While the world is waiting to see what a post-COVID-19 landscape looks like, event planners are preparing for its impact. We’re creating new budgets for equipment and technology to allow for contactless encounters, rethinking food and beverage, and considering moving conferences to warm climates to take advantage of outdoor space.
Will these become our new norms? Only time will tell, but we’ve spent the last few weeks sifting through the latest trends that we believe will be part of future planning. Here’s what we found:
Waivers: In order to mitigate the risk of legal exposure for the events industry, health waivers may be sent out to attendees in advance. We expect to see this become a routine part of the registration process.
Pre-conference Surveys: Consider sending pre-conference surveys to attendees regarding recent travel to help determine COVID-19 risk.
Exhibitor and Attendee Code of Conduct: Event producers are adding new language to the registration process that outlines policies such as not attending due to illness and adhering to safety guidelines of the event (i.e. the 6’ apart rule). These codes of conduct should be posted in the terms and conditions on the website, mobile app, and any other forms of registration. The policy for removing an attendee or exhibitor who does not comply with these guidelines needs to be included in this code and well communicated to onsite staff.
Temperature Checks: Temperature checks will likely become the norm before entering B2B events, at least for the next 12+ months. This process may vary by facility and will impact onsite registration processes and floor plan designs. Event organizers will need to create specific plans for scenarios like attendees with elevated temperatures, attendees who answer health questionnaires in a way that demonstrates risk, etc.
Masks: Masks will most likely be required for all attendees and conference staff. Conference organizers can offer these as part of the swag bag or offer them for sale at the conference. Communication regarding face covering policies will need to be marketed through a variety of channels prior to and during the event. If they are required, strict enforcement of the mask policy will be imperative to the event’s operating procedures as many venues may require this as part of the agreement to use the space.
Electronic Badge Pick Up and Registration: Luckily, many events utilize a pre-event online registration format but for those still using traditional onsite registration- that may have to be redesigned. Conference organizers should consider mailing swag bags and welcome kits that include badges -complete with photo IDs - directly to attendees prior to the event . This reduces time spent in registration areas and space needed for registration.
Conference organizers using a more traditional registration area may want to consider using a mobile app with location services detection so as attendees enter the registration area, it will send a push notification to check in and notify the attendee when his/her badge is available for pick up at the designated location.
Streaming of General Sessions: To avoid large gatherings for popular speakers’ general sessions, these can be live streamed so attendees can view from different on-site or remote locations. Speaker rehearsals will be important so the speaker can address the live and/or remote audiences. Your team will also need to account for the proper internet bandwidth to minimize any technology disruptions.
Technology: As events in the next year will most likely offer a streaming component, there are many considerations here to ensure that the right technology is used efficiently. From event platforms that include registration, to content delivery, there are a number of tools out there that can help add engagement points and flip the script on networking. Some companies give attendees the opportunity to be virtually matched with other attendees and one even offers a virtual photo booth through which attendees can take selfies and post to social media.
Personal Protection Equipment (PPE): We fully expect PPE to be needed – you should work closely with your venue and suppliers to determine who is responsible for each component – face shields, masks, portable hand washing stations, disposable gloves, touchless hand sanitizer dispensers, sanitizing wipes, etc. Develop a plan that includes who is responsible for providing these items as well as a visual guide so they are placed throughout the meeting space to ensure all attendees have access to them.
Cleaning: Event venues are taking on a much more aggressive approach to cleaning methods and frequency via disinfectant foggers and electrostatic sprayers used throughout the meeting space and common areas. The cleaning and disinfectant products used will also need to be EPA approved for use against COVID-19. Unfortunately, soft materials may have to be exchanged for materials and surfaces that can be effectively sanitized and cleansed at regular intervals throughout the day. For exhibitor booths, you should consider partnering with a certified provider that can provide comprehensive booth cleaning instead of the standard vacuuming and trash service. This will ensure that the cleaning meets the safety standards of the event. One booth not complying could compromise the rest of the event. Identify high touch areas (chairs, desks, door handles, elevators, railings, bathroom surfaces) and ensure they get more frequent disinfecting.
Outdoor Spaces: We anticipate utilization of outdoor space will be a popular trend with events moving forward, as this will allow for more people to gather at once. Many event organizers will most likely need to seek warmer climates for their events. It’s not too farfetched to think keynotes may be given in an outdoor environment over a larger footprint.
Tradeshow Floor Changes: One-way aisles will most likely appear on trade show floors to help attendees from crowding in certain areas. Larger aisles will also be utilized as well as floor markers to help enforce the six-foot rule.
Entrances and Exits: Another trend we are seeing is the consideration of using separate entrances and exits for all areas. This enforces one-way traffic in and out of event spaces and can help expedite regular cleaning of these areas as only one side of the doors will need to be cleaned at one time. It also reduces people passing each other face to face.
Food & Beverage: Food and beverage will be tricky, but we’ve seen a few creative ideas of having food delivered via pre-packaged meals in a grab-and-go style. Buffets and drink dispensers will need to be eliminated based on current health recommendations. Additional attendants will most likely be needed to monitor pick up stations and ensure attendees are adhering to the social distancing guidelines. Four people can dine at a 72” round table maintaining a six-foot space. Tables will need to be placed at least six feet apart and staggered to maximize the most seating in the space. Also, seating spaces will need to be cleaned thoroughly between diners. Consider staggering mealtimes and giving attendees an assigned time in order to help manage the number of attendees at meal functions.
Meeting Room Configuration: Getting creative with meeting room configurations will be essential in order to maintain social distancing. For example, for a room set up in a classroom style, you will be able to fit three attendees at two connected six-foot tables. Rows of tables will need to be spaced six feet apart. Additionally, meeting rooms will need to be disinfected after each use. The event agenda should build in time for this cleaning in between sessions.
Exposure Cohorts: This new term used to describe groups of two, three or four attendees could be seated together because they are coworkers or families who have been exposed to each other on an ongoing basis—and don’t require social distancing because they have regularly been sharing the same germs in the same living space for weeks or months. We can maximize seating plans by including groupings for exposure cohorts.
Information/Help Desks: Plexiglass partitions may need to be incorporated in the information and help desk design so that the staff working the space as a separation from attendees needing assistance.
Decentralized Transportation Options: Consider giving attendees rideshare credits to use in lieu of large conference buses and transports. Additionally, a number of different pick-up and drop-off points will need to be identified to avoid large gatherings at transport points.
Policies and Other Considerations
Cancellation Policies: Cancellation policies should be revised to include cancellations without penalty for illness, especially if you want to encourage attendees and exhibitors to stay home when sick.
Shutdown Protocol: Consider creating a shutdown protocol prior to the event so that the entire staff is aware of the plan should it need to be activated. A swift plan to shut down an event if an outbreak occurs should be clear and concise. Also include how to address the situation where an attendee is showing symptoms of illness.
Exhibitor Staffing: As you plan your agreements for exhibitors, you may want to create a new policy around booth staffing that limits the number of people per square foot in order to maintain proper social distancing with attendees. For example, for every 10’ x 10’ booth, only allow two staff members in the booth at any one time.
Housing and Venue Contract Negotiation: Event organizers should have the upper hand at the negotiating table as hotels and convention centers are anxious to drive business back in. Consider choosing partners who have flexibility with cancellations when negotiating contracts around cancellation clauses and date changes.
As you plan your event, keep in mind that a good number of attendees may not be ready to return to in person events for many reasons. Consider providing an alternative attendance solution to a face-to-face event. At its core, the virtual platform that is selected should mirror the same experience of the live event. Networking events, live sessions, and breakout rooms must be just as available to virtual attendees as live attendees. Also consider smaller, regional events where you can bring a bite-sized version of the conference to different parts of the country, making it easier for your attendees to attend in person.
Success will be less about how many attendees attended the event and more about creating a safe, effective in-person experience. Communication about what the event is doing in regard to safety is going to be one of the main factors in driving attendance.
The new procedures and the innovations that result may create event experiences that may have not been thought of otherwise—and may even establish new norms moving forward.