The demand for in-person events is on the rise. Whether it is as a stand-alone event or part of a hybrid model, the desire to meet in-person is very much there. Yet it is a very challenging time for planners as COVID is still very with us. It hasn’t gone away. And in some countries, the infection rates continue to increase despite the successful roll out of global vaccination programs.
So how can organizers make a safe return to in-person events? It’s a complex subject but we outline some of the most important considerations to help your planning today. Let’s have a look.
NEW eBOOK – 10 Critical Steps to Successful Hybrid Events
1) Provide Confidence
One of the key things event planners can do is to give their clients and stakeholders confidence. Every individual has their own built-in levels of risk tolerance. So it’s important that you put aside your own unconscious bias when considering risk levels that can impact attendees, speakers, sponsors, and other stakeholders.
For some planners there is a huge desire to get back as soon as possible to in-person events. But unless it’s done in the right way, the benefits will quickly be negated. And so, it’s a case of less haste, more speed.
In fact, your risk prevention measures will be under intense scrutiny. When it comes to the C Suite deciding whether they want their staff to come to your event, they will be checking your risk mitigation measures in detail. Do they trust you enough? Provide them with confidence and demonstrate that trust.
Related read: 9 essential tips to reduce hybrid event risk
2) Be Clear in Your Communications
One of the big issues is the issue of litigation. This is not to frighten any planner but just to highlight that unfortunately when people feel aggrieved or suffer injury, they tend to want to blame someone. This can easily escalate into the desire for a legal prosecution.
One of the best ways of minimising any potential litigation is by having crystal clear communications. And communicating in simple and easy to understand language is essential.
To find out whether your communications are clear, put them to the test. For example, you can ask someone that doesn’t know your event to go through your comms. You will soon uncover any issues. A fresh set of eyes is always useful.
3) Understand the Rules
It is critical that planners understand the Covid guidelines, restrictions, and rules for their event. And given that attendees can come from anywhere across the globe, this means understanding a LOT of different rules. No longer is it enough for any savvy event professional to rely on government guidelines.
In the early days when coronavirus first hit, the advice to follow government guidance was really the only thing that event professionals could do. Everyone was in the dark. There was little knowledge or experience of the virus. But, as time has gone on and medical advances have been made, some governments have decided to put the onus of responsibility for event safety firmly in the hands of the event professionals.
So it’s important to understand what the rules are. Every country is different in what they require. For example, what’s needed could be 1) proof of vaccine or a 2) 72-hour negative test or 3) Or test or vaccine proof + on-site rapid testing too. Different models are being trialled as countries open events, theatres, sporting events and so on. Keeping on top of the latest developments and requirements should be an on-going priority.
4) Understand Your Ecosystem
In addition to understanding the country Covid rules, you need to know what’s required in your event ecosystem that you, your attendees and other stakeholders are part of.
This event ecosystem is like an ecosystem in nature. The event venue is one part of this ecosystem. You also need to consider other locations (for dine arounds etc) and attractions that your people will visit, plus their accommodation and transportation. These are components of the event ecosystem.
All these service providers will have their own set of rules. For example, if you are encouraging your attendees to use a certain airline or train service, you will need to be clear on what the carrier requires before your attendees board.
But be careful. You don’t want to overstep inadvertently and become involved in an issue that strictly isn’t yours to deal with. It’s best to be clear on where your responsibility begins and ends, especially when it comes to travel and accommodation. You must walk a tightrope. You’ll need to understand your event ecosystem to give the C Suite comfort and confidence. But you also do not want to assume any additional liability of the other providers by making a statement that isn’t true.
5) Define Your ‘Safe’ Rules
The safe return to in-person events means that you must demonstrate that you have thought everything through and have a set of rules that people can follow and adhere to. It’s all about their safety but you also need a plan for anyone that decides that the rules don’t apply to them.
You may wish to make some rules non-negotiable. For example, people can only come to your event if they have been doubled jabbed and can show proof. That may be too much for some planners. Either way, the point is that the rule is clear. It’s not overly scary when you consider that people are adhering to rules all day long and probably not realising it. For example, if you want to board an aircraft, you know and accept that you have to go through an X-ray machine at security.
You could also have rules on issues such as moving around the event venue. This is especially important when considering choke points and busy areas. Therefore, a queueing or a one-way system might be useful. Think of what people are used to from the social distancing measures and decide what you might want to incorporate.
You decide. You make your rules. But be sure you communicate these rules in a clear and concise manner.
6) Deal with Fraud and Other Issues
Having established your rules and being aware of those of the other ecosystem providers, you are set for your in-person event. You clearly communicated your expectations to all attendees and stakeholders. All they need to do is to play their part and follow your requirements.
And this is where the challenges can come. What do you do when an individual contravenes the rules? If it’s an attendee, do you politely show them the door? Or do you operate a policy of an initial warning first? An attendee may be an easier problem to solve than say your keynote speaker who decides the rules don’t have anything to do with them. What will you do then? You need a protocol in place to deal with this and other scenarios.
Tricker still is the issue of fraud. Especially fraud when it comes to vaccine passports or cards. Even if you have no fraud, but you want evidence of people having been jabbed, how will you administer this? There is a world of difference between hiring bag checking security folks and a qualified person that knows what to look for on vaccination certificates (we do not yet have global standards that apply equally in each country). You need someone that recognises whether the jabs are acceptable and whether they are still in date. Then it is a simple case of making sure the certificate belongs to the person presenting it.
Lots to consider here, but all essential. Having a plan is one thing but knowing measures to take when dealing with issues is quite another.
7) Go Contactless
Going contactless before Covid was important to many planners. With the return to in-person events this drive for being contactless is stronger than ever. And it makes perfect sense. In fact, the more you can demonstrate just how contactless the event will be, the greater confidence will be provided to the C Suite decision makers.
Here are some things to consider. You can create a safe experience for your on-site attendees with contactless event check-in solutions like Eventsforce. People can check-in to events via mobile phones and a quick QR code scan. You can use the tech to manage crowds around registration desks and deal with walk-ins more effectively.
And tech enables you to stay in control. For example, you can get real-time insights on where people are at your event. You can track registrations vs attendance, session check-ins and room capacities. The question you need to ask is what tech can you use to drive going contactless and hasten people back to your events with confidence?
Conclusion – Ongoing Learning Is Critical
As we have shown above there is much for planners to think about and plan for. Running events safely as we emerge from a global pandemic is a big task.
There is a lot that we can learn from each other, especially as new issues will continue to evolve. Let’s take data security as an example. What impact does the pandemic have on how planners look after sensitive health data? What are best practices that can be shared for the benefit of everyone? You can find some interesting facts on this issue in this recent report on the changing role of event data.
There is much to consider as we get ready for the safe return of in-person events. Ongoing learning is crucial to your success. You can read the trade press, delve into blog posts, and listen to podcasts to increase your knowledge and experience, especially in risk management.
The good news is that event professionals have been successfully delivering events for years and many events run smoothly. However, for some planners there has been a gap, since producing their last in-person gig. That’s why it’s important to approach the event as being completely new. And it’s also super helpful to look at risk management with fresh eyes.
Planning a return to in-person events? Eventsforce offers a fully integrated technology platform that makes it easy for you to create engaging experiences for both on-site and virtual attendees – from registration and agenda management to audience engagement, live streaming, networking, contactless check-in and apps. Learn more.