A Guide to In-Person Events Post-COVID
The world of events is constantly changing, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters more complicated. With social distancing becoming a top priority in the past year and a half, businesses and nonprofits were forced to move their events to the virtual sphere.
Thankfully, membership management software can make member communication, online donations and event registration possible even at a time when meetings and events have to be done remotely.
But with infection rates remaining low in a number of countries where vaccine rates are higher, the return to a new normal might be right around the corner. So what does this mean for the future of events? Are in-person events coming back soon? Are virtual events here to stay? Or should we get used to Zoom conferences being the norm for the time being?
In this blog post, we answer all these questions and more. Below, you can also find tips on making sure you have a successful event, even in a fast-changing landscape.
Virtual Events – a Temporary Solution or a Permanent Fixture?
For many nonprofits, in-person events are an essential part of their strategy for engaging donors and supporters. But since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, organizations have had to put a pause on live events to prioritize the health and safety of their members.
Thankfully, we live in a time when video conferencing and live streaming platforms are readily available. And while the transition to virtual wasn’t always easy, most nonprofits have learned to embrace it. In fact, according to Forbes, virtual events were valued at nearly $78 billion last year, and they’re expected to continue growing annually at a rate of 23.2 percent until 2027.
But what happens when the pandemic is finally over? Are virtual events going to remain the norm?
Forbes interviewed several event industry professionals about the future of events post-COVID and found some pretty interesting results. According to speaker and entrepreneur Keneisha Williams, “Humans are social creatures” and thus need face-to-face experiences. “Given the option, attendees are going to choose in-person as long as it’s in reach,” she says.
However, on the flip side, pandemic re-entry anxiety is also very real. Not everyone is going to be comfortable being surrounded by hundreds of people – especially with variants popping up and after spending a year and a half of being told that being in a crowd is dangerous to your health.
What Events Will Look Like in a Post-COVID World
Thankfully, there is a compromise for those who want to avoid crowds and those who are ready for face-to-face interactions!
According to Event MB, 62% of event planners believe that the future of events is hybrid. Hybrid events integrate virtual and face-to-face interactions, giving guests and speakers the option to attend either physically or from their screens.
What Do Hybrid Events Look Like?
There is no one way to hold a hybrid event, which makes it such an attractive option. We’re living in a time when things are constantly changing, and we need to be flexible to survive. Just think about all the ways we’ve had to adjust our plans and think of alternative solutions amid COVID case spikes, lockdowns and new variants.
But if you need a guide, here are some hybrid events formats you can consider:
Host On-Site and Virtual Attendees at Once
Audience engagement is a significant factor in the success of an event. And by hosting both physical and virtual attendees, you double the opportunities for participation. You can even create “at home” experiences that mimic in-person activities, such as delivering event kits or meal boxes with the same materials and/or food that the live audience is getting.
However, this doesn’t mean that both audiences have to be engaged in the same activity throughout the event. For example, when the on-site event has an intermission or lunch break, your team can host a live auction or hold mini discussions with the virtual audience.
Make sure you have solid tech infrastructure and a team that’s 100 percent in sync. Otherwise, one-half of your audience could end up feeling ignored or short-changed. You’ll need more staff, vendors, contractors or volunteers to pull off a hybrid event as it will be almost double the work. For an example, you may want an event host that solely is focused on the needs and entertainment of online participants.
Let Virtual Audiences in as Passive Viewers
Similar to watching pay-per-view championships or attending a Zoom wedding at home, you’re able to accommodate a more extensive audience base without geographic restrictions. With this format, however, you don’t get audience participation from those attending virtually. It’s also not effective for all types of events. For this format, think guest speakers, panel discussions and online concerts.
But just because it isn’t interactive, it doesn’t mean it can’t work. One of the most significant advantages of this format is that it’s easier to mount than a hybrid event. It’s less complicated, requires a smaller team and calls for simpler tech. As such, it also tends to be cheaper.
Why the Future of Events is Hybrid – and Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid
For event planners, hybrid events may seem like a huge hassle. Planning either a live or virtual event is stressful enough – and in wholly different ways. Wouldn’t that mean that planning a hybrid event would be twice as tricky?
The answer is yes and no. Planning a hybrid event requires a bit more creativity than planning a strictly live or virtual event. Plus, your team needs to ensure that those attending virtually don’t feel left out from the physical activities. But hybrid events also come with some unique benefits, including:
Greater Reach and Higher Attendance
Hybrid events provide guests with more options. For example, a speaker who is currently in another city or country can still choose to attend via video call. Instead of spending on speaker travel and accommodations, event planners can allocate the funds elsewhere.
Meanwhile, those who are ready and available to attend physically can choose to do so too. Not everyone enjoys the virtual experience, after all. And precisely because there are more options for different types of people, event organizers can expect a higher turnout too.
Shareable, Re-Watchable Content
Most virtual platforms allow live sessions to be recorded. This means that once the live event is done, the entire program can be uploaded later on for others to watch on-demand. It’s instant post-event documentation. This is great not only for those who want to revisit the events they’ve attended, but also for guests who couldn’t make it to the event.
Better Access to Data
Even with event feedback surveys, it can be challenging to determine whether you’ve hit your targets and goals. However, with hybrid and virtual events, you can see exactly how many attendees you had, how long they stayed, which parts garnered the most attendees and which parts weren’t as well-attended. Not only does this help you make better, more engaging events in the future, but it also gives you concrete data to show to your sponsors.
5 Tips on Running Events Post-COVID
Ready to put together your first hybrid event? As you start planning, keep these five tips in mind:
Expect More Stringent Regulations
According to the WHO, any decision to hold an event during the pandemic should be based on a “risk-based approach.” Once we get to a point where it’s safe to have large gatherings again, you can expect the same approach to remain for some time.
Each city and state may have its own guidelines and regulations for live events – some stricter than others – so be sure to check with your local authorities before you even start planning. Remember that these guidelines can change, too, depending on whether there is potential for a new spike in cases in the area.
On that note, event organizers should also plan for larger venues and fewer physical attendees. Your city’s health and safety guidelines will likely emphasize the importance of maintaining physical distance among attendees even long after the pandemic is over.
Offer Full Transparency for Health and Safety Protocols
Many people aren’t just used to heightened cleaning habits and stringent safety protocols; they’ve come to expect it. So when planning an event with an in-person aspect, it’s best to be completely transparent about the health and safety measures taken. Knowing that your organization is still serious about these things will help put the wariest attendees at ease.
Here are some things you can do to communicate your health and safety protocols better:
- Have a FAQ section on your website and Facebook page.
- Include messaging about or a link to all the safety measures in your pre-event communications, including emails and text messages.
- Include a flexible refund policy for those who become ill or must care for ill relatives on the event date.
- Hire a health officer who can be present on-site to monitor the enforcement of protocols and answer any questions from attendees.
- Make sure the event layout allows for proper social distancing, particularly when it comes to dining.
- Remind guests at check-in what the expectations are; your event’s guidelines may be more stringent or lenient than the city that they have traveled from. For example, it can be unsettling for some guests to travel from a city where masks use is high to another city where masks are non-existent. The opposite is true as well.
- Have printouts and signage to remind guests of the protocols in place. These can be a part of the welcome packet or process.
Of course, make sure to enforce the following at your event as well:
- Hand sanitizer and disinfectant stations
- Contactless payments
- Self-service kiosks for high-touch items
- Thermal testing
Allocate a Bigger Budget to AV and Live Event Technology
A/V suppliers must now be ready to provide reliable and seamless live event technology. Whereas pre-pandemic, A/V event suppliers only had to worry about audio, lighting and staging, today’s teams have to master video and live-streaming as well. If your current supplier or event venue hasn’t caught up yet, it’s time to find a new team.
Skip the Buffet
If you’re concerned about running low on funds, don’t worry. While you might have to allocate a bigger budget for A/V production, current health and safety protocols call for a new (and cheaper) way to serve food.
Unfortunately, self-service buffets present an array of health and safety risks to attendees. According to the Canadian Institute of Food Safety, buffets pose a “biological contamination” risk, as guests can sneeze or cough onto food. Cross-contamination is also an issue at buffets when servers use one serving utensil to serve different types of food. Finally, buffets also have many high-touch surfaces and items that can be contaminated with viruses.
For now, it seems like individually packed meals in disposable containers are the way to go. Sure, it’s not the most elegant dining experience. But it’s the easiest way to ensure that fewer people touch your guests’ food.
Make the Most of Digital Tools
Beyond the kind of tech needed to film and stream events online, there are many apps, software and tools that can change the way people manage events and ultimately make them safer for everyone involved.
For example, indoor mapping and room diagramming solutions can be utilized to create an event space that accommodates social distancing. Membership and event plugins for your website can remove face-to-face interactions for things like ticketing, registration, donations and payments – reducing the number of people you have to be in close contact with.
And when it comes to marketing your event online, you can try to qualify for Google’s Ad Grants for Nonprofits. Eligible organizations can get up to $10,000 off of in-kind advertising on Google Search, which can help nonprofits connect with more donors and volunteers.
If you’re considering running an event in the post-COVID world, then it’s time to start thinking about what that could look like. As experts have said, the future of events is hybrid. And while we can’t predict how exactly this new type of event will evolve, there are plenty of ways to prepare for it now. It will be important to plan for flexibility wherever possible so that you can make changes as conditions evolve.
We hope this article has given you some ideas on how to plan for events post-COVID. And if you’re looking for more tips on event planning and member management, stay tuned to our blog for updates.