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The New Live Event Etiquette: All Your Burning Attendee Questions, Answered


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The country is once again open for business, live events are resuming, and summer is upon us. It’s safe to say things are looking way up from this same time last year. With vaccination rates on the rise and low Covid-19 infections, more and more professionals are opening up to the idea of attending events in person again — hallelujah, right? We all know the pandemic has changed the live event space in many ways, however, and for if you’re looking to book your first live conference in more than a year, you probably have questions… lots of questions. 

Understandably, you’re likely still exercising caution when it comes to gathering with others. But if it’s any consolation, we’re all in the same boat, navigating the shifting waters of live events together. Read on for our thoughts on some of the top questions regarding etiquette (defined as: the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group) when returning to live events.


What should I wear?

Working and attending events virtually has led many (most) to trade in their suits and pencil skirts for matching sweatsuits. Your first in-person event post-Covid may feel like the perfect opportunity to get dressed up again — but depending on the conference and audience, we’re predicting dress code may lean more business casual (emphasis on the casual) than ever before.


Where do I sit?

You know that uncomfortable moment where you walk into a room, see a few people at every table, and agonize over who you should burden with your presence by sitting with them? (In reality, it’s not that bad.) But we’re venturing to say those days of open seating might be over, for some conferences. More meeting professionals are moving toward pre-selected seating — chosen by attendees online ahead of the in-person event — as a safer alternative that helps individuals feel more comfortable once they’re on-site. Expect to also see fewer seats per table for education sessions, breakouts, and meals, and remember: Place cards are your friend.


How should I network?

Social situations giving you anxiety? Even extroverts may be feeling awkward about the return to networking events within conferences, forgetting how to socialize and strike up small talk with strangers. If it’s any consolation, we’re all feeling the discomfort. A quick remedy? Google “dad jokes” pre-event and come prepared… or, just be yourself, and build connections with others around the clumsiness of it all.


Should I bring my own food?

Well, you certainly can — no shame in a PB&J toted from home. If the thought of hitting a lunch buffet again shakes you to your core, we don’t blame you. But take comfort in the fact that hotels, conference and convention centers, and other venues around the country have implemented strict safety protocols designed to keep you safe in a post-Covid world, and that applies to food service as well. Expect more individually plated meals and snacks, pre-wrapped items such as grab-and-go lunch boxes, and staffed buffets (so you won’t have to touch the scary tongs).


Are we really shaking hands?

It’s true: According to Time magazine, coronavirus killed the handshake. But we’re actually not too mad about it. Since the beginning of, well, time, touching hands (and exchanging germs) with everyone you meet at a conference has spread a lot more illnesses than just Covid-19. Hugs aren’t much better — and can just be weird, especially if you’re meeting someone for the first time. We get that it’s pretty awkward to have someone extend their hand to you and get rejected (or vice versa); however, meeting planners are going to need to communicate to attendees up front what’s expected and accepted in terms of forms of touch at a conference. A few alternative gestures that get across the same “happy to meet you” point? Elbow bumps, a small bow, or even a subtle nod paired with a megawatt smile.


How close should I get?

OK, so not close enough to hug or shake hands — we’ve covered that. The actual distance you should maintain between yourself and others is not crystal clear, however. If you’ve been vaccinated, 6 feet may seem extreme (and also impossible in certain room setups), but others may not feel the same, regardless of their vaccination status. Though Covid threw many social rules out the window, it’s still considered rude to ask strangers personal questions — including whether they’ve gotten a shot or not. Our best advice? Exercise caution and show utmost respect for others’ desires when it comes to social distancing. Even if you’re comfortable going all in for the hug, they may not be. We expect some meeting professionals may continue the color-coded wristband system for attendees that started early on as events resumed: Green for those comfortable with close proximity; yellow for those preferring to exercise caution; and red for those who want to keep a safe distance when conversing (or avoid it completely).


Should we share pens?

Any surface touched by multiple people is bound to transmit germs of any kind. It’s always been a good idea to keep your own pen in your pocket or purse for easy use — and even more so now. Besides, how many free ones have you gotten at events over the years? It’s time to break them out of your junk drawer.


Do I pass out business cards?

It’s going to be a no from us, dog. The debate over whether it’s necessary to carry physical business cards started years before the pandemic, and we’d venture to say that digital business cards are where it’s at. It’s so easy to grab a custom QR code that anyone can scan on their phone and easily receive your contact information. They may not be as fun as getting creative on a 3.5-by-3-inch piece of cardstock, but they’re safer and impossible to lose — a win-win.


Should I even go to a live event?

We’re an event company, so of course, we’re going to encourage attendance to any event, live or virtual. But the choice is entirely up to you. One fantastic format that’s gained major momentum during the pandemic is the hybrid event, and we’re predicting it’s here to stay. Hybrid events are the perfect solution for meeting planners whose audiences are split on their decisions to attend in-person or virtually, as this format incorporates both in one seamless experience. (By the way, you can learn more about MeetingPlay’s hybrid event offerings here.) So before you pack your bags and head to the airport, you can always check out whether the event you want to attend is being offered as a hybrid and make your decision accordingly.


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