 – $200 for 50 sq. ft. coverage), though Ideapaint’s price compares favorably to the cost of a high quality whiteboard.
Steel or corkboard or wooden wall strips
One of the simplest ways to make a venue wall attachment friendly is to install horizontal strips that can be used to attach flip chart paper. Such strips are available in various materials: steel (use magnets to attach), wood or metal-framed corkboard (use pins), and wood (use appropriately spaced straight pins or nails on which binder clips can be hung). Steel and wood can be painted to match the wall decor, while cork board strips are generally attractive and unobtrusive
Whiteboards offer a permanent solution for writing and posting on venue walls. At prices of around $15-$20 per square foot, they are not inexpensive, but they offer perhaps the ultimate flexibility for meeting activities that require a vertical posting or drawing surface. The older (and less expensive) melamine surfaces suffer from “ghosting” of dry erase markers over time and are not recommended for institutional use. Nowadays, most whiteboards use a hard porcelain finish over steel, which allows the use of magnets to hold materials on the surface.
There are probably other methods available for non-destructive posting on walls that I haven’t mentioned here. What have I missed?
Recently I’ve felt frustrated and baffled. No less than three venues (two hotels and a conference center) in the last month told me that I couldn’t post anything on the walls of the room I was meeting in.
I couldn’t post anything. No flip chart paper, no masking tape, no stick pins, no thumbtacks, no sticky notes, and no wall clips.
That’s a blanket “no”
To add insult to injury, none of the venues apologized or offered any suggestions on alternative ways I could display materials on a vertical surface. None of them had any substitute surfaces, like large portable notice boards or whiteboards available.
One conference organizer wondered if I could use tables instead. Unfortunately, tables are not a comparable substitute for walls for two reasons:
On walls, notes or cards can be placed anywhere in a seven foot band between the floor and where people can reach. On tables, human reach limits us to a three foot band.
Many more people can easily see information placed on a wall compared to a table.
Why we need to be able to post on walls at meetings
Some of the most powerful techniques available for group problem-solving require ways to display multiple pieces of information to an entire group. Members can easily and publicly move items around to cluster, list, sort, and map relationships. Schools have used blackboards (aka chalkboards) for two hundred years to display information to students. Thumbtacks (aka drawing pins) have been around for over one hundred years. Masking tape was invented in 1925. We’ve been using post-it notes for over thirty years. These are not new technologies, folks, why are venues banning them from their walls where we meet?
I understand that people use venues for many different purposes. Wall damage, through incorrect use of attachment technology or marker bleed-through, costs money to repair. But “wall work” is an essential component of group problem solving, and for a venue to prohibit its use while offering no alternatives makes it hard to hold many kinds of useful meetings.
In the second part of this post I’ll cover some of the technologies now available for posting information on walls, including some that you may not know about. Stay tuned!
Have you had venues not allow you to post materials on their walls? What did you do?