Organizing Events After COVID-19 – Must Follow These Measures

Little by little, countries are reducing lockdown restrictions to get our lives back to normal. And while events aren’t allowed yet, you might wonder what the ‘new normal’ will look like. Are we eventually getting back to our old routines or will our lives be affected in the long-term?

One thing is guaranteed, our events will change to adapt to the different needs of our participants. What’s better than to use the time until we can open the gates to conferences and exhibitions and get prepared now!

In order to convince corporate management to organize in-person meetings and corporate events again as well as attract visitors and participants to attend those, our events have to be designed as a safe place. We have to make sure that these gatherings emit no higher risk by implementing additional measures.

Digital Participant Management

I have always been a fan of organizing the registration process digitally. It provides so many advantages over long, chaotic, paper-based participant lists & Co. If you haven’t switched to a digital participant management tool, now would be a great time to look into it. Especially when it’s crucial to be as transparent but also as quick as possible to evaluate and react in times of crisis, these tools will make your life so much easier. You can generate diverse reports with a few clicks to let external entities assess any potential risk, or analyze which infected person got in touch with whom to make sure those can be contacted as soon as possible.

Reduced Attendee Density

Check your venue regarding possibilities to reduce the density of your attendees. While we plan events months up to years in advance, we cannot know for sure how the situation will be by that time. To avoid that you might have to cancel on short notice, discuss if it is possible to spread participants further if required. This might not only be a requirement from governments, but many of us already get used to social distancing and feel the need to be able to do so at events to feel safe.

Situations at the entrance, registration, catering but also in the toilet may lead to an increased density. Analyze relevant bottle necks at your event and improve or avoid waiting situations. A digital registration on-site via smartphone or with many check-in stations helps to minimize waiting times. Alternatively, you can organize the arrival of your guests in waves, to reduce queues. Spreading coffee breaks over multiple rooms and increase the number of buffet stations is another measure to increase distance in these bottle neck situations.

The German law for venue regulations normally allows

  • 1 sitting person at a table per square meter of meeting space,

  • 2 sitting persons in a row per square meter of meeting space,

  • 2 standing persons per square meter of meeting space,

  • 1 person per square meter of exhibition space.

In times of virus epidemic this normal person count should be further reduced per square meter. In order to adhere to further distancing space, seats can be placed with more distance in between. At the current distance of 1.5 meters to stop the spread of the pandemic, this would mean a distance of 75 cm left and right of each chair in theatre style. Additionally, participants cannot sit directly behind each other but have to sit diagonally to the other attendees to maintain the distance to all sides.

As you can imagine, this requires a much bigger meeting space than usual if you don’t want to reduce the number of attendees. Therefore, it is important to communicate the special seating situation to your hotel or venue upfront because very often DDRs are based on the optimal amount of guests for a specific meeting room. However, since you will use the meeting room with fewer guests, it could happen that you have to negotiate a special rate or work with different calculation models.

In bigger areas such as foyer or concert halls, place blocks to keep fewer people in different areas and avoid that everybody can push forward to the stage.

Increased Hygiene Awareness

As we know from many shops already, hand sanitizers at the entrance are a good measure to wipe hands clean before entering. Placing dispensers throughout your conference venue will provide your guests with a feeling of care. Additionally, toilets as well as any door handle or other often touched items should be cleaned more frequently, air condition be increased to exchange the air faster, and meeting rooms be aired more often. Guaranteeing this with more breaks during the day will affect the agenda and should therefore be considered during the planning phase already.

It is important to communicate the above measures and be transparent about your effort to keep risk at a minimum. This will help to obtain permissions to host your event while at the same time making guests feel safe to visit the event. Visitor information should be communicated continuously before and during the event, displayed visibly at the venue, and have clear instructions regarding

  • Washing hands often,

  • Coughing into the elbow,

  • Not touching the face,

  • Avoiding crowds and keeping distance,

  • Not attending when feeling unwell (or informing the organizer when symptoms occur during the event).

Program Adjustments

Very often, annual events are organized according to a proven concept. If you want your event to be approved sooner than later though, it might be time to reconsider some program elements. Check and replace sessions or interactions in a small space to reduce the risk for infection. Maybe these can be held in a bigger room or outside, or maybe they can be skipped at all if they aren’t crucial for the success of the event. Walk through all program points on the agenda and make sure they are designed in a social distancing-friendly way.

A creative way to make wearing masks more fun and personal is by setting up booths where guests can design or pimp their own mask. Or let them individualize their name badge by adding “please keep your distance” or other friendly requests on the button.

Local Regulations Check

Despite a European approach, every country has their own speed to react and adjust to the current situation, and sometimes the regulations and guidelines even vary between different states or cities. Therefore, stay up-to-date with your destination city, follow what is and is not allowed, and what the current limit for people gathering is. Especially when you organize international events like we do for our clients, you will also have to know if the attendance of guests from all countries is permitted or if some risk areas are still excluded.

It will be best to get in touch with local authorities as early as possible. Working with them transparently can prevent you from having to deal with negative news shortly before because the more they know about your intentions, the more they can help you to comply with all regulations which are necessary to run your event correctly. Let them know about all measures that you will implement and learn what else will be necessary to avoid later fees or the cancellation of your gathering. Demonstrate that you aren’t putting your attendees at risk and take measures for their safety seriously.

Prepared Crisis Procedure

Furthermore, evaluate your event concept and assess potential risk for infection. Create a checklist that describes what will be the steps in case a participant starts showing symptoms of COVID-19 during the event so that your staff is informed and can react immediately. This list should also include how participants will be informed about proper hygiene, and how you will proceed in case of short notice cancellation or changed travel restrictions.

The better you prepare upfront, the faster you can react and keep any crisis from ending in a disaster. Document any measure you have taken before or during the event because anything can be helpful to reconstruct when what was initiated. It will help trace chains of infections and make your actions transparent, which can be important to evaluate if you as host took all necessary measures to prevent this from happening.

Running through all possible scenarios upfront makes it much easier to stay calm and react immediately when situations change on short notice. What is your social media strategy? What will be your press statements? Who is contact person for whom and do you have all contact details from local press? All of this can be prepared prior to your conference. Act and think proactively to be well prepared.

Being informed and keeping your attendees and stakeholders informed at all times gives you a level of seniority and you will be taken seriously. This is crucial to keep measures in place and establish them effectively. Don’t be afraid to remind your guests to adhere to proper hygiene, ask them nicely to break up groups and keep the distance to each other. It is easy to get distracted by amazing event content and forget that seat spacing has been implemented for the safety of all attendees.

Don’t allow any exceptions if you want to stay credible. If a speaker or guest doesn’t want to comply, stay friendly but firm, and take necessary actions to remove the person if they don’t accept your conditions. Only one misbehavior can ruin your entire planning and cause annoyance to everyone. So, assess the situation and act upon it. Guests will come back to your events if they see you know how to manage crowds properly and keep them safe.

In the end though, please keep in mind though that social interaction at a distance can be quite difficult. Maybe your customers don’t want to attend an event like this because they are lacking the close in-person experience. Are you sure your guests will adhere to your measures to reduce the attendee density in this case? Sometimes the answer could be to postpone your event until safety measures can be reduced to a minimum again.

If you want to go through your event concept and see where we can increase safety measures, contact us and we’ll be happy to support you with our expertise.

Stay safe!

Kristin Sammann

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