How to Safely Return to In-Person and Hybrid Events
After a year of virtual, the return of live events is just around the corner. Give your attendees and partners peace of mind with this event safety guide.
For event planners, marketers, and attendees alike, it’s been over a year since we’ve had the experience of a live event. We all miss the rush of the in-person experience - grabbing a fresh coffee in the morning, chatting with your peers and networking in the lounges, even the struggle of trying to find a quiet place to take a call.
In-person events are truly irreplaceable, and people are eager to get back to those face-to-face interactions. Over the past year, event planners have become incredibly innovative in their virtual event use cases. And while virtual events have many benefits in their own right, it was never a question of if live events would come back, but when.
For a deep dive into how event marketers are approaching virtual in 2021, check out these virtual event benchmarks.
Finally, we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The industry is beginning to plan for the safe return of in-person events, but there are many considerations as we navigate our way to a new normal.
For one, live events will never look the same. Hybrid events, which meaningfully blend in-person and virtual event experiences, will become the norm. Going hybrid will allow organizers to safely bring back in-person experiences while continuing to benefit from the accessibility, reach, and longevity of virtual events.
As we look to the future of events, event safety must be our top priority. The question on everyone’s mind is how we minimize the risk for our attendees, partners, and staff. It will be an adjustment, and this guide will help give you some direction so you can feel confident in planning a safe event.
Tips for Your Event Venue Search
Finding a Venue
The first step in adding an in-person element to your hybrid event idea is to find a venue. But this search will look different than it used to. Here are some tips of what to look for in a COVID-safe venue:
While you might be expecting a small number of on-site attendees, they’ll need more room to move around and social distance. Make sure to look for a space that has plenty of breathing room, not just in the meeting rooms, but the lounge areas and common spaces, too. Each venue might also have its own gathering restrictions so be sure to ask about their personnel limits.
You’ve probably used max caps to guide your venue search in the past, but now we can’t fit as many people in the same amount of space, so you’ll want to make sure you know how many people can realistically fit in a given room. It might help to draw up a socially distanced floor plan and use this as a reference to how many people can safely fit.
Many venues already have floor plans that show exactly how many people can comfortably fit in a given room, but with socially distanced seating, those numbers have surely changed. Pay close attention to the venue size and room measurements as well so you know that everyone will fit and still have plenty of distance to move around.
Venue contracts will also look much different than they did pre-COVID. Make sure to read your contract carefully and ask any questions of the on-site team so you know all of your options. This can include cancellation or postponement policies, and even COVID liabilities. You should feel comfortable in knowing what you or the venue will be held accountable for should anything happen or should your event plans change.
A clause we all know too well after this past year, the force majeure is a provision that relieves all parties of any responsibility in the event of uncontrollable circumstances. For example, a natural disaster or civil unrest might prevent people from actually attending or hosting the event. If your venue has a force majeure clause, be sure to ask what COVID-related incidents might be covered. If they don’t have this clause, check to see if they have something similar or another provision meant to serve a similar purpose.
It’s also a good idea to purchase event insurance, even if your venue has insurance because there are still many unknowns and you’ll want to be prepared for anything. This way, you know you are covered if you have to postpone or cancel your event.
9 Live Event Safety Measures
1. Pre-Event COVID Testing
The most important thing you can do to ensure the safety of your attendees is to ensure that no one actually has COVID-19. The best way to do that is by requiring proof of a negative COVID test or vaccination. You can request proof via email or in-person when they check-in. By requiring vaccination and negative test results, you can make sure everyone feels more comfortable at your event, from your attendees to your employees.
2. On-Site Health Checks
Another great option is to offer on-site screenings. This way, there’s no waiting period between their negative test and their arrival on-site. There are many companies that offer on-site testing nationally, such as TrueCare24, and some that service the greater NY and Tri State area, like MetroCovidTesting.
If you want to go a step further, companies like Healthe offer UVC222 devices that can be placed at entry points and outside meeting rooms. Guests walk through the device which sanitizes the person, their clothing, and belongings.
3. Masks are Mandatory
According to the CDC, masks are one of the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19. They are also an easy way to ensure everyone on-site feels more comfortable. You can offer on-site PPE such as masks and gloves as well to make sure that anyone who does not have a mask or loses their mask has access. Masks are also a great opportunity for branding. You can create custom-branded masks with your logo, or you can use this as an opportunity for your sponsors to get their brand in front of your audience.
Source: Crooked Monkey
4. Sanitization Stations
Luckily the days of sanitizer shortages are behind us. As you plan your on-site experience, you should have hand sanitizer readily available throughout the space. There are also many options out there, from individual sanitizers you can place at each seat to touchless stands you can place all around the venue.
Sanitizers are another cool way to promote your brand or your sponsor’s brand. You can create custom logos and designs for both sanitizers and stations which is another COVID-friendly and useful giveaway for your attendees.
Source: Atlas Print Solutions
5. 6 Feet Apart
Social distancing will be one of the long-lasting changes to our daily lives. For on-site events, one of the biggest changes will be floorplans. No matter which seating you choose - rounds, classroom, U shape, or theater - you will have to take into account the distance between attendees. Where 8 people used to be able to fit at one round, you might want to limit it to 3 or 4 people at each table.
Cort Events offers a great example of space planning by utilizing a 6’ to-scale grid to help you create a socially distanced floor plan. They even suggest a safe square footage per attendee to help you calculate how much space you will need to host a safe in-person event.
Source: Cort Events
In addition to your meeting format, you can plan strategic lounge and stage sets. By placing furniture intentionally, you make it easier for your guests to keep a safe distance apart without any guesswork.
Source: Cort Events
Common areas should also have enough space for attendees to keep 6 feet apart. For example, you can place stickers on the floor indicating where to stand at the registration area to help people stay a safe distance apart.
6. Designing Clean Spaces
Another way to ensure your guests have a safe on-site experience is to include increased cleaning measures and then communicate those measures to your attendees. Cort Events provides another great example of using green or red indicator cards to let guests know if a seat or area has been cleaned between uses. The more transparent you are with your cleaning and safety measures, the more comfortable your attendees will feel.
7. Contactless Experiences
Even those who are comfortable attending in-person probably want to avoid touching any unnecessary surfaces. Utilizing touchless technology will help you minimize the risk of spreading germs.
Consider offering touchless payment options on-site like Apple Pay to reduce physical contact with surfaces like screens that easily store germs. You can also create a contactless entry experience by using one of the many technologies that allow for digital scanning.
If you send out mobile or virtual tickets ahead of time, attendees can simply pull up the ticket on their phone and scan to enter. Another option is to use on-site badge printing which can be done in seconds and reduce the wait time in line.
8. Vendors, Sponsors, and Staff
Don’t forget to use your own resources to help create a safe and comfortable environment, your on-site team is there to help. Designate specific team members to handle certain responsibilities the day of your event. For example, one person should be in charge of emergency and important communications with your attendees and the rest of your team. Other team members can actively monitor the attendees to make sure everyone is following the event safety guidelines.
9. On-Site Culinary
If you have a longer event and want to offer breakfast or lunch on-site, there are a few precautions you can take to reduce risk. If you have a buffet or served lunch, make sure your venue has sneeze guards in place and that servers have masks, gloves so attendees aren’t sharing the same serving utensils.
Another great alternative is a grab-and-go option which the venue can prepare ahead of time and give to attendees pre-packaged. This way, there’s no need to set up a buffet and no risk of exposed food because each person has their own pre-assembled meal.
You can also program an hour for lunch for attendees to go grab food wherever they are comfortable. Some attendees might bring their own food and want to find a spot outside to eat, and others will want to find an outdoor dining option.
10. Exit Procedures
While the beginning of the day is usually a steady flow from your early risers to the latecomers, events usually end in a mad dash to the elevators. In order to avoid the crowded stampede at the end of the day, make sure you have clear exit procedures in place. This might mean dismissing people by groups or using the floor markers to keep people a safe distance while they wait for the elevator. Whatever you choose to do, make sure your attendees are made aware of the procedures and can plan accordingly.
How To Communicate Your Safety Measures
The best way to communicate with your attendees is through on-site signage. Ample signage is key to making sure your guests know what’s expected of them and what steps you’re taking to ensure their safety.
If you have standing hand sanitizer stations, consider placing signs next to them so attendees can easily find them. And for social distancing guidelines and reminders, you can create beautifully designed posters and decals to place on windows and walls. If you’ve created a safety guide, you can print that out as well and put it in high-traffic areas like the check-in or lounges.
The Empower Conference recently held a hybrid event and created branded signage placed throughout the space.
Source: Empower Conference
Signage is a dual opportunity to create a sense of comfort and transparency with your attendees and brand the space with either your brand or your sponsors’.
Pre-event communication is an essential part of your overall event safety strategy because it helps prepare your attendees and manage expectations.
There are a number of ways you can communicate with your guests even before they arrive on site. Below are some examples:
- Help them Visualize the Space: You can send your registrants a copy of your venue layout and seating plans. If you have a more formal event with assigned seating, you can include that information so they have all of the details of what to expect. Put yourself in the mindset of your attendees and think about what you would want to know going back to in-person events.
- Keep them in the Loop: It’s also important to communicate any changes or updates on your event safety plan or venue gathering restrictions. As the CDC continues to monitor the situation and release their recommendations, make sure you are keeping your registrants up to date throughout the entire process leading up to your event.
- Make the Virtual Option Clear: We’re now living in a hybrid events world. While nothing can beat in-person attendance, have a plan in place for communicating your event’s virtual option to registrants and prospective attendees. What are the advantages of attending in-person? What will make virtually attending worthwhile for those who would prefer that experience?
A safety guide is a document that clearly outlines the steps you’ve put in place to ensure your attendees, partners, and staff are as safe as possible. This guide should include everything from what you expect from your attendees to what they can expect from you.
- Be sure to include detailed information about the check-in process like whether you will be requiring proof of vaccination/negative results and what the on-site check-in experience will look like.
- This guide should also include any on-site precautions you are taking to keep your attendees safe, from sanitizers to readily available PPE. It should also clearly communicate what you expect of your attendees on-site. Make sure your guests know that they will be required to wear a mask and practice social distancing once they arrive at your venue.
- It’s a good idea to also include a reasonable accommodation clause. Be prepared that some attendees may have apprehensions about wearing a mask or practicing COVID-safe behavior, and you owe it to all of your attendees to create a safe environment. If that means that mask-exempt guests will be asked to leave, then that’s something you’ll want to note in your safety guide.
- You can send out your safety guide ahead of time to anyone who registers so they have ample time to review your policies and even get in contact with you in case they have any questions or concerns about what to expect from the on-site experience.
- Here's an example of SaaStr founder Jason Lemkin emailing attendees to update them on safety protocol. SaaStr is one of the largest conferences for SaaS executives and VCs in the world.
Update: Following guidance from Santa Clara County, the organizers of SaaStr opted on March 5 to postpone SaaStr annual and merge it with an event hosted later in the year.
Subject: Subject: SaaStr Annual is 10 Days Out! And We've Added Important Health & Safety Rules
Contact tracing recently became available to help alert anyone if they might have been exposed to COVID-19. It’s a great way to ensure your attendees feel comfortable on-site and can help keep you protected legally.
Contact tracing is an important part of tracking and slowing the spread of COVID-19 and protects you and your guests. It speeds up the process of identifying potential exposure and therefore helps to avoid any further spread.
4 Key Considerations for Safely Hosting In-Person Events
Hybrid events will be the vehicle by which organizers can safely bring back the in-person experiences we’re all craving. Keep in mind is that your guests will have different comfort levels with attending live events. Some attendees can’t wait to get back to in-person, but others might not feel as comfortable - or may still be unable to attend. That’s why the hybrid model is the best approach to addressing the needs of your entire audience. As we navigate our way to a new normal, the most important goal to keep top of mind is event safety.
There are a few key ideas to keep in mind as you continue to build out your live event safety strategy.
Be Adaptable and Flexible
This past year has shown us just how agile the events industry is, and continuing to be flexible will be key moving forward. There are still many unknowns and truthfully nothing is certain. Be prepared to make changes to your event safety plan and embrace the agility of our industry.
Have a Backup Plan
Event planners always have a backup plan. Perhaps you have even more than one. Whether you have a plan B or a plan for every letter of the alphabet, we hope for the best and plan for the worst. Having a backup plan goes hand in hand with being flexible. Given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, it’s important to give yourself options and not be pigeonholed into one plan.
When in doubt, over-communicate. Communication is key across the board, but in uncertain and changing times, it’s even more crucial to make sure we are all on the same page. While you may be hesitant to bombard your guests with emails, they will appreciate being kept in the loop especially where their safety and wellbeing is concerned. You should also practice over-communicating with your team and venue as well to stay constantly aligned.
Follow CDC Guidelines
The best source for information and updates around live event safety and preparation is the CDC. They are continuously releasing new information and guidelines to help everyone stay safe. Make sure to check the CDC’s website often throughout your planning process, and especially as it gets closer to your hybrid or live event.
The long-awaited and triumphant return of physical events is just around the corner. And hybrid events will safely offer a space for in-person attendees to meet while accommodating a virtual audience. The future of events might be uncertain, but one thing is sure - hybrid will propel us into a new normal of physical and virtual events.
For more information on choosing the right event platform for the hybrid era, see why Forrester named Bizzabo a Leader in event management solutions.