Returning to In-person Events: How to Transition Back Safely

Events have experienced some significant changes over the last few years. From the effects of the global health pandemic impacting businesses to the noticeable changes in societal attitudes regarding employment, various social issues significantly affect 2022 event trends.

With the 2020 pandemic, most in-person events moved online. Naturally, businesses started investing in digital tools such as web design and development to offer attendees a better experience on their virtual event platforms.

Luckily, the effects of the pandemic are easing up, and new trends are being developed. In-person events are highly anticipated to return in 2022 and even resume their pre-pandemic numbers in a few years, according to the 2022 Global Meetings and Events Forecast.

Smooth return to in-person events

As the world begins to open back up following the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the perfect time to re-imagine different components of your events and whether or not an in-person event is important. As unpredictable and stressful as the pandemic was, it also pushed businesses to look at things in a new way and provided the opportunity to reconsider how events are done.

Events aren’t the same as they used to be. Organizing, planning, promoting, and executing events have been disrupted by the lingering effects of the pandemic.

According to LinkedIn, 85% of organizations conducted a virtual event last year. While 75% of the surveyed event organizers anticipate holding virtual events, 78% stated they wish to return to having in-person events once it’s safe.

Similarly, research by Identity shows that 80% of people would like to attend in-person events within the coming months.

Many people are eager to return to their pre-pandemic lives. While hybrid events offer some in-person event elements, having a total in-person event is still crucial.

However, event organizers are wondering how to ensure in-person events are safely planned so they happen smoothly after the pandemic.

Here are some essential tips and practices to ensure a smooth transition back to in-person events.

Free Download: Printable Event Checklist: Returning to In-Person Events

1.   Choose the right venue

Finding a venue with a team that considers the health and safety of your group and who will support your efforts will make your event planning process much easier.

When choosing a venue, consider what on-site attendees will like and what will make them feel comfortable.

Consider venue options with indoor-outdoor spaces.

Explore venues offering indoor and outdoor spaces where attendees can spread out and have plenty of fresh air. This will create room for everyone looking to avoid areas with large clusters of people.

After that, explore the floorplan to identify features on the inside and ones on the outside. Take note of extra costs and logistics such as technical infrastructure, Wi-Fi setup, and inclement weather provisions. Create a list of requirements with your event attendees in mind to avoid missing crucial aspects during the venue search.

Museum of the Bible in Washington DC

Select a large and comfortable venue for social distancing

While the effects of the pandemic are waning, attendees might still have different comfort levels. Some people are understandably still uncomfortable being up close and personal. And the public health guidelines require a social distance of at least 6 feet. So ensure to include enough space in your in-person event playbook.

Choose a venue whose maximum capacity can accommodate personnel and event attendees with extra social distancing space, especially in break and eating areas. You can also reduce the uneasiness felt in crowds using visual cues. Make it easy for your attendees by eliminating the need for hard conversations about distancing and physical boundaries.

Pursue venues with flexible contract terms

The past two years have taught event professionals that circumstances can unexpectedly change. So look for a venue with contract flexibility for peace of mind.

Your contract should include postponement and cancellation terms allowing you to recoup some, if not all, of your money if the event is delayed or canceled.

You should have force majeure clauses in the contracts to help protect you from liability resulting from unexpected and unavoidable external events, as well as event insurance to cover you in the face of potential unfavorable circumstances.

Search for venues committed to cleanliness

Even before the pandemic, event planners valued attendees’ safety. Various venues are increasing their commitment to clean spaces and safety precautions. Look for venues that prioritize attendees’ health.

2.   Keep In-Person Events Safe

Over the past few years, event planners have become innovative and utilized virtual events. But in reality, it was never an attempt to replace live events. In-person events are irreplaceable, and attendees have shown that they value face-to-face interactions.

As in-person events return after the COVID-19 pandemic, safety must be the top priority to avoid postponements or cancellations. A successful return to live events depend greatly on creating trust with attendees. You need to reassure them that you value their safety. Here are some crucial safety measures to consider:

  • Covid-19 Restrictions: Ensure you heed the official government restrictions and follow their announcements closely. Look out for new changes since the government may relax or tighten rules. Prepare for COVID-19 regulations such as social distancing to avoid cancellation and ensure your attendees feel safe.
  • COVID-19 test certificates: Communicate to your attendees the official protocols regarding test certificates. If the protocols require them to issue COVID-19 certificates at events, you can only allow attendees who can provide them.‍
  • On-site testing: You can make it easier for your event attendees by providing on-site COVID-19 testing facilities.‍
  • Masks: If the official protocols require attendees to have masks, ensure you respect the mandate and communicate it to everyone. 
  • Proper ventilation:According to the CDC, adequate ventilation lowers the spread of disease and reduces the risk of COVID-19 exposure. “Ventilation system upgrades or improvements can increase the delivery of clean air and dilute potential contaminants.” Thus, rent a venue with a good building ventilation system to avoid the risk of contamination.
  • Cleaning: “The virus that causes COVID-19 can land on surfaces,”  states CDC. That means there is another avenue of the disease spreading. To prevent this, you must develop a cleaning plan of the venue with a cleaning service, including how often the event spaces are cleaned, determining the high-touch surfaces that need regular disinfection, etc.
  • Hand sanitizers: Set up hand sanitizers in strategic stations like entrances and entryways of every room and lounge. Touchless hand sanitizers are recommended.
  • Restrooms: Ensure you rent a venue with multiple toilets to prevent crowds from forming during bathroom breaks.
  • Pre-packaged meals: To lower the risk of exposure, avoid trays of food passed around the room. Instead, use pre-packaged lunch boxes for meals.
  • Floor markers: If attendees have to line up for anything, add floor markers to help them keep their distance.

Utilizing COVID-safe technology

In addition to new health and safety measures, there has been a development of new COVID-safe technology that helps organizers ensure safety is never compromised.

Event planners now use a technology-first mindset when organizing virtual and in-person events. Covid-safe technology has provided great safety benefits for attendees as well as new marketing opportunities for organizers that outdo competitors and attract sponsors and business exhibitors.

The Covid-safe technology provides various automation solutions making the event industry more efficient and safer. Some COVID-safe automation technology includes:

  • Touchless check-in kiosks
  • Automatic doors
  • Touchless hand sanitizer stations
  • Scannable mobile QR codes
  • Motion-sensor toilet facilities
Image source istockphoto.com

3.   Maintain Clear and Continuous Communication

Communication is always vital when organizing an event. Clear and consistent communication helps ease attendees’ concerns and ensure they know what to expect. Acknowledge that pandemic risks are still available, and everyone must do everything possible to protect those around them.

Communicate clearly and regularly with your community before your event to give them time to prepare, register, and understand what the event involves and what’s expected of them.

Additionally, all marketing materials should state the safety measures in place for the event and where attendees can express their concerns. Make your health and safety requirements public through your website and use social media and email proactively to keep everyone updated.

On the event day, use clear signages to provide directions and prevent confusion. If circumstances change, make adjustments to the signages as soon as possible.

When the event is over, use post-event communications to appreciate attendees’ participation and let them know how they can keep engaging with your event community. It’s important to encourage them to ask questions or even suggest ideas for future events.

Consider hosting Q&A sessions or using post-event surveys for followers to find more about your event and invite feedback to help you develop your post-event offerings and upcoming event strategy. You should also send on-demand session recordings and other event content to attendees to keep them engaged with your event.

4.   Remember to Staff and Budget Accordingly

In-person events tend to be more costly than virtual and with health and safety measures as well as current shortages in supplies, you must budget your event carefully.

In addition to venues and food being more expensive, you should also consider any extra equipment you may need to buy for your in-person event to run smoothly, including self-check-in systems, thermometers for checking temperature, waiver forms, and vaccination records collection tools, and even extra signs to help make regulations clear.

So before planning an event, consider the budget you’ll realistically need to smoothly support safety protocols, provide catering, assist attendees and bring back on-site experience to life. Use an event budget template to develop and track your budget. You can also factor in extra budgeting and resourcing considerations for hybrid events to support in-person events.

You must also consider the current staffing shortage. You may need to attract both the staff and attendees.  Offer staff incentives like sponsorships paid on-site or higher wages. You can choose specific team members responsible for certain tasks on the event day. Either way, you must consider your budgeting and staffing strategy.

Free Download: Printable Event Checklist: Returning to In-Person Events

5.       Add a Virtual Component by Hosting a Hybrid event

Hosting an event with both virtual and in-person components could help build a connection between the two. Besides,  63% of event organizers plan to hybridize their upcoming events.

After events migrated online during the pandemic, including an online touch for every on-site experience is now an expectation. For example, you can host an in-person event and then broadcast it live on platforms such as Facebook Live. This will allow an accepted number of attendees to gather in person while also reaching those who aren’t comfortable being in the crowds yet.

Hybrid events have benefits that are tough to beat, from less commitment time to increased inclusivity, no traveling needs, lower costs, and fewer COVID restrictions. Adding virtual experience to your in-person event allows your community to participate from anywhere.

According to Gartner, “Most event marketers have come to value the reach of virtual event delivery models but remain eager for the return of in-person events. They are also more consistently offering hybrid events — in-person delivery complemented with digital components. Gartner expects this transition to hybrid to dominate event strategy discussions in 2022.”

Generally, hybrid events make it easier to accommodate a large number of attendees. They provide an excellent alternative to those who can’t attend the in-person event for various reasons. With a hybrid event, those who missed the in-person session can still learn, participate and engage while keeping everyone safe.

Fortunately, several impressive event technology platforms offer different event formats making it easy to transform your in-person events into hybrid ones.

6.   Support Your In-Person Events With New Technology

Current event technology can help achieve a wider audience through virtual components and improve your in-person event experience. For instance, an event management platform can increase the value of your in-person event by:

  • Delivering event agendas and information and creating connection opportunities.
  • Streamlining event websites, registration, ticketing, and communications
  • Enhancing sustainability through mobile event apps to replace manual tickets and handouts
  • Offering straightforward contingency whenever circumstances require virtual shift.

Adopting event technology will help you smoothly and successfully return to in-person events one step at a time.

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