No matter where you are in the world, over the past few months you have felt the effects of COVID-19. As areas start to lift their restrictions, restaurants begin to open, and people start to head back into work, you may be wondering what this means for your upcoming events. Is it safe to start thinking about planning live events again? If you do, what new precautions do you need to take?
In this new world we live in, hosting live events is going to take a lot of adjustment to what we consider “normal”. It is going to be a slow and steady transition, rather than just flipping the “live” switch back on. The use of virtual event platforms are still suggested as the safest option for events in the near future. Although, if you are in a position to host a live event, consider offering a hybrid option to attendees who are uncomfortable being around or are susceptible to COVID-19.
As you start to transition in mind, body, and spirit back to live event planning, use this guide to kick start your new normal and help plan for safer, in-person events.
Our Guide to Creating Safer In-Person Events
Live events occurring in the near future will likely have a very strong reason to occur and will come with a level of extra precaution during the event’s duration. You know the expression: “It’s better to be safe, than sorry.”
Using the utmost caution and care for your event planners, attendees, and staff is what is most important. But don’t forget, live events are supposed to be fun ways to present information and offer amazing networking solutions for your attendees. You don’t have to lose that magic amongst all of the new safety precautions. But you do have to get a little creative.
1. Social Distancing & Masks
The most common preventative measure that is still being upheld by most public spaces is social distancing and wearing a mouth and nose covering mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states: “COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact (within about 6 feet) for a prolonged period. Spread happens when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and droplets from their mouth or nose are launched into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. The droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs.”
Wearing a face mask is highly recommended for live events as small as 10 people, as it is the easiest form of prevention. Unfortunately, the masks do not prevent you from catching COVID-19, but act as a measure to drastically reduce the chance to spread bodily fluids through coughing, sneezing, and talking.
If you are planning on hosting a live event, no matter the size, make sure to post the safety guidelines clearly for all attendees to review before, during, and after registration. If you plan on having mandatory masks and distancing measures, use signage, email and mobile alerts, and verbal reminders to keep attendees informed on the protocol and continue to provide a safe environment for all involved.
2. Spacing & Size Restrictions
You see it everywhere, those dreaded arrows pointing you up and down the direction of the grocery store aisles to reduce the chance of you having to pass someone. As hard as it is to remember to follow those directions, it does help limit your exposure to other people. As an event planner, take note of this traffic control technique and implement a version of it at your live event.
If you plan to host a larger event with more than a handful of attendees, you need to consider some extra measure to promote social distancing:
Spacing throughout the event
Registration stations with 6 feet markings between attendees waiting in line
Spaced audience seating during live presentations
Larger venue rooms for networking breakouts
For exhibit halls, space tables 6 feet apart with 12-foot aisles and include directional arrows for traffic to follow
Gathering size restrictions
Limit your breakout session sizes to promote 6-feet apart spacings amongst your attendees
Put a cap on your event’s size - what may have originally been a 500 person event is no longer advisable.
Limit hand to hand contact by implementing touch-free badge pick-up during your live event. Touch-free pick-up is done with the help of a mobile event app. Location services detect when attendees enter the registration area and automatically sends them a notification to check in. When sign in is initiated, attendees will get a message letting them know their request is being processed and the badge materials are being sanitized and prepared for pickup. Once the badge has been properly processed, attendees will receive a mobile alert with their pickup number and assigned table to pick up their badge in a germ free bag.
3. Thermal Scanning & Travel Restrictions
If you have gone to the doctors recently, you may have had to have your temperature taken and answer a few questions about your recent travel before you entered the office. The use of thermal scanning and travel tracking is being widely used among government facilities, public spaces, and hospitals. According to the Department of Defense, “These stand-off thermal imaging capabilities provide significant advantages over hand-held thermometers because there's a safe distance between the operators and subjects and they require less manpower. The technology, which does not require physical contact, processes information quickly. The result is a faster flow of traffic into buildings and facilities. Screening only takes a few seconds. Temperatures can be measured at a distance of 6 to 8 feet and uses an infrared sensor mounted on a tripod.”
Implementing this system in your registration process will detect elevated body temperatures - a common symptom of COVID-19- and will keep traffic flowing smoothly into your event. If you can’t get your hands on one of the higher-tech thermal scanning machines, you can always use a hand held thermometer that can also be used at a safe distance.
In order to curb the spread of COVID-19, the United States and other hot spots countries throughout the world are setting strict travel restrictions on their citizens. If you are planning to host a live event, it’s strongly advised to track your attendee’s recent travels before they enter your event space to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
If you have online registration for your event, have attendees disclose their recent travels through a simple questionnaire.
If any attendees have recently traveled outside the US or into a hotspot state, it’s best to deny them entry into the live event. Use the standard 14-day rule: if an attendee has in any way been exposed to COVID-19 through travel or other means, they need to self-quarantine for 14 days to ensure no symptoms appear. To avoid losing them as an attendee, you can always offer them a virtual option for attendance.
4. Extra Cleaning & Sanitation Stations
There’s nothing better than a squeaky clean venue, right? As you plan your live event, you have to be more diligent than ever to consider what high-touch areas your attendees will come in contact with and how you plan to keep them sterilized.
You probably never had to think this way before, so we put together a handy list of areas to keep an eye on:
These areas within your venue can harbor millions of bacteria and the COVID-19 virus can live on their surfaces for elongated periods of time.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifies that there is a difference between cleaning and disinfecting. While cleaning solutions like soap and water can be a great way to remove dirt and grime, they will not kill the germs and bacteria hanging out on those surfaces. Disinfecting, on the other hand, refers to killing a high percentage of the germs on a surface or rendering them incapable of reproducing. Using a solution with a disinfectant like bleach can knock out those nasty germs and keep your venue safer. Keep in mind, most disinfectants need to sit on a surface for five to ten minutes to eliminate illness-causing bacterias.
Another very effective way to keep germs at bay during a live event is having your attendees wash their hands, often. Keep the bathroom lines at bay by strategically placing “sanitation stations” around your venue for easy hand sanitation. The stations can be placed in high-traffic areas like exhibit halls, food courts, and in your live sessions. Encourage usage by having an attendant at the stations with a pumpable hand sanitizer to easily dispense into passerby’s hands as they walk past, enter into live sessions, or enter into the food court to grab their lunch. You can also send your attendees push notifications with your mobile event app to remind them to wash their hands.
A good sanitation station should include the following:
Several pump dispensers of hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol (according to the CDC).
Tissues and paper towels
An attendant (for high traffic areas)
Signage to promote your health guidelines for the event
In addition, keep fun signage in your bathrooms to promote proper hand washing with soap and warm water. There are even some amazing chorus’ to sing in your head to make sure your attendees are washing long enough - the CDC recommends soaping up for at least 20 seconds — or the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice. Here’s a few of our favorites:
- "Love On Top," by Beyoncé
- "Jolene," by Dolly Parton
- "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," from the Wizard of Oz
- "Livin' On a Prayer," by Bon Jovi
- "Love Shack" by The B-52's
5. Food & Beverage Preparation
The food industry has remained functional throughout the COVID-19 pandemic through the use delivery and curbside pick-up meal service. So how does that fit into your live event? Food courts and buffet-style meals are not advisable for the near future due to the elevated chances of breaking social distancing and sanitation. Instead, you can steal some of the tips and tricks from your favorite food chains to continue serving excellent meals to your attendees.
We all know the hustle and bustle of a live event does not always give attendees the chance to have a sit down meal. To promote easy grab and go meal culture at your event, provide pre-packaged lunches to attendees. Position stations in your food courts that attendees can pass by, order their preferred packaged lunch and pay all in the same place. Monitor lines by keeping attendees at a safe 6-feet standing space apart.
Worried about long lines? Maintain crowd control by having lunch available in shifts during the event. Assign attendees a shift number when they register so they know when their time slot to grab lunch is.
If you have a lot of live sessions during lunch hours, you can additionally offer attendees boxed meals already placed at their seats at the session. This can remove waiting in line entirely and can be organized through the registration process.
If your venue has a lot of outdoor space, utilize it for open seating for mealtimes. Open windows, spaced outdoor seating, and moving airflow will all be your best chances at providing a safe and clean solution for attendee mealtimes.
Arguably one of the biggest things to prepare for as you move into a live event format is the uncertainty your attendees may feel about being in public spaces. Providing an alternative attendance solution like a virtual event platform will not only ease a lot of stress for nervous attendees, but it will keep your attendance rates up in the long run.
Finding a hybrid event solution should be easy. At its core, your solution must mirror the same experience of your live event, just in a virtual platform. That means that any live sessions, networking events, breakout sessions, and gamification opportunities must be just as available to your virtual attendees, as your live attendees.
It is likely that until a cure or vaccine is found for COVID-19, a hybrid solution is a necessary option available to attendees during live event planning. On the plus side, having a virtual option will allow for more international attendees, as well as those who have recently traveled or have come in contact with COVID-19 in some way.
It’s an exciting prospect to think live events are on the horizon. As we begin to reintroduce the concept, it will take these extra steps to keep employees, attendees, and additional staff as safe as possible.
As always, remember to find the most updated information on the pandemic to keep your event planning current. For the most current information on the latest health and safety precautions, turn to the following organizations as a starting point.