Event professionals are used to contingency and risk management plans. If X happens, we do Y. We are used to thinking through all of the possible emergency situations or general occurrences that have the potential to disrupt our event, and identify alternate plans. For those of us who believed we were excellent at contingency planning, COVID-19 is giving us a master class and showing that we now have a lot more to think about during our planning cycles. It will continue to disrupt live events for the foreseeable future. I believe it will also have a lasting impact on how we plan and deliver live events for a long time.
Here are the top 5 changes that we foresee for live events that we frequently talk about with our clients:
1. Food and Beverage. We delivered events through the Ebola and SARS outbreaks and we did make basic modifications like eliminating buffet lines, build-your-own breaks, and bulk snack options (like a bowl of mixed nuts). When live events resume, we should expect these types of basic modifications and a long list of others that we will need to consider when planning food and beverage functions.
2. Communication. One of the biggest questions people ask themselves now is “do I feel safe going to/doing/meeting _____.” We should not expect this question to disappear, and it is our responsibility as planners to build trust with our audience. We need to communicate safety plans and precautions to attendees as early as possible, and ideally, starting with the very first communication. Your attention to details and transparency in the communications will help create a level of trust and will have a direct impact on the overall success of the event.
3. Meeting Space. I am glad that I will be able to confidently and emphatically say “NO” to the popular “can we squeeze 3 people at that 6’ table for the general session?” question. There will be no squeezing in of people for a long time. We should expect to see not even 2 people at a 6’ table; realistically, it will be one person at a 6’ table and the tables will be separated and not pushed together. This will significantly change allowed attendance and registration limits for events.
4. Hybrid Meetings. You may not be able to physically accommodate everyone who wants to attend in-person and it is reasonable to assume that a portion of your audience will not be able to attend due to personal health and safety concerns. For both of these reasons, we believe that most live events will continue to feature a robust virtual event experience.
5. Budgets. You need more space to distance people in a registration line. You need more space for people in meeting rooms. You need more space for meal functions. You need more banquet staff to serve meals because there is no buffet line. There is a price tag associated with all of this. But, it may not have the same price tag as before. All meeting space must undergo a frequent, thorough cleaning process. The staff needs additional training. There may be daily staff screening processes. The housekeeping process for sleeping rooms may be completely different. The facility can accommodate less groups. All of these safety measures come at a cost, and what that cost will be to event budgets is a big unknown.
Your Turn – what questions do you have the changes we will need to make to the planning process? What other changes do you anticipate?