To Hug or Not to Hug: Is That the Question?

June 1, 2021

De-de Mulligan

De-de Mulligan is a digital marketer, blogger and President of Mulligan Management Group, a full-service, boutique marketing agency. A former meeting planner who received the MPI Ohio Chapter’s Planner of the Year award in 2006 and 2012, she brings a unique perspective to her blog posts, including for You can connect with her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

As of late May, the U.S. adult population was inching toward herd immunity, with an abundance of vaccines available in all 50 states. However, it’s estimated that roughly 45% of the population is still not vaccinated, and there were 22,500 new COVID-19 cases just before Memorial Day.

The CDC guidelines state that fully vaccinated people (1-2 doses, depending on the shot, plus an additional 14 days) can return to pre-pandemic activities, including hugging.

Now comes the potentially hard part for meeting planners. How do you know who has received their shots, and without knowing this information, can you create a safe environment for your attendees?

And what about hugging or handshakes? How can your attendees effectively communicate their physical contact comfort levels?

Possible Etiquette Guidelines

Here’s a cheat sheet of creative options that may work for your meeting, conference or trade show:

Establish basic guidelines that your staff and stakeholders agree with 100 percent.

  • Will you require proof of vaccination?
  • Will you require mask-wearing in certain situations, such as sitting at the conference, but not others, such as standing outside?
  • Will you be doing COVID-19 screening?
  • Will you encourage hugging and handshaking among fully vaccinated people but not with those who are not?
  • What are the COVID-19 policies at the venue and city?
  • Will you use group transportation for outings? If so, what are the rules on the bus or with vans?
  • How will you enforce these boundaries?

Whatever guidelines your committee establishes, be sure to communicate them repeatedly so attendees are not surprised when they get to the event.

Please put it on your social media channels, email communication, registration packets and registration table, and send alerts periodically as reminders to your attendee smartphones once they are onsite.

Establish a “free hug zone.”

Have an area of the room or established areas where people are welcome to hug each other. But don’t make that area where the bar is located. Instead, put a hug zone area outside or down the hall from other activities, so your guests don’t feel pressured to comply.

Sprinkle sanitation areas throughout your meeting area.

After hugging occurs, it’s crucial to wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer, especially if you do not know who is vaccinated.

Put out baskets of red, yellow, or green bracelets and encourage attendees to wear their bracelets throughout the conference.

The person wearing the band is requesting the following:

RED: No hugging, and please keep socially distanced

YELLOW: Hugging, but only with masks on

GREEN: Hugging and no social distancing with or without masks

Even before COVID-19, every individual had very different levels of hugging sensitivities. If someone you are approaching to give a hug steps back and diverts their eyes downward, chances are they are not interested in embracing you. However, please don’t take it as a personal affront because it most likely is not. Just talk to them and be happy that you can see each other again!


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Partner Voices

Imagine if sponsors and exhibitors kept returning to participate at your events. Isn't that every event planner's dream? This is possible! All you need is to identify the outcomes a sponsor or exhibitor wants and help them reach their goals through a consistent approach. Getting visibility and generating sales/leads are two common event goals sponsors and exhibitors have. Below are five ways to help them achieve these goals.