While many businesses are working to navigate COVID-19, planning to attend future industry conferences or training is not something that they have on top of their minds. Some businesses lack the bandwidth or staff to attend, some have strict travel bans in place, some don’t have the discretionary spend, and others simply do not feel safe going to an in-person event in the foreseeable future.
While the ability to quickly adapt plans or to manage a crisis is second nature to an event or meeting planner (e.g. last minute speaker cancellations, food and beverage being sent out at the wrong times, audiovisual equipment failing), event professionals are being challenged in a whole new way in the face of the global pandemic.
Event professionals are foregoing the old event nuances and finding ways to adjust to the “new norm” when planning events. They find themselves asking, “how can I engage my audience and provide their desired content in the most interactive and safest way possible?”
Not sure what to do with an event you’ve already contracted? Don’t wait. Talk to your hotel or venue right away to explore your options for still hosting the event and collect pertinent information on the cancellation or postponement terms. Once you have that knowledge in your hands, you can make a sound decision before communicating any updates to your audience.
Here are some preparedness tips for already contracted in-person events:
- Collect data: Survey your audience. Ask them how likely they are to attend your event given the current situation. Rely on them to provide you with a timeframe in which they would feel comfortable attending an event. Pick their brains on what measures would need to be in place to resume such activity.
- Be adaptable: Adjust to the “new norm.” Work with your hotel or venue to ensure proper health guidelines are being met, and issue your own for the utmost safety of your staff and audience. Consider encouraging your guests to check in to the hotel or event via a mobile app, ask for individually packaged meals, implement one-way directional signs, provide hand sanitation stations, and even observe a no-handshake policy.
- Set expectations: Communicate with your audience regarding the current landscape and health guidelines. Explain to them how attending now will be a different experience from past events, and communicate your event objectives. The goal is to set their expectations up front to avoid any disappointment that’s beyond your control when on-site.
- Share your strategy: Create a preparedness plan and post it on your conference website or mobile app to ensure the audience is aligned with, and aware of, what is required from them. Post safe practices, resources, and updated refund or cancellation policies (be lenient). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has information for event planners and individuals here, including what to weave into an emergency plan for large events and steps to take if someone develops COVID-19 symptoms while at an event.
Although having one-on-one face time with your audience is critical, event professionals are switching to virtual events whenever possible. Virtual events allow you to reach your audience in a safe space.
Here are some tips for hosting a successful virtual event:
- Turn on your webcam: There is no better way for the audience to feel connected to you than by seeing you in real time. This is the best way to make a virtual event feel more personal.
- A/B test: You may host your annual conference in the same month each year because you know it works and it’s what the audience expects. You want to do the same with virtual webinars, so try different time slots and different days until you see what yields the best results. GoToWebinar has 10 webinar benchmarks every marketer should know here, including the best days and times to attract attendees along with average attendance rates.
- Provide tools and resources: Just like at an in-person event, the audience wants your handouts and swag. Doing what you can to offer handouts or giveaways helps to embody the full experience of a traditional in-person event. Make sure you are providing them with PDFs, templates, and other valuable assets to “take home.” Use some of the funds you are saving from an in-person event to raffle a gift card or other prize, if possible.
COVID-19 has left the events world in a cloud of uncertainty and sparked a loss of personal connections. Event professionals must rise to the challenge, adjust to the “new norm,” and find more innovative ways to serve our community, connect with our audience, and deliver business objectives in a responsible way. The power of events, whether they’re virtual or in-person, is a valuable asset that drives business goals and should remain at the forefront.
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