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Although the event industry experienced an unsurprising shock at the beginning of the pandemic, throughout the past year, the industry has evolved and grown in ways unthinkable before. Virtual events became the standard, and new advantages like increased access and ease were applauded.
However, as vaccinations have become more widely available and things start to open up again, many are eager to return to in-person events. Hybrid events allow for increased access, by allowing people to tune in virtually, while also providing the opportunity to join in person. We are not totally out of the woods with COVID-19, so it is important to continue to promote safety in all future events and meetings.
At this point, we are all well-aware of the individual COVID-19 safety tips like wearing a mask, socially distancing, avoiding direct contact with others, and frequent testing and temperature checks. But what about safety considerations on a larger scale? Here are some considerations and tips for event planners looking to put on a successful and safe hybrid event.
1. Choose the Right Venue
First and foremost, it is important that the venue you are working with is following all local, state, and federal guidelines to ensure they are already implementing the most up-to-date health and safety protocols. The CDC is a great resource for keeping updated on any changes. If you have further guidelines you would like to have in place for your event, think about writing up a contract with the venue to ensure all of the safety measures you desire are agreed to. This includes communicating your expectations for the venues’ employees, such as temperature checks, understanding of precautions, and traffic flow.
Other than following the mandated guidelines, consider the size and ventilation system of the event space. With social distancing, will the space still be able to hold your desired live audience? If not, is it possible to set up a separate location from which guests can watch a livestream if the original room is already full? Check with the venue coordinator on the rules and regulations involving capacity and the level of airflow efficiency.
2. Communicate Safety Rules & Expectations Early
In order to ensure the ease and safety of the live attendees, make sure to communicate your rules and expectations early. Not only will this give the attendee the autonomy to choose whether to attend live or virtually, it will also set them up for success during the actual event.
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If you are planning on doing temperature checks, mask requirements, symptom reporting, or vaccine requirements, let attendees know what to expect ahead of time. If you prefer to keep the live aspect of the event to just those already in the local area to limit people traveling from other places, let your attendees know your preference and that they are able to tune in virtually if they are not local. Establish and clearly communicate that there will be consequences if attendees do not follow the rules, in order to ensure the safety of all those attending and working at the event.
3. Send a Detailed Schedule Ahead of Time
Using an event registration platform or having an event registration website can help to ease stress and confusion on the day of the event. Provide clear information regarding the exact location and timing of events on the registration page as well as the confirmation message. Room diagramming can be especially helpful in providing a visual element for greater coherence for attendees. If you wish to stagger arrivals, make sure that each guest knows where they should be at what time.
4. Consider Mobile Integration
Including mobile, interactive components can serve as an alternative to person-to-person exchanges. An app or portal that shows a map of the area, a reminder of the schedule, and an overview of safety measures can keep all your attendees updated and informed throughout the event. By including feedback opportunities or surveys, you can also use the mobile app to your advantage to gather more data about your event attendees, their experience, and their sense of safety throughout.
5. Streamline Check-In
Event registration and check-in are the times where people are most likely to gather together in large groups. As mentioned before, using mobile or online registration can help limit person-to-person contact. Allowing attendees to flash a badge or confirmation on their phone after checking in on their own time is a great alternative to having attendees wait at a registration desk.
If you are sticking with the classic check-in procedure, staggering arrivals can help to avoid too big of crowds. Make sure to notify each participant of their assigned check-in time prior to arrival. Additionally, plan for more space than usual for check-ins, perhaps opening up an extra check-in station or table, or even offering multiple areas for check-in if possible.
6. Use Clear Signage
In addition to participants knowing where to be ahead of time, creating a traffic flow with clear signage can be helpful in guiding guests to where they need to go. Ask if the venue allows for a one-way flow of traffic. If so, use signage to remind people to only move in one direction. If this is not possible, find other ways to distance and direct traffic. Signage for health and safety precautions should be clear, concise, and ample throughout your event venue, including in session rooms and bathrooms.
To make your event more inclusive, you may consider developing signs in alternative formats for those who are blind or visually impaired, as well as for the deaf and hard of hearing. That way, they will feel equally comfortable understanding and safely following the traffic flow and other guidelines.
7. Utilize Design Elements
Clear signage can be helpful reminders for participants, but sometimes using strategically placed design elements can help to distance and promote safety in a less overt way. Plants and floral set-ups as well as plexiglass table dividers can help divide rooms and promote social distancing.
You can also use safety measures to your advantage for further branding by providing event-branded PPE like masks and hand sanitizer. Consider including a sponsor-branded hand sanitizer station, creating a strategic partnership opportunity as well as increasing personal attendee safety.
8. Plan Overflow Areas
If certain spaces have the potential to get overcrowded, talk to the venue coordinator about alternative spaces to filter people into when reaching capacity. For example, if the room where the live event is taking place reaches capacity, see if there is an extra room available to play the livestream. As event professionals know, it always pays to plan ahead. Being prepared for overflow scenarios is crucial.
Outdoor spaces are obviously the safest option due to the natural airflow. If available at your venue, consider incorporating outdoor areas into your event, especially in the case of overflow. Breakout sessions and activities in the surrounding area outside can also be a great way to mix up the event, while allowing extra time for the venue to clean between sessions.
9. Rethink Food and Beverage Options
Most events of the past relied on self-service or buffet-style food service, but with added safety measures, it is best to avoid this set-up. There are many alternatives that allow you to safely provide your guests with desirable food and drink options. If staff members are trained in sanitation and food-handling, seated meals are possible if the tables and guests are appropriately distanced. Easier options include pre-packaged meals, grab-and-go options, and restaurant vouchers for nearby establishments. Pre-packaged individual wine and beer can be subbed for a bar. If your space does have outdoor capacities, hiring a local food truck is a great way to feed your audience.
10. Clean Facilities Often
Last but certainly not least, scheduling time for frequent cleaning between sessions is a must. Depending on the length of your event, coordinate with the venue staff to perform frequent sweeps of the bathrooms and group areas following the CDC’s cleaning protocols.
The shift back to in-person events is exciting, and even more exciting when guests are able to relax and know their safety is taken care of. These safety tips for how to successfully host a hybrid event will help to ensure that your event goes off without a hitch and with a lot of hand sanitizer!