The pandemic taught us great things about innovation born out of crisis. Now that we’ve emerged on the other side of the pandemic, the events industry is in a stronger position than ever before, thanks to many new technologies designed to personalize the event experience. Every attendee can and should have the privilege of feeling safe and comfortable at a conference or meeting, and planners can accomplish this for them by offering a variety of event formats: virtual, hybrid and in-person. As we pivot back to live events in 2021 and beyond, here’s what you need to know.
New Venue Guidelines to Keep in Mind
One big question that looms for planners is this: Are they allowed to require vaccination against COVID-19 to attend or work at an event, when only 49 percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated (as of late July)? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the answer is yes, long as you’re obeying all applicable local, state, tribal and territorial laws, as well as abiding by local regulations and rules. You may choose to verify vaccination status for each attendee at the entry. However, you should take care to do so in a manner that’s respectful to staff and attendees.
If your event may include organizers, staff or attendees who are not fully vaccinated, the CDC still recommends wearing masks, practicing social distancing and encouraging regular hand washing.
A majority of event venues have also issued their own guidelines and protocols for holding safe events. For example, health and safety guidelines at Orange County Convention Center in Orlando include physical distancing enforced at the planner’s request, touchless hand sanitizer dispensers placed throughout the event space, daily cleaning of commonly touched items such as door handles, and electronic signage on health and hygiene reminders.
Another example: The Venetian Resort and convention center in Las Vegas, which has attained the Global Biorisk Advisory Council STAR Facility Accreditation (the gold standard of safe venues), has outlined COVID-19 management procedures including requiring masks for all unvaccinated individuals, continuous sanitation of restrooms, and specific cleaning guidelines for meeting and convention spaces.
Before booking your meeting or conference, be sure to ask the venues you’re considering about their procedures and guidelines around a safe return to live events.
The New Event Timeline
When planning a hybrid event experience for two distinct audiences (in-person and virtual), the more advance planning time you can commit to, the better. This is especially true if you’re wanting a customized, branded virtual event platform that will help to bring your virtual and in-person audiences together.
As a general rule, take the time you’d typically need to plan a virtual event and double it (or budget at least six to 10 weeks) to work on a custom branded platform, knowing the development time can vary widely based on what’s included in your event. The more customized your technology needs to be, the longer it can take.
It goes without saying that developing a comprehensive plan and timeline is critical for success when you’re on the path to hosting in-person meetings again, or hybrid events. Your planning should start with a kick-off meeting with all your stakeholder and vendors involved with planning your event. Consider including your internal planning team, venue and catering staff, A/V or production team, event technology partners, and any other vendor who is central to your event. Have a checklist of key deliverables, including food and beverage selection, speaker selection, speaker bios, sponsor deadlines, key attendee communication beats, pre-recorded content, final guest count, and more. You should also establish deadlines for providing brand identity guidelines and content to your hybrid event technology provider.
Bringing Audiences Together
Whether your event is intimate or on a massive scale, you must curate opportunities for attendees to engage with like-minded individuals or gather around a shared topic of interest, even when those people aren’t physically together. Beyond the content itself, these forged connections will leave the attendee walking away feeling like they gained more value from the experience.
During the pandemic when virtual was the only format available for most events, gamification — a tool to drive engagement — and entertainment, including live-streamed performances, helped to bring virtual audiences together. Technology has created capabilities for real-time feedback and interaction, enabling virtual audiences to feel involved and engaged with an event. Now, it’s time to think about how to apply those same concepts in hybrid and in-person events.
Keep in mind that a hybrid event may have various types of audiences, aside from in-person and remote participants. There’s also the pod audience, which may be a group of people together in person but attending the larger event via live stream. No matter what your audience breakdown looks like, the key to hosting a successful hybrid event is to understand the “why” of your event. Knowing exactly what you want to accomplish and what you need to deliver to each type of attendee will help you to create experiences and content that is valuable to them.
Adjusting the Content Mix
We’ve learned through virtual events that short-form content works best in the virtual environment. As we return to live events, we must take those learnings to adapt content that works well in the hybrid space.
For instance, the ability to add new formats for content delivery, such as on-demand videos and experiences, enabled attendees to consume that content at a time that worked well for them. This was especially important for events with a global audience across many different time zones. As you think about how you’ll deliver content in a hybrid experience, including the in-person event, consider how you can add more flexibility into attendee schedules, giving them more freedom to choose the times and formats in which they take in your content. This might look like having one live session in a breakout room, then playing a recording of the session at various times throughout the day — and also offering the recording on-demand to your remote attendees. It will be important to work with your AV team on this to ensure the recording is high quality, with proper lighting and sound.
Technology Goes Hand-in-Hand with Safety Protocols
Hybrid events couldn’t take place without technology. A powerful event platform is necessary to deliver an attendee experience that’s equally as engaging to your in-person and remote audiences.
Technology can also help you to improve the of your event for guests. One example of this is MeetingPlay’s seat selection tool, which helped in-person attendees at a Marriott International event to feel empowered to choose where they’d like to sit in the venue, depending on their comfort level. Virtual guests were also able to choose the vantage point for their event view, helping them to feel more engaged with the event and like they were physically there.
MeetingPlay offers many more tools to help connect and empower your audience through an innovative hybrid event platform and event app. This includes brilliant branding and design, synchronized agendas and notifications, personalized agenda building, multiple content delivery options, sponsor lead capture, live chat, social walls, a swag store, a virtual selfie booth and more. It’s our way of helping you to drive engagement and build communities without walls.