It has been over a year since we’ve had the opportunity to experience a live event. COVID-19 forced organizations to adopt virtual events such as live-streamed concerts, watch parties, virtually cooking classes/happy hours, etc…. A.K.A. zoom call, after zoom call, after zoom call… After a year of “virtual” reality, even as creative as event planners got with it, we can probably all agree that a zoom call doesn’t grant the same rush as an in-person experience. A year ago, we struggled to define the new-normal, innovate new ideas, and adapt/pivot to our new reality as quickly as possible, all the while knowing that nothing compares to in-person events. Finally, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. According to an April 2021 survey of event planners, 80% plan to hold an in-person event in Fall 2021… and we are itching to get out, socialize, and celebrate. But what will that look like?
Are Hybrid Events the New Normal?
2020 challenged organizations and event planners to be more technologically creative than ever before. The growth of virtual tools, platforms, and software soared. While the virtual space is missing the intimate connection of a live event, they do provide many benefits, including convenience — during a time when virtual was the only option, transcending location — guests can attend from near and far, and fundraising — utilizing live online tools that make it easy for you to raise money via sponsorship, peer-to-peer, and auctions, from guests and their friends all around the globe. With the return of in-person events, we should be looking to continue to utilize these technological advancements, as it is more than likely that virtual events will prevail beyond the COVID-19 stoppage, and continue to benefit us with their accessibility, reach, and longevity. A hybrid model, where we blend an in-person and virtual experience, maybe the best approach to addressing the needs of your entire audience. A hybrid event can boost the scope of attendees as we continue to handle supporters’ differing comfort levels and mandated capacity restrictions.
What Steps Should Organizations Take to Ensure Safety and Comfort for Their Attendees?
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
First and foremost, address the elephant in the room. Clearly communicate your safety procedures, the precautions you are taking, and what you are asking of attendees – to ease their comfort and ensure compliance. Define your guidelines regarding masks, social distancing, requirements regarding vaccination, capacity limitations, etc. Consider venues that allow for appropriate social distancing and, if possible, depending on your geographical location and time of year, plan an outdoor event. When ready to send invitations, consider implementing a phased approach to control attendance. If your organization has held 500+ person galas, you may need to scale that down, especially if you are staying in the same venue. Prioritize your outreach, first to long-time supporters and your big-money sponsors, and work your way down the line until you have reached capacity.
- During Event
COVID-19 has demanded that we rethink the way we do many things… During a cocktail hour, it may be necessary to nix the buffet and opt for single-serve passed hors d’oeuvres that are handed to guests to limit touch. Or do you eliminate the cocktail hour and have only assigned seating to limit interaction? To make guests feel comfortable, make sure there are plenty of sanitizing stations and enforce a level of social distancing consistent with current CDC recommendations. Plan a strategic method for entry/exit procedures. Consider a contactless check-in experience with scannable tickets (this could also make the entry line move faster). Offer color-coded wristbands that let other guests know your closeness comfort level; green says come hug me, yellow indicates that you want to have a conversation, but would like a little space, red makes it pretty clear that while you’re happy to be here, you’d like to maintain that 6’ distance. Avoid an exit stampede by dismissing people by group or table number. Give thought to what other experiences can be offered with the use of technology to minimize spreading germs. QR codes for ordering dinner, electronic journal, individual, mini bottles for wine, spirits, and other beverages. Be creative!
Follow-up with your supporters as you normally would after an event. When sharing memories of your event via email and/or social media, study optics and illustrate the precautions you took and your commitment to the safety of your attendees.
Should You Consider Requiring Guests to Have the COVID-19 Vaccination to Attend Your Event?
Vaccine requirements are a hot topic that is being discussed globally by governments, corporations, and local businesses. From an event planner’s perspective, what should or can be done? Ultimately, it is entirely legal for a private organization and/or private event to mandate the proof of vaccination if they desire. #Vaccinate2Celebrate is our mantra. While you don’t want to discriminate against those that may not yet be comfortable getting the Covid-19 vaccine or cannot because of an underlying condition, the requirement is to help boost attendee confidence, ensure public safety and limit your potential liability, if an outbreak were to occur and be traced to your gathering. Considering that vaccinations are debatable, an organization mandating vaccine proof to attend should prepare for a potentially awkward conversation with guests who are not vaccinated. Are there other options you could consider? Certain venues, such as MSG, have reserved a separate seating section for vaccinated attendees, and some organizations have just required pre-event covid testing. Ultimately, it’s a decision that your organization will need to make as a policy. It can be made easier by taking a poll amongst your biggest supporters, Board of Directors, and a selection of volunteers. In the end, it is important to remember this is a personal choice that carries emotion and anxiety for many, so when you communicate the subject of vaccination requirements, be as unbiased and honest as possible.
We’ve planned and attended unforgettable in-person events pre-COVID. At long last, it is time to dust off those cobwebs, roll up our sleeves and tweak our planning for the post-COVID-19 reality.
If you need help with your upcoming events, whether it be in-person, virtual, or hybrid, Empire Events Group is ready to dive in and get started. Contact us through any of the channels below.