No one really knows what events will look like in a post COVID-19 world. With government guidelines changing all the time – and the looming risk of a second wave – it’s difficult to see how things will actually pan out over the coming year. Even when in-person events resume, the reality is likely to be that for a significant amount of time, attendees will be split between those willing and able to attend physically and those who will not.
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Recently, however, we have seen a number of interesting articles across industry sites and news outlets which give organisers a lot of good information on what live events may look like in the ‘new normal’ and some of the things they need to think about for their future planning.
With links to resources and articles that demonstrate approaches and advice you may want to use, have a look at some of the key things to consider when encouraging attendees to come to your in-person events:
1) Hygiene Standards That Are Second to None
Whilst venues are sure to be subject to massive scrutiny to demonstrate that they have top level hygiene standards in place, other event suppliers and planners also have a key part to play in encouraging confidence for delegates.
Planners will have to look out at how the activities they have planned can be performed in a safe and hygienic manner. For example, simple things such as passing a roving microphone between delegates to ask questions will need to be factored in and managed safely.
The venue chosen for the event must be one that takes the business of hygiene very seriously. Whilst all venues will claim that they do this, you should be able to tell how committed they are. You can find out by asking about their cleaning disciplines: ask about issues such as, how many staff they have assigned for cleaning, how often they clean and where they clean. Is the venue missing any obvious hot spots?
With the probability that a second wave of the coronavirus will impact countries across the world, most venues will be very concerned about their hygiene standards and are likely to be increasing their activities in this critical area.
2) Social Distancing that Works
Event delegates will want to be sure that the activities on offer have been fully considered to ensure that they are safe. Some delegates will care more about this than others.
In the design of your event you will need to go through everything with the venue to ensure that expectations can be met on all sides. But how does this work in reality? It’s easy to state that your programme is socially distant. For this to be the case you need to be thinking about people flow (not just delegates but other staff as well) and their behaviour.
Potential people traffic jams could be around the toilets so a definite system will be needed, maybe one person in, one person out etc. could be used. Remember also to factor in how people can move easily through any narrow corridors and walkways. Think about congestion points like registration desks and how they can be managed. Consider the use of self-service check-in kiosks that minimise queues and contact between people.
One-way systems are operating in shops. You could adopt some of their techniques for your events. Your social distancing measures should be tested (just like a sound check) before your delegates arrive. That way you can make any final improvements.
3) Intelligent Catering
How will food and drink be served? How will the venue work with you to keep social distancing and safety as priorities, whilst at the same time delivering delicious food?
What is apparent to many planners is that buffets are no longer on the menu. They are gone – at least for the foreseeable future – so too are any communal condiments.
Plus, there will be other touches such as venues not having people waiting in line to be served.
What should be on offer from venues is food that is ready to go. Hopefully it will be served on disposable plates etc., which hopefully will be environmentally friendly. Or at least, those are some of the things you can ask for.
There are probably going to be limits on the number of delegates in the catering area at any one time. And some planners may decide to give delegates fixed time slots to adhere to.
Venues should have hand sanitiser stations available at the entrance and exit to the area. As an additional safety measure it would be best if delegates left through a different exit to the one that entered through.
4) Acceleration of Contactless
For some planners the COVID-19 crisis has acted as a catalyst that’s accelerated some of their activities especially when it comes to going contactless.
Technology has enabled planners to provide delegates with touch screens, event apps, sensor beacons and facial recognition to name but a few. For those planners that embraced this technology at their events, the idea of accelerating contactless will not be a surprise. And the more contactless, the better.
Some delegates will be at your event doing their hardest to minimise what they have to touch. And that works the other way as well, for you as the planner. Delegates may not want to pick up lanyards that are hanging in a big bundle, They may not want to accept their printed badge from the receptionist. Instead, they may prefer using contactless self-service check-in kiosks. Equally, they may not want to pick up a printed programme or brochure – they’ll probably prefer using an app instead.
The following post on LinkedIn offers an idea for delegates to indicate how socially distant they want to be. It caught our attention as the key issue is that delegates have to use their hands to unravel the lanyard.
Whilst you may have contactless registration, you will need to think about security bag checks and how they could be handled. Maybe delegates need to accept that security are required to touch their bags and delve inside. Or possibly there is another way. At the very least security personnel should be encouraged to wear disposable plastic gloves when carrying out searches.
Paying by contactless for any purchases or catering will also be important. If the only way delegates can pay is by cash, make sure they know in advance and manage expectations.
5) Reduced Numbers of Delegates
Even if all lockdowns were lifted tomorrow and there was no threat to the safety of any delegate, it’s possible that attendance numbers would be reduced. Some people will not want to travel to events, especially if they have become fans of virtual ones.
At the moment, with governments across the globe issuing edicts and guidance it is an uncertain period and is not the time to expect the same delegate numbers as pre COVID-19. That said a reduction in numbers that physically attend can also be a positive change. We will look at this in more detail in the curated networking section below.
But, having reduced numbers physically doesn’t mean you need to lose numbers overall especially if you create a hybrid event that engages your virtual delegates. It’s worth bearing in mind that lots of people have joined virtual events and that should definitely continue when in-person events become common again. There is no point in excluding and potentially alienating a major audience that you have created in the lockdown period.
6) Content That Truly Stands Out
The content offered by planners has to be even more enticing and valuable than it was pre COVID-19 for all the reasons mentioned above. But basically because, people are likely to be making different choices than they were before. Being in lockdown will have enabled people to stop and think about what they are doing and what they want to do. And that includes looking at their travel habits. Also, if they have been experiencing good virtual events, they may want to continue that on from the comfort of their home, rather than come to your live event.
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If the content isn’t overly exciting, the networking and social aspects will have to be fabulous. Now is the opportunity for content levels to be raised. This will separate the planners that really understand content and what that means. They will be able to differentiate themselves from planners that don’t.
7) Curated Networking
Smaller events are perfect for curated networking. There are technology tools that can easily assist with matching people of similar roles or interests who can then be put together.
Some networking at pre COVID-19 events was nothing more than meeting people by chance. You either happened to be in the same line waiting for food or you might bump into someone whilst waiting to be checked in at registration.
Curated networking can be highly effective and you can use this as a benefit to encourage delegates to attend. Planners can create important, buyer supplier meetings and facilitate more meaningful conversations with a smaller number of people, even if they take place over socially distanced tables.
Networking has always been a key component of events and there is no reason for this not to remain the case. However, it will just look and feel different to what was accepted before the crisis.
Events Post COVID-19: Changing Delegate Behaviour Takes Time
Changing behaviour for anyone takes time. Time for the new behaviour to become a habit. Your delegates will need a lot of ‘hand holding’ and guiding to begin with. It will be up to you to encourage and help them or else all your hard work of putting on an event that is safe and provides a great experience will be of little value.
Some delegates dislike having to wait a moment longer than needed, even though they know they have to, because of the virus. Other delegates may ignore all your advice and some may have just not understood it.
Take a look at your local high street and you will find out how people are adapting. Look at their behaviour and from there you will gain an understanding of what could happen with delegates at your event.
Be clear on what you want delegates to do if you want their behaviour to change. Make sure you communicate effectively. Always work in conjunction with the venue and other event providers as they have wisdom and experience that can be invaluable.
Post COVID-19, events will be different. It’s time to let go of any old thinking and embrace the change. There are all sorts of opportunities for planners that want to evolve their offerings.
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