COVID-19 Restricted Events – Can we pull it off?

By Ash Rowe, Senior Event Logistics Manager at the IET

Hi all! Thanks for tuning in to another blog in this series! This post will cover the world of COVID-19 restricted events and what we can do to make them successful.

Soon events will be back with several restrictions in place. These range from social distancing and one-way systems to enhanced hygiene procedures, PPE and isolation areas. All these restrictions are in place to help us get back to what we do best whilst protecting the general public from further infection.

I’ve spoken to many people about COVID-19 restricted events and if they will work or not. Most people I’ve conversed with tend to be saying that they are planning on doing restricted events out of necessity rather than desire, but I genuinely believe that there is still a place for physical events even with restrictions in place. Throughout this blog I’ll aim to cover some positive elements to physical events returning.

Networking is possible

Even with restrictions in place, it is still going to be possible for people to get that long-craved bit of networking at your events, but it is down to us to help facilitate that as it will require careful planning and will not be able to happen on an impromptu basis.

Why not try working with your committees or producers to identify hot sub-topics that sit under the focus of your event? You can then set-up socially distanced subject areas where people can wander over and have a conversation about a topic that means something to them, and more importantly, meet like-minded people! This would also give people the freedom to flit between topics if they wish. You could even go a step further and add a “just a chat” area where people can just meet one another and have a simple conversation like the good old days.

There are also some more fun ideas that you could incorporate. On registration, you could perhaps ask people if they would like to network and if they would like to, then give them a number. They can then take a seat in their own networking zone during a break or allocated session and sporadically meet people purely through the luck of the draw.

As we move further into the COVID-prepared world and restrictions are lifted more and more, I’ve also seen a great traffic light initiative that helps people to immediately identify if people are open to a handshake, open to talking but not touching or wanting to keep their distance completely.

Predictable pathways provide opportunity

With one-way systems in place at many venues, this provides event organisers with an opportunity. In this scenario, you know the exact journey that your delegates will be taking to reach your registration area or session rooms and so it adds the ability to customise the journey that you want your delegates to experience.

From the traditional elements such as sponsor branding and directional signage, you can also change things up with showcases or entertainment. Imagine being able to literally walk your delegates through the topic they are about to hear about. For example, if I’m running an event focussed on the Aerospace industry, I could have people move through different companies showing off their developments or even guide them through a rocket ship and start their experience off with a bang! This will immediately help people to feel less anxious and capture their attention right off the bat.

A chance to get ready for the future

With COVID-19 restricted events, naturally, there will be fewer people and so this is a great time to practice and get ready for hybrid events! I’ll cover hybrid events a little more in another post but running your content in a lecture theatre with excellent technological capabilities will allow you to live stream your sessions to an audience online and allow delegates to ask your speakers some questions.

Alongside this, you could run allocated networking sessions for both your online delegates and your physical delegates. In addition, you could potentially run hybrid networking options with some computers set up and logged in to your virtual environment so that your physical delegates can still network with your virtual ones!

This period with fewer physical delegates and an engaged virtual market could provide the perfect environment to get your hybrid event skills ready for the future boom!

Additional sponsor opportunities

This one may seem obvious but with the enhanced hygiene procedures being brought in, there are more branding opportunities for your sponsors. Face masks, sanitizer stations, COVID screen branding, one-way system branding, there are countless possibilities.

Alongside this, every single individual that attends your event will likely need to fill in a COVID-19 questionnaire. There is, however, nothing to say that this questionnaire couldn’t contain a question from your sponsors which could provide them with valuable and focussed data.

If you’re planning on using this period to get your hybrid events off the ground, this is a perfect opportunity to align the data for your sponsors in both a physical and virtual environment.

Blow off the cobwebs

As event professionals, we’re certainly not used to downtime! Running small events will allow people that haven’t been involved with events for a while or have been furloughed to gradually reintroduce themselves to the process. The skills of event managers are so finely tuned that we will undoubtedly be a little rusty when we get back to it and that’s completely acceptable, but it will be great to get an opportunity to get out there and start talking to delegates again!


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