Navigating live events in the wake of COVID-19
- Last Updated: December 25, 2020
- 1.5K Views
- 28 Min Read
It was barely a month into the COVID-19 pandemic when event organizers pivoted to virtual events. Almost a year on, they're still going strong. From conferences to exhibitions and galas, we saw almost every type of event being pulled off successfully through online means. Even better, sponsors, speakers, and attendees all had a lot of good things to say about these events.
What's not to like, right? Virtual events are cost-effective, convenient, and, during situations like COVID-19, the safest way to gather. But somewhere along the way, people started missing on-site events, including 94% of respondents to a survey by Enigma Research. Another survey by Festicket found 82% of respondents ready to attend concerts within one to six months of the lockdown being lifted as long as event organizers and venues included strict hygiene and safety measures. Here's one more—a survey conducted by events agency Identity claims 30% are even ready to travel internationally for events.
Looking at these numbers, you could say quite definitively that the general consensus is in favor of live events. No matter how immersive virtual events get in the future, live events will always have an edge. So what makes them so special? It's the “human interaction” element. Attendees prefer live events for two major reasons: in-person connections and the high-energy atmosphere, neither of which can be replicated in a virtual setting.
For years, scientists have studied why people love face-to-face connections. One explanation is the hormone Oxytocin, which is triggered by touch. As this hormone is also responsible for social bonding—like shaking hands at events—you feel happy and, as such, are more friendly and approachable. Another effect of in-person communication is the "mirror neurons" effect. When someone smiles at you, your brain triggers neurons in the same area of your brain and almost reflexively you smile back. Once again, you’re more approachable.
Finally, there's the fact that online interactions have very little space for non-verbal communication. As it's your unconscious mind that processes these cues and helps you with decisions and emotions, you're virtual interactions always feel incomplete.
While these effects may seem tiny and inconsequential, when put together, they have a major effect on your brain and how it works. And because you're biologically programmed to prefer in-person events to virtual ones, they’ll never go out of style. However, based on times and situations, they will have to evolve, to take on new forms and shapes. Right now, the focus for when live events return will be health and safety.
With almost every community still having cases of COVID-19, transmission is a huge problem. We made this tip sheet considering all the factors that come into play when minimizing COVID-19 risk at in-person events. However, we'd like to say that this is only general information, and while it does cover almost all areas of your event, it shouldn't be taken as medical or legal advice. Rather, we hope you use these tips as a base for your live event safety strategy and build on it.
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Tip #1: Assess risk and plan for mitigation
Even on the good days—when everything is working for you—your event will not be without risk. This means at times like our current one, you’ll have to deal with a lot more risk than usual. So the first step to planning an event in this climate is understanding the risk factors associated with it. By conducting a detailed risk assessment, you can get a good picture of what can go wrong with your event, plan for mitigation, and decide if, considering everything, hosting your event is worth it in the end.
COVID-19 TRANSMISSION RISK
According to the CDC, the risk of COVID-19 transmission at events increases based on the size of the onsite gathering.
Least risk: Virtual gatherings
More risk: Small in-person and outdoor gatherings
High risk: Large gatherings with social distancing protocols
Highest risk: Large gatherings without social distancing protocols
Remember, COVID-19 can pose all kinds of risk for your event beyond just health and safety issues. Some of the other risks you might have to address include:
Financial risk: Will the risks involved lead to financial implications? Will it affect your ROI? Will you have to compensate people?
Technological risk: Will telecommunication and remote work increase cyber risk? Will your event technology and servers handle the extra load of virtual attendees if you’re going hybrid?
Legal risk: Have you considered liabilities, duty of care, and other legal issues? What are your contractual clauses with employees and vendors? Will there be any risk associated with payment?
Regulatory risk: Are you compliant with all the local regulations? How will the regulations impact supply and demand for your event?
Inherent risk versus residual risk
Inherent risk is risk that’s associated with your event before mitigation protocols are in place. Residual risk is risk that exists even after you’ve incorporated prevention and control measures. Ideally, you’ve got to measure both risks, and if the residual risk is high, you have to either work on better control measures or make your event virtual.
Once you’ve evaluated all the risks, the next step is figuring out prevention and control measures. Here’s where you’ll modify your venue layouts, budget, and clauses to address these risks. You also need to plan for emergency evacuation and prepare for when someone gets sick at the event.
Another important thing to do is contact-tracing after the event. Follow up with attendees a few days after the event to find out how they are feeling. If someone shows symptoms, inform all other event participants so they can self-isolate and get the necessary tests done.
Tip #2: Pick the right venue
Your event is only as good as your venue. If your venue is not strict about safety and hygiene, however vigilant you may be or precautions you might take, your event will be unsafe for everyone. So choose a venue that has high health and hygiene standards. Other than this, you might also need to see if your venue has adapted structurally to suit the current safety and physical distancing standards. A venue that previously hosted around 1000 attendees can only host around 300 to 400 attendees today.
7 SIGNS YOUR EVENT VENUE IS COVID-19 READY
1. There are one-way entrance and exit systems for all halls
2. All doors are automated
3. It has open spaces with natural ventilation
4. The restrooms are contact-free
5. It has been adapted to suit hybrid event models
6. They've incorporated social distancing measures in their layouts
7. They've embraced virtual technology
Now that we've qualified what makes an event venue perfect, let's talk about how you can do site visits. While previously it was okay to visit each site in person, today it's not advisable. Here’s where virtual site tours come in. There are a lot of venue-sourcing platforms that allow you to visit venues virtually and collaborate with owners in real-time. Not only is this safer but you also get to save a lot of time.
Apart from a virtual site tour, you can also ask venues to provide you with a diagram of their facility. Here are some additional benefits of getting a venue diagram. You can:
- Get an idea of the venue's structure
- Understand venue capacity and plan for spacing
- View floor plans and area charts
- Create a safety-minded venue layout
- Visualize the venue in 3D and confirm safety measures
Once you've narrowed down your choices, you can either schedule personal visits or send an electronic Request for Proposal (eRFP) to selected venues to further the discussion before selecting a particular venue for your event.
Tip: Think unconventional, outdoor venues. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises organizers to host gatherings in open spaces as they're safer. Not only can they host a higher number of attendees, but they are also highly customizable. Some outdoor sites that may be suitable for large gatherings include natural parks, outdoor amphitheaters, golf courses, and even beaches.
Tip #3: Execute a safe onsite experience
Health and safety is your main concern at live events, and you've got to tick all the boxes and comply with all the norms if you want your event to be considered safe. Every aspect of health and hygiene has to be addressed. It's the one thing you cannot compromise on if you want to host an on-site event experience in the current situation. It doesn't matter that your event budget is low or your staff has other work—you've got to find a way to maintain strict protocols and follow all mandated standards for cleanliness and hygiene. Otherwise, your event might not get off the ground. And even if it does, you'll probably have a bunch of very angry attendees to placate.
People are willing (even eager) to get back to live events, but they'll do it only if you guarantee that you've taken every measure conceivable to make the experience safe. Also, the cleaner and safer your event, the smaller your overall event risk score. So how do you host a safe onsite experience?
Do a quick temperature check at all entry points on all days of the event. Deny entry to anyone with a temperature above 38.0C or 100.4F. There are a lot of non-contact options available in the market today—from thermal imaging cameras to digital forehead thermometers—that you can safely use to monitor people's body temperature.
Have handwash stations throughout the event venue, especially in high-traffic areas. It's also recommended that your hand wash itself has at least 60% ethanol or 70% isopropanol. Advise everyone to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds every hour or so or if they come in contact with high-touch areas like doorknobs or handrails.
You can also ask attendees to wear gloves if there are a lot of high-contact areas in your event. All your workers and staff should be mandated to wear gloves, especially when handling food or event merchandise.
Another important safety precaution is face coverings. Make it non-negotiable that no one is allowed at your event if they aren’t willing to wear masks. Remember to budget for a stock of disposable masks that you can hand out to any attendees who may have forgotten theirs. You might also have to give your staff (especially the ones in client-facing roles) an N95 mask or protective face screen as an extra safety measure.
Sanitation and disinfection
The final step in making your event COVID-19-safe is deep and frequent cleaning. Ensure that you and the venue manager follow strict sanitation procedures. Have the entire venue deep-cleaned before the event. On the event day, periodically disinfect and sanitize high-touch areas, flat surfaces, and restrooms. Sanitize communal areas every few hours with a fogging machine. Finally, use only cleaning supplies that are recommended by the government and health agencies.
5 WAYS TO MINIMIZE CONTACT ONSITE
1. Contact-free check-in: Use ticket scanning to scan digital tickets and check in attendees. Use facial recognition or get attendees to wear finger gloves when using the self-check-in kiosks.
2. Contact-free bag checking: Provide attendees with clear bags to carry their personal items. You can also make the bag part of the event swag and throw in a travel-size hand sanitizer and some disinfectant wipes.
3. Contact-free handwash dispensers: You can either buy automatic soap dispensers or use one where people have to press the handle with their feet to dispense the liquid.
4. Contact-free payment options: Make no-contact payment methods the norm. Get attendees to pay either digitally using their smartphones and digital wallets ( like Apple Pay) or with contactless credit cards.
5. Contact-free pat-downs: Use magnetometers or hand wands to do your security checks at event entry points.
Making your event safe and secure is not a difficult task, per se. All it takes meticulous planning and strict adherence to hygiene protocols.
Tip #4: Manage attendee circulation at the venue
If there’s one thing everyone in the medical community would unanimously agree upon, it’s the importance of physical distancing in the wake of COVID-19. Most doctors and health professionals advise a gap of at least six feet (or two meters) between any two individuals. This is, of course, on top of all the other safety measures mentioned in the previous sections.
When talking about physical distancing at events, one point to consider is how attendees and other event participants move around the venue. Some instances where there is a high possibility of crowding are:
- Waiting in line at the registration and check-in desk
- Entering and exiting a session
- Getting food from food stations
- Attending networking sessions
- When session halls reach maximum capacity
- Where there is high foot traffic, like in corridors and restrooms
Your goal as an event organizer should be to minimize crowding in these places by creating a strategy for even and uniform movement of event members throughout the venue. Previously, we spoke about how you can use venue diagramming software to virtually mark social distancing points. Now it’s time to replicate them in a real-world scenario. Listed below are some common guidelines you can use when planning your crowd control and circulation strategy.
- Plan staggered arrival times for attendees to prevent crowding
- Have distance markers for queues in the check-in line and restrooms
- Place all podiums and tables six feet apart
- Set a maximum capacity for all sessions and get attendees to check in to sessions to monitor if the session has reached capacity
- Ask attendees to exit a hall back-to-front after a session is over
- Block seats in the session halls to ensure attendees practice social distancing
- Use plexiglass to separate bathroom sinks, food stations, and stalls to avoid contact
- Use inflatable walls to create divisions in large halls and corridors
- Use safety pois (night-glow stickers with instructions like at stoplights) to manage attendee movement and give them directions
- Use floor markings to ensure attendees keep six feet of distance when getting food at food stations
Tip: Ask attendees to wear color-coded wristbands as a way to signal how comfortable they are with person-to-person contact. For example:
Red: No contact at all
Yellow: Minimal contact (maybe an elbow bump or sharing business cards)
Green: Comfortable with handshakes, high-fives, and even hugs
This way, when networking at the event, attendees know if they’re invading someone’s personal space.
Tip #5: Develop a solid communication strategy
Communication is the key to avoiding problems. When you're clear about what you have to offer and what people can expect from you—not to mention what you expect from them—you can prevent a lot of misunderstandings. Effective communication is extremely important for event organizers as attendees already have an idea of what they need from your event. By being upfront about what you can give them, they get a better picture of whether the event is right for them, and you get to avoid disappointed attendees (and negative reviews) later on.
Proper communication is more important than usual in the COVID-19 era. And it’s not just with attendees either. Your communication strategy should address three goals:
- Explain the safety policies and procedures you incorporated in your event so everyone who attends feels safe.
- Educate attendees about what they have to do to ensure that the event remains a safe place for everyone.
- Inform your staff and other internal stakeholders about their responsibilities so they know how to contribute towards making the event a safe experience for everyone.
You also need a method or channel to keep attendees informed about updates and provide them with options to communicate and network safely at the event. To get the message out loud and clear, you’ve got to spread it far and wide. Here are some typical places to both market your event and mention the safety procedures you’ve implemented at it:
- Event website
- Social platforms
- Email campaigns
- Event app
You can also include a Code of Conduct page on your event’s website to inform attendees about the rules they have to follow when attending your event. This includes all sanitation practices and social distancing measures. At the same time, keep all messaging positive and supportive so people are encouraged to follow them.
WHEN SHOULD YOU COMMUNICATE WITH ATTENDEES
• Promotional activities: Talk about your safety procedures in all your event promotion campaigns. This will show any prospective attendee that your event is safe and they need not hesitate to attend.
• Registration: Send attendees an email detailing your policies and procedures along with their ticket when they register for your event. You can also ask them to give their input on what else you should do to improve the safety measures at the event.
• Pre-event reminder: A few days before the event, send them another email or a message through the event app to remind them about the safety etiquette they have to follow at the event.
• At the event: Use signage and periodic announcements to remind attendees about safety procedures once your event begins. You can also include a COVID-19 awareness booklet or card in their registration kit.
• Post-event follow-up: Send attendees a follow-up email to find out how they felt about the experience, what could have been better, and, most importantly, to see if they are healthy. The last point is especially important as it’ll help with contact-tracing.
You should also keep your vendors, staff, volunteers, sponsors, and speakers in the loop. Send a personalized email to members of each category describing their roles and responsibilities along with your health and safety protocols when onboarding them. If you’re catering to a global audience, make sure you have your policies—at least the most important ones—in multiple languages.
Tip: Create a separate email address—for example, firstname.lastname@example.org—for COVID-19 related queries and assign one member of your team as the designated person to deal with all emails sent to the address. Not only will this streamline all communication (no email will go unanswered), it will also show people that you’re concerned about their worries.
Tip #6: Stay aware of local restrictions
The COVID-19 pandemic has not had an even impact on the world. Countries and regions have felt its effect in varying ways. Local and territorial bodies have devised extra protective measures apart from the country-wide regulations to reduce the spread of the virus. So almost all rules related to social interactions, gatherings, and facilities will vary. These regulations will also disrupt global travel and impact supply and demand. For example, your regular merchants might not be able to provide your goods. You might have to source them locally or go with a vendor from a different city.
A lot of people believe regionalization to be the future, as opposed to the globalized outlook of the past years. These rules are constantly changing, so stay in regular contact with all your contractors. Remain aware of their circumstances and the problems they are facing. At the same time, figure out alternatives and set aside a certain amount of your budget to cope with emergencies where either the cost increases or a vendor is unable to fulfill their contract. You should also be aware of the destination’s protocols and procedures for visitors if you plan to host a global or national event.
Questions to ask regarding travel and transit
- Is the destination accepting international and interstate visitors?
- Does the state and local community have specific travel restrictions?
- What travel options—air, public, or private—are open in the destination?
- How high is the rate of community transmission in the locale?
- What criteria should your out-of-town attendees satisfy to be allowed entry to the locale?
- Should attendees submit to mandatory testing?
- Does the locale conduct exit screening for visitors leaving the destination?
You should stay in touch with local authorities and the local health department to get up-to-date information about the regulations. If you’re hosting a multi-day event or the event starts early in the morning, it might be a good idea to also get in touch with hotels in the area and vet them based on their safety protocols. You can then choose the ones you prefer and recommend them to attendees staying overnight.
Tip: Work with the local Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) where your event is hosted. Not only do these bureaus know the locale inside out and are updated with the latest happenings, but they also have access to the city’s resources so you can contact the right people to get the job done in a new city. This is very important because you’ll have to depend on local resources and contacts to plan and organize your event.
Tip #7: Consider legal issues
While all risks have the potential to lead to messy consequences, the toughest to manage and overcome are the ones related to law and order. That’s why it is important to have all your legal shields—terms and conditions, policies, and waivers—in place when hosting your event. COVID-19 transmission risk requires a new contract between you, your staff, and everyone who attends the event. You can also get your employees to sign a contract stating they’ll show responsible behavior and stay compliant with all safety measures.
Tip: Consider getting all event participants to sign a Liability Waiver. This is a legal document that states a participant understands the risks involved with the event and will not hold the event organizer responsible.
Bad and incomplete sanitary protocols can get you sued for negligence, as will claims that someone caught the virus at your event. So have strict and robust hygiene practices in place at the event venue.
Other things you should do include setting flexible refund options so people can opt-out of the event if they are at risk. Draft a terms and conditions agreement that safeguards both you and your attendees from legal hassles and invest in event insurance. This insurance should cover all major contingencies like Force Majeure, cancellation, and business interruption, to name a few.
Determining the tax rate of a live event used to be a straightforward process. You charged sales tax based on the local state regulations of the destination where your event was held. However, the current scenario is anything but simple. Most events today are hybrid in nature—they have a virtual component—and this has to be taken into consideration when determining an event’s taxability.
Some states have begun taxing virtual events as a service while others tax them as digital goods. Now that online sales have been added to the equation, you might have to pay sales tax if your transactions pass the economic threshold of a state. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have a physical presence there. If you pass the economic threshold of multiple states, you’ve got to pay tax in all those states. You also have to see if the merchandise you sell at the event is taxable. Some states have regulations that make the entire invoice taxable if the goods are taxable.
You can use a sales tax automation program to understand the tax requirements of each state. An event registration system updated with the latest tax enforcements will also be of help here. However, it is recommended that you do your own research and, if required, rope in a tax adviser to ensure that your event is compliant with all tax requirements.
Note: Any information provided here is not intended as a substitute for legal advice—we suggest that you not take any action before consulting with a legal professional.
Tip #8: Leverage technology
Technology has always been the event organizer’s best friend, whether it’s cutting down on manual work, gathering crucial event data, or hosting cool event activities. Now technology can help event organizers in one other aspect—safety at live events. Of the tons of event technology available in the market today, here are three that’ll help you balance attendee needs with the safety protocols you’ve set for the event. These are proximity-based technologies that can help reduce direct contact at events without taking away from the overall experience.
Near Field Communication (NFC)
Usually, a microchip called the NFC tag—programmed to perform certain actions—is embedded into the event badge, wristband, or enabled in a smartphone. For example, your staff can keep control of inventory by asking attendees to tap their phone on the NFC reader when collecting their event swag.
These are small wireless transmitters that send signals to devices via Bluetooth technology. For example, you can use beacons to prompt attendees to visit sponsor booths or take part in event activities like scavenger hunts.
With geofencing, you essentially create a virtual boundary around an area. Actions are triggered when people enter or leave the area. For example, attendees can be automatically checked in and checked out of event sessions when they enter or leave a session hall.
One option for remote attendees who don’t prefer attending an event virtually is being a telepresence attendee. This means they experience the live event via a robot they can maneuver around the venue. Based on the capabilities of the robot, attendees can participate in sessions, network, and even take part in event activities like scavenger hunts. All you need are a few telepresence robots (that you can rent) and high-speed internet.
As this technology is not yet widespread, you can start small by offering it to a small number of virtual attendees. You can also mandate that they take part in user studies. This way you can get a better understanding of how it works for your event’s needs and what changes you should make.
It’s not just proximity-based technology that can help make this period safer (and easier) for event professionals. A lot of other event technology that has been around for the last few years can also be a huge help. These include:
This can be used to make check-in completely digital, especially when used in self-check-in kiosks. If you’re worried about security, ask attendees to send a picture of their ID when registering online and use computer algorithms during check-in to find out if the faces match.
Even before COVID-19, physical business cards were not encouraged. They were inconvenient, easily misplaced, and bad for the environment. Now, they’re the only safe option to share contacts. Use event apps, digital business cards, or beacon badges to allow attendees to share contacts and keep track of all the contacts they made.
Virtual venue tours
Most venues are not just providing virtual tours of their sites—they're also accepting virtual RFPs. Add event diagramming tools to the equation and you can avoid a lot of unnecessary (and unsafe) travel to the event destination.
From personalizing the agenda and participating in sessions to networking, gamification, and booking appointments, an event app can help you help your attendees in at least a few hundred ways.
You can also encourage your attendees to use touchless payment options like digital wallets and QR codes when ordering food, paying for merchandise, or giving donations. Finally, don’t forget to periodically sanitize all your technical tools (laptops, cameras, mics, and slide advancers).
Tip: Use smart badges to caution attendees when they cross the physical distancing limit of 1.5 meters (6 feet). You can also use it to give them periodic notifications to wash their hands, inform them that they’re in a high-contact area, or alert them when they are near a hand sanitizer station.
Tip #9: Address accessibility concerns
Whatever the circumstances, there are some things that we just cannot compromise on. One of them is accessibility at events. It doesn't matter that we’re working under strict restrictions—the event has to be accessible for all people, irrespective of their abilities. An event in the past—before COVID-19 and its many complications—accommodated (and welcomed) people with all disabilities, be they physical or invisible. The events you host now should do the same.
Some things you have to consider include accessible seating, companion seating, and facilities for service animals. People with disabilities might not be able to wait for long at the check-in queue, so you have to have an alternate route for them. Your venue (with all its screens, barricades, and distance markers) should still be accessible for people with wheelchairs.
Here are some tips to accommodate people with disabilities at your event venue:
- Get speakers and selected staff members to wear transparent face coverings (see-through masks) to help hearing-impaired people with lip-reading
- Have clear, easily readable signage at the event venue
- Incorporate facilities like event scholarships to make the event financially accessible
- Have, at the very least, two companion seats next to an accessible seat
- Ensure that you’ve planned for accessibility in all contingency plans like emergency evacuation
- Ask people to submit an accommodation request when registering for the event so you know their needs
- Diagram an accessible floor plan when vetting event venues to find out if they are architecturally suitable to host disabled attendees
- Have a few hand washing stations that are low so they are accessible for people in wheelchairs
Also, a lot of outdoor venues might be difficult for people who have motor disabilities to navigate. Here are some ways to make your outdoor venue more accessible:
- Create level, clear, and accessible pathways to make movement easy
- Provide drinking bowls throughout the venue for service animals
- Make benches wheelchair-friendly
- Provide disabled people a map that marks all the accessible routes around the venue
- Consider installing a few portable, accessible washrooms at key points in the venue
The future is hybrid, which means your event is going to have a virtual component. Even if that weren't the case, you’d still have other technology like kiosks and event apps at the event venue. All of this has to be accessible. Here are some tips for hosting technologically accessible events.
• Choose virtual technology platforms that conform with IT accessibility norms
• Provide captioning and transcripts for all live-streamed and video content
• Test your event app for accessibility
• Check if the captioning provided by AI is correct
• Train speakers and presenters to create content that is accessible
• Include alt text for all images
• Have text-equivalents for all non-text elements
• Ensure that the technology is compatible with assistive technology like screen readers
While these tips will help, we also suggest you get advice from a local organization or community that has experience is addressing accessibility issues so you cover all your bases (and satisfy the law).
Tip #10: Implement safety protocols for staff
Making your event a safe experience for attendees is important. Equally important is making it a safe work environment for your team. You have to assure your staff you’ve got their backs. You should also make it clear that you expect them to behave in a responsible manner and that anyone who threatens the safety of other employees and the event by behaving carelessly will face severe consequences.
Some ways to make your event safer for your team are:
- Provide personal protective equipment like gloves, face-shields, and masks
- Give high-risk employees the option to work from home
- Implement flexible leave policies so people are not afraid to take time off
- Include multiple shifts and flexible work hours to avoid crowding and ensure social distancing
- Set aside a separate parking space for employees and reconfigure it so all vehicles are properly separated
- Train staff on all communication and safety protocols so they know how to handle emergencies
- Conduct daily temperature checks of all staff members
- Have trained back-up staff to take over during emergencies, like if someone tests positive for COVID-19
- Support employees by giving them paid leave, medical insurance, and a healthy work environment so they can cope both mentally and physically
There will be times when you’ll have to share a vehicle, whether to visit a site, meet a vendor, or give a colleague a lift home. Here are some safety rules to follow when sharing a ride.
• Wear a mask and gloves
• Leave the window open
• Try limiting the people in the car to two (one in the front and one behind)
• Wash your hands once you exit the vehicle
• If using the AC or heat, set it to the non-recirculation mode
• Disinfect the vehicle often
One other thing you can do is write down everything—all your policies, procedures, rules, and regulations. This way, your employees will have one trusted source to refer to when they’re in doubt. These are some of the written documents you need:
Code of conduct: Draft an employee code of conduct that details how they should behave at the event, what safety measure they should follow, and how they should handle various situations
Employer-employee contract: While this is something you probably already have, some new points to include are your current leave policy, employee benefits and compensation, the consequences if they break any safety protocols, and other legal matters like duty of care and liability waivers.
Return-to-work policy: This will be a manual for reboarding employees. It will include health protocols, employee recall procedures, health screening, rules on essential travel, telecommunication, and more.
Communication plan: You should also give all employees a copy of your communication plan so they know how they’ll be kept in the loop and how to keep others in the loop, along with contacts of all important people like onsite medical personnel, the COVID-19 point of contact, security personnel, and local health organizations.
COVID-19 information booklet: Though by now almost everyone knows quite a bit about COVID-19, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Provide employees with an informational booklet on COVID-19 and the local and national regulations related to it so they can brush up on everything and stay aware.
Tip: Update your plans regularly, and, once the event is over, meet with key people in your planning team to determine the holes in your safety checklist and refine them. This way, you’ll be better prepared for the next event.
Tip #11: Adhere to strict food safety measures
Mealtimes at events have always been set aside for networking, with the majority of attendees using that time to schedule their 1:1 meetings and further connections. On the other end—the organizer’s side—are catering staff who come in close contact with both the attendees and the food served. While the food by itself doesn’t spread the virus, the fact that people usually gather around it makes food service at events quite risky.
Ideally, the safety measures for your mealtimes should focus on two things:
- Safe handling of all the food and beverages at the venue
- Minimizing contact between all parties—attendees, staff, volunteers, sponsors, and other event members—involved
Your safety protocols will largely depend on the type of food and beverage service you’ve opted for at your event. Is it a buffet-style, cafeteria-style, or a mixture of both? Will there be a bar? Will people be standing or sitting down when having their meal? Are you planning to have mealtime activities like networking sessions? Some high-contact food service options that are a complete no-go are:
- Self-service buffets
- Self-service on-tap drinks
- Pre-set (or table) service
- All formal and banquet-style food services (hand service, reception service, butlered hors d’ oeuvres service)
Some ways to make foodservice safer and more hygienic are:
- Making all drinks (including water) bottled
- Providing single-serve condiments (salt, pepper, dips, and sauces)
- Following social distancing protocols when arranging the seating areas
- Allowing attendees to order food via the event app and pay for it through touchless payment options like QR codes or digital wallets
- Serving food in disposable plates and cups
- Installing partitions between food counters
- Making masks and gloves mandatory for all catering staff
- Having an outdoor dining area. If this is not possible, you can have staggered mealtimes to avoid crowding in the dining hall.
- Serving bread, appetizers, and fruits individually rather than placing them in baskets or communal plates
- Sanitizing food counters at periodic intervals and when your staff change shifts
- Cleaning and disinfecting all utensils—pots, pans, trays, tongs, spoons
Tip: If possible, go for pre-packaged meals. Not only are they safer than food that’s prepared onsite, they are easy to pass out to attendees, cutting down on the waiting time. Pre-packaged food results in more waste as the boxes are disposable, as are the bottles, cans, and cutlery, so have a waste disposal and recycle system in place.
While the plated-food service and counter service are safer options, you can have buffets at your event. However, it will come with a lot more restrictions and might make the lunch line longer. You’ll have to install plexiglass barriers between stations, make the line at the buffet socially distanced, and have more staff to monitor the queue. One option—if it is a seated meal—is having people come to the buffet station table by table. Also, as eating requires that people remove their face coverings, it’s better to increase physical distancing limits in the dining area to make it safer.
Finally, whatever your foodservice option, ensure that your merchants and catering people are aware of the health and hygiene protocols you’ve designed for your event and are willing to implement them.
Tip #12: Go hybrid
There is going to be a shortage of space at your venue, so you’ve got to get used to hosting fewer attendees there. By including a virtual component to your in-person event, you can very easily extend its reach by a few thousand people. Hybrid events will benefit you in five ways:
- Global attendees don’t have to travel to the event destination, reducing the risk of transmission
- You can hire a smaller venue and use the money you set aside for the venue to make it safer and more hygienic
- Attendees who were infected after booking their ticket can still take part virtually
- You have a ready-made backup plan. If things take a turn for the worse, you can pivot to virtual events easily
- A hybrid event for 500 attendees is way cheaper than a live event for the same number as you’ll need fewer resources to pull it off
All things considered, going hybrid is your best bet to pull off a successful event in the coming days. You can also go with a hub-and-spoke model and create “hybrid hubs” in a few strategic locations to break up the crowd without compromising on the live experience.
3 MUST-HAVES OF A HYBRID EVENT VENUE
1. Hybrid halls: All physical rooms should be retrofitted with appropriate lighting, cameras, and other audio-visual equipment to give virtual attendees an inclusive experience.
2. Virtual participation facilities: Hybridizing your event is so much more than live streaming sessions. Remote attendees should also be able to participate in the sessions. The venue should allow for flexible session presentation with video breakout rooms that facilitate “hybrid” networking between live and virtual attendees.
3. Robust internet: A hybrid event is not doable without the internet as almost every aspect is dependent on some form of technology. As more bandwidth is needed to pull off a hybrid event when compared to an in-person event, wireless will not work. You'll need a wired connection.
The only rule to keep in mind when hosting hybrid events is providing both sets of attendees an equally valuable experience even if you can’t give them a similar one. For this, you have to concentrate on three aspects of your event:
- Content: Your content format should work for both live and remote attendees. This means some of the typical session formats like poster sessions might not work.
- Networking: You should create opportunities that allow your virtual attendees to connect with in-person attendees and vice-versa.
- Activities: Event activities should be designed with both sets of attendees and their limitations in mind so neither feels left out. If that’s not possible, you can design exclusive activities for virtual and live attendees so both have a good time.
You can invest in a hybrid event management platform that comes with a built-in webcasting service and virtual engagement tools to help with these aspects. Another option is partnering with a company that specializes in hybrid events, especially if this is your first time and you’re unsure about how to take care of the production aspects of the event.
If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed between the “old” normal and the “new” normal, it’s people’s love and need for in-person events. Live events will be back. That’s a given. The real question is, “How soon will they be back?” It depends on how soon we can make them safe.
By reconfiguring your existing live event strategy to address concerns of COVID-19 transmission, you can pivot back to live events a lot sooner. These are a lot of changes, and they might seem overwhelming, but at the end of the day, this is the only way to save lives, protect the community, and create a future where the live events industry thrives.
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Marketing and content at Zoho Backstage. Cultural misfit. Armchair traveler. Productivity geek. Sometimes, I write poetry. Sometimes, it rhymes.
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