Meetings

How to Safely Host Face-to-Face Events Post-COVID

By / May 21, 2020 (zubada/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Once in-person meetings start taking place again, health and hygiene are going to be a top priority. A new report offers ideas, processes, and protocols and how they could play out in various elements of in-person events.

Once your association can resume holding face-to-face events, things are going to look a lot different. A newly released resource from the event consultancy Freeman offers insights into how planners can create an experience that makes health and hygiene a top priority.

“Gone are the days of ‘what we’ve always done,’” Freeman writes. “Event professionals will make conscious decisions on what to do, when, based on the overall business objectives versus a date on a calendar.”

In “The New Normal: Considerations for Business Events in a Post-COVID World,” experts from across the company outline ideas, processes, and protocols to help ensure the safety of controlled business events. Here’s a look at how some of those could play out in six elements that are common to most meetings.

Pre-event marketing. While in the past organizations may have touted the size of the event as a way to get exhibitors and attendees to register, Freeman’s experts say to avoid this in today’s environment. Rather, event marketers should shift their focus to the smaller, more intimate connections that will be made.

“Recognize that many attendees will be balancing the desire for connections and community with their fear of crowds,” states the report. “Address this by promoting the connections that can be made within smaller settings (e.g., matchmaking programs, a CEO breakfast, an LGBTQ reception, a mentor program, etc.). For exhibitors, focus on the quality of the attendee you are attracting through your marketing campaigns.”

Registration. “It’s time to up your reg game,” the firm writes. This could include an entirely digital process and staggered check-in times to avoid a mass rush. In addition, organizations should consider mailing attendees their badges in advance or allowing a print-at-home option.

Navigation. To help attendees maintain proper social-distancing protocols, use floor graphics to illustrate how far apart they should stand while in line. Also employ a chatbot or AI-driven service to help with navigation and answering common questions. “Show organizers can benefit from improved efficiency and reduced person-to-person interaction,” stated the report.

Education. “We must optimize face-to-face events for activities that are best accomplished in person, such as discussions, networking, and discovery, rather than long-form speeches and one-way information delivery,” Freeman writes.

That will likely involve reimagining the traditional general session. “Use your general session for high-value moments that can only be delivered live,” the report recommends. Freeman also suggests using second-screen technology for audience engagement by having attendees use their own devices to participate in polls and ask the presenters questions.

Networking. Associations are going to need to think differently about helping their attendees make connections. Digital matchmaking and business-card-exchange tools are one way to go. However, groups are also going to want to allow for in-person connections, which will require rethinking layouts and venues. For example, Freeman suggests using open-air venues and creating conversation pods with appropriately spaced seating and even an antibacterial screen between the two sides.

Expo floor. “While show floors may need to be reimagined with fewer crowds, this is an opportunity to enhance and personalize the experience,” Freeman says. A few ideas: larger lounges with individual seating, one-way aisles, measurement technology and heat maps to determine and control capacity levels, and multiple cleanings throughout the day.

What changes are you considering when the time comes for you to host face-to-face meetings once again? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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