It’s no secret that event organizing is among the industries most heavily affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic, and is also one of the industries that have evolved dramatically due to the global pandemic.
In early 2020, the early days of the pandemic, the majority of physical events have been canceled due to the social distancing and quarantine policies, many of them have been replaced by virtual events.
Soon enough, however, many event organizers realized the unique benefits of virtual events over their physical counterparts, especially in regards to the ability to attract attendees from all around the world without having to worry about accommodations and travel arrangements. Virtual events are here to stay in the post-pandemic “new normal” world, and many event organizers are now also hosting “hybrid” events to attract both live and virtual attendees and maximize the event’s reach.
So, what about physical events in the new normal world?
Physical events have made a substantial comeback throughout 2021, but with the ongoing virus mutations and the unpredictability of the whole situation, we can say that planning and organizing a physical event in the pos-COVID world will be synonymous with uncertainty.
With that being said, in this post, we will discuss the future of physical events (as well as virtual and hybrid events) in the post-pandemic world, and 10 crucial tips to follow for hosting a successful physical event in the new-normal era.
Without further ado, let us begin right away.
Event Planning in The Post-COVID ERA: Physical VS Virtual VS Hybrid
One of the key changes to the post-COVID event planning world is, as mentioned above, the rise of virtual events.
Minimizing physical contact is a major thing across many different fields all around the world: online shopping, the use of e-wallets, video conferencing (i.e. Zoom), and virtual events are just an aspect of this massive digital evolution as a result of the pandemic.
Thus comes the burning question: will physical events still be feasible in the new normal world? Will your target audience start planning and attending large physical events again?
Fortunately, we can confidently say that at least at the moment, there are still unique advantages of the physical event that can’t (yet) be replaced by virtual and hybrid events.
Let us first take a look at the key advantages and disadvantages of physical, virtual, and hybrid events across different aspects:
Physical: physical events are typically more costly than their virtual counterparts, mainly due to the substantial venue rental cost and subsequent costs like catering, furniture rental, and insurance, among others.
Virtual: virtual events are significantly more affordable to host than physical events: you’ll only need to invest in a virtual event platform and other relevant technology solutions, and you’re basically good to go.
Hybrid: can go both ways. Technically a hybrid event would cost double since you’d need to take both the physical and virtual elements of the event into account. However, event planners can ‘shift’ the focus of the hybrid event to emphasize more virtual attendees, so the physical portion of the event will be smaller (so you can rent a smaller venue). In such cases, the hybrid event may be cheaper to organize compared to an otherwise physical event.
- Health and Safety
Physical: it’s a harsh reality that in this “new normal” period, physical in-person events would need to take various health and safety measures into account: establishing strict social distancing policies, providing hand sanitizers, implementing contact tracing, and so on. This will translate into additional complexity in planning and hosting the event, as well as potentially additional costs and risks.
Virtual: one of the key advantages of hosting a virtual event in this post-COVID era is the fact that it allows attendees to ‘visit’ the event and connect with other attendees in the comfort of their homes (or safe places of their choice). Therefore, health and safety concerns in hosting a virtual event are typically minimum.
Hybrid: you’ll get the best of both worlds here. By hosting a hybrid event, you can provide options to your target audience: those who are already comfortable with attending physical events can attend the in-person portion of your event, while those who are already concerned about health and safety may opt to just attend the virtual portion of the event.
- Target Attendees
Physical: when it comes to attendees, physical events are more rigid: you can only invite a number of attendees that the physical venue’s size can accommodate, and you’ll also be limited by travel and accommodation concerns. The same also applies to your talents/speakers.
Virtual: another key advantage of a virtual event is the fact that organizers can invite attendees from all around the world, not limited by geographical limitations like travel arrangements.
Hybrid: again, you’ll get the best of both worlds: you can accommodate local attendees in the physical portion of your event, but at the same time you can accommodate international and global attendees virtually.
Physical: still the best when it comes to real-time interaction and in-person networking, and networking opportunities remain one of the top reasons for people to attend events. Also, for product showcase/launch events, you’ll get a better experience of touching and feeling the product in person. With a physical event, you can also make the whole interaction and experience more immersive, for example by incorporating the right lighting, decor, stage design, and music, among other details.
Virtual: While you can interact with people online, it’s no secret that it’s definitely sub-par when compared to physical interactions. At the moment, we don’t (yet) have the technology to imitate the in-person networking experience. While brands and event organizers can send physical items (i.e. products, food, etc.) to enhance the attendance experience, this can only be done for smaller items, and overall it’s still pretty limited.
Hybrid: at first glance, it might seem like a hybrid event may get the advantage when it comes to networking and interactivity since again, you’ll get the versatility of both portions of the event. However, a key to a hybrid event’s success is to ensure you can maintain a similar level of experience for both in-person and virtual attendees, and this can be quite challenging in practice. This may require organizers to invest in more technology solutions and infrastructure, which may add to the overall cost.
10 Actionable Tips for Organizing Successful Physical Events Post-Covid
Now that we’ve discussed the advantages and disadvantages of physical events over virtual and hybrid counterparts, the key to hosting a successful physical event post-COVID is to focus on these unique advantages of the physical event and amplify them.
Here are our top 10 tips on how:
- Establish Social Distancing Correctly
Social distancing will always be a tricky thing for virtual events. It’s easy to claim that your event has “paid attention to all the social distancing protocols”, but in reality, you’ll need to think about various complexities like traffic flow, toilet queue, F&B queue, check-in wait time, and so on.
Carefully think about potential congestion points and traffic jams throughout the event’s flow, and figure out how they can be managed.
- Maintain High Hygiene Standard
Each event should adopt appropriate hygiene controls according to its own unique circumstances and audience expectations, but here are some of the common hygiene standards to consider:
- Implement contactless registration, payment, and check-in
- Encourage attendees to regularly use hand sanitizing stations (make sure these stations are widely available)
- Make sure welfare facilities are easily found
- Hygiene and safe handling of giveaway goods and promotional materials
- Establish regular cleaning and disinfection regimes, including regular deep cleaning regimes and maintenance of air conditioning/air filtration systems
- Establish thorough food and beverages hygiene
- Create High-Quality Event Content
There’s no shortcut around this: it’s crucial for event content to be more valuable and enticing than it was before the global pandemic. There are people who are still reluctant to attend physical events, and many of them have experienced good experiences with virtual events.
So, if your event’s content isn’t overly exciting, they may not want to attend your physical event.
- Collaborate With Relevant Authorities and Contractors
A critical component to ensuring your event’s health and safety, as well as establishing positive public confidence is to collaborate with relevant authorities, venues, and key contractors so you can design and build COVID-safe events, establish the appropriate hygiene, and medical protection, and ensure public confidence.
Reach out to relevant authorities and organizations in your area (i.e. National Center for Disaster Preparedness in the U.S.) and partner up with them.
- Establish Medical Measures That Work
Consider implementing the following medical measures:
- Establish clear admissions and registration policies so you can determine whether a prospective should or shouldn’t attend the show.
- Ensure Respiratory and Personal Protective Equipment (RPE and PPE), including face masks, are readily available
- Make sure you’ve briefed staff, exhibitors, and contractors/vendors with COVID-19 health and safety training and briefings.
- Establish adequate surveillance and screening activities, including contact tracing, non-invasive thermal screening, COVID-19 case risk assessment, and so on.
- Required protective measures (i.e. acrylic screen)
- Convert To a Hybrid Event Whenever You Can
As we’ve discussed above, converting a physical event into a hybrid event will offer so many unique benefits, bringing you the advantages of both the physical and virtual portions of the event and so much more.
So, unless you are limited in budget/timeline or if there’s an absolute reason that you can’t host the virtual aspect of the event, you should convert the physical event into a hybrid event.
If you’ve planned your physical event properly and you’ve chosen the right venue that can accommodate the virtual aspect of the event (i.e. adequate internet connectivity and space for live streaming equipment), then converting your event into a hybrid event might just be a matter of choosing the right hybrid event platform to power the virtual aspect of your event.
- Amplify Curated Networking
One of the key challenges in hosting a post-COVID physical event is limited attendees due to social distancing restrictions and other policies. However, smaller events do have their perks, especially when it comes to more targeted, curated networking.
You can leverage technology solutions that can help you match people of similar interests and roles to maximize the networking experience during your event. When executed correctly, these curated networking experiences can be highly effective and you can market them as the main selling point of your events.
As discussed, networking has been the main reason for people to attend events before the pandemic, and there’s no reason for this not to remain the case. However, networking must also evolve and adapt according to the post-COVID standards.
- Stay Compliant With Governmental Restrictions
It’s no secret that governments in many different countries around the world have imposed various COVID-related restrictions for physical events. You should especially pay extra attention to restrictions and policies related to the maximum number of people that can meet in a group, which may vary depending on the current state of the COVID curve and other factors.
It’s crucial for event organizers to pay close attention to these governmental regulations when planning their physical events in order to avoid legal repercussions and other issues.
- Leverage Technology
Even if your event is going to be 100% physical without any virtual/hybrid elements, you’ll still need to leverage relevant technology solutions to minimize contact between attendees, staff, and security and to reduce heavy traffic areas.
Consider technology solutions that can help:
- Minimize queuing and lining, for example with effective event registration and check-in solution
- Reducing waiting times to minimize possibilities of physical contact while maintaining socially-distanced queuing. There are solutions like Evolv that can help you in this area.
- Passive, contactless scanning, for example with face recognition technologies
- Reduced human interaction with the use of mobile event apps and other solutions
- Effective Public and Media Relations
Maintaining appropriate risk communication is crucial in the management and execution of successful physical events in the post-COVID world. It’s vital to develop a strong relationship with relevant media to help communicate to your prospective audience that you have taken appropriate actions to establish adequate health and safety protocols.
Make sure to boost public health messages before and during the event while establishing a single point of communication. If you can consistently and continuously communicate reassuring messages, you can attract more target attendees. Remind target attendees and staff/volunteers to:
- Download and use relevant apps like contact-tracing apps
- Stay home if they’ve recently been in contact with those who tested positive for COVID, or when they aren’t feeling well
- Seek immediate help (and educate them how) if they feel any symptoms during the event
- Follow social distancing policies during the event, including usage of hand sanitizers and proper handwashing
While planning and organizing a physical event in today’s “new normal” world can be quite challenging, by following the 10 tips we’ve shared above, you can be more effective in planning and hosting a physical event that adheres to today’s social distancing and health/safety policies without sacrificing attendee experience.