One fundamental truth that became apparent following the COVID-19 pandemic is that human beings are social creatures who crave interaction. Despite the quick pivot to successfully doing business virtually, people are anxious to get back in the saddle of in-person meetings and conferences. Virtual (and hybrid) events offer many advantages and are likely here to stay. But, for those in-person events that simply cannot be replaced, here are some factors you need to consider before you start planning.
Cover Your Bases
Be sure to work with your company’s HR and legal counsel to cover all your bases to approve in-person gatherings. Cross your Ts and dot your Is before doing any planning for your in-person event. Don’t forget to include all relevant internal stakeholders in the conversation as well so everyone on your team is on the same page and understands their part in hosting a successful in-person event.
Make sure to follow the CDC’s guidelines for in-person gatherings to make your event as safe as possible. Sit down with your team, map out scenarios and create a plan for how you will address each potential scenario. Leave no stone unturned.
The total number of attendees, for any in-person event, plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and success of the event. Given the uncertainty of in-person events, be sure to extend your promotional window. When you’re ready to send invitations, consider doing so in a phased approach and monitor registration along the way. For example, group your target audience into A, B and C groups and send invitations over the course of several weeks. This will provide you with the opportunity to monitor registration and control attendance. If you have the maximum number of registrants after hitting send with Group A – fantastic! You have all your top clients and prospects ready to attend.
If attendance is low, then extend your invitations to groups B or C. Low registration numbers could be a result of several factors, which you’ll want to dig into if you can:
- Folks are uncomfortable with attending an in-person event
- The day/time might be bad for the audience
- You did not communicate the safety precautions or benefits of your event clearly enough
Which brings us to… From invitations to onsite execution, clearly communicate the details of your in-person event to put concerns at bay.
- Pre-Event: With your extended promotional window, clearly communicate with your audience the key benefits and reasons to attend your in-person event. To ease concerns, address the elephant in the room by talking through safety procedures and precautions. Don’t forget to make your audience aware of any registration deadlines to keep your in-person event at a safe number of attendees.
- During Event: From sanitation stations to individually boxed lunches, think through your event flow from start to finish, and where you can add value with the small details in-between. Consider going old-school and put signage all around so your attendees know where everything is and where they should be.
- Post-Event: Follow-up with your attendees as you normally would after your successful in-person event. If you plan to share the details of your event more widely, such as via email or social media, study the optics and clearly communicate the steps you took to make attendees safe. Communicating your commitment to the health and safety of your audience will position your future in-person events for success.
Update the Event Format
Even as people crave the opportunity to interact with others in person, gone are the days of buffet lunches and tightly packed conference rooms. Try new formats that make for easier social-distancing and allow attendees to interact within their own comfort levels. Hybrid events, outdoor venues, boxed meals and small group formats might be better than a large group of people crowded into a room. Always be sure to keep your event goals top-of-mind and execute the event format in a way that aligns with those goals.
With the quick pivot to virtual work environments, we’ve had to become comfortable with technology, and even think outside the box on how we can leverage it. When it comes to in-person events, you may want to consider incorporating technology for a contactless event. Create an app where attendees can download the schedule and brochures. Scan or take pictures of business cards instead of handing them out. Take food and beverage orders upon registration. Create a virtual networking lounge to accommodate your hybrid event. The list goes on, but you get the point!
Getting back in the saddle
You’ve planned successful in-person events in the past and have brought people together in meaningful ways! It’s time to dust off that knowledge, roll up your sleeves and tailor it to our post-COVID-19 world. If you need a third-party to add a unique perspective to your event strategy, whether it be in-person, virtual, or a mix of both, The Agency at Sikich is here to help!