Event professionals all over the world are having to deal with cancelled conferences and meetings or tentative postponements until later this year or next.

It’s difficult to think of any positives in this situation as we focus on unravelling contracts and arrangements, reimbursing delegates and wondering how long it will be until life returns to some sort of normal.

Positive outcomes

Whilst acknowledging that these are very difficult times for everyone in the events industry, we wanted to try and extract some good things that have come out of working with fellow professionals on an event that fell victim to COVID-19 – and how these can stand us in good stead for the future.

Several years’ work on a flagship international robotics conference – HRI2020 – came to an end last month when the organising team, quite rightly, felt they had to cancel the event. It was to bring more than 650 delegates to Cambridge for a major scientific programme, as well as provide the opportunity to establish long-term working partnerships and research collaborations.

Supporting organisers

Judith Sloane, Deputy Manager says: “At Meet Cambridge, we were involved from the start, right from the initial stages of the bid and throughout the planning period. We sourced suitable venues and assisted the local organising committee by supplying collateral for the conference web site, liaising with other city stakeholders, arranging site visits and accompanying decision-makers on several pre-conference visits to the city.   We also identified and secured the services of a professional conference organiser, Rose Padmore and her team from Opening Doors & Venues.

Over the last year, as the event drew near, it has been wonderful to see everyone working so closely together (and also somewhat sadly on the crisis management involved in cancelling the event) and we can draw on many positives: new relationships have been forged not only with Rose and her team but also with our academic clients in the robotics community in Cambridge and across the world - and those things, despite the loss, are priceless.”

Strengthening links

Rose says: “Working on HRI2020 gave us a great opportunity to strengthen our links with Meet Cambridge and also the venues to be used and their teams. In particular we got to know the Corn Exchange, Guildhall and Fitzwilliam College well in terms of their space, facilities available and to explore how we could make this event memorable.

Accessing suppliers

“We also forged excellent working relationships with Cambridgeshire suppliers, including signage and exhibition company Korten with whom we collaborated closely on finding new ideas to brand and signpost the various conference elements in historical buildings like the Guildhall.

“At one stage, it looked as though an option was to hold a significantly reduced conference using a hybrid approach with on-site and virtual delegates and we helped the committee by researching Live Streaming options to achieve this. In the end, this wasn’t possible and instead, ten-minute abstract presentations were shared online.”

Whilst the event couldn’t go ahead, this project demonstrated that valuable connections were made, in-depth venue research carried out and specialist suppliers found – all leaving us in an excellent position to react quickly in the future. Very importantly too, we all learned a great deal about the human robotics industry which has been fascinating.


Please note the photograph was taken in January 2020, pre COVID-19.

HRI2020 Organising Team, left to right: Rose Padmore and Madalina Marincas (Professional Conference Organisers, Opening Doors & Venues); Judith Sloane, Meet Cambridge; Indu Bodala and Theo Amanatidis (representing the Local Organising Committee for HRI2020).