How to Be a Successful Event Planner in the Age of Coronavirus
Event planners’ jobs are all about bringing people together and creating a connection. But how do you do that in an environment that is focused on isolation and distancing? While the world is slowly and cautiously starting to reopen, many people are speculating on what our world will look like post-pandemic. And for event organizers, we can expect to see lots of changes in how we plan, organize and execute events.
To help you find success in your post-coronavirus event planning business, both in the immediate future and further down the line, we’ll walk through the new realities of event planning and talk about:
- Preparing your guests and staff for reopening
- The rise of virtual events and how to host one
- How to include health safety in your event planning
In addition, you should continue to monitor sources like PCMA's Coronavirus Resources for Planners page and the Event Manager Blog's continually updated Coronavirus & Events page.
Easing people back into event spaces
With restrictions being loosened in many U.S. states and countries around the world, people are beginning to venture outside of their homes for the first time in months. Some are even gathering again at restaurants, bars or beaches. But what does this mean for your event plans?
Truthfully, there is no magic date for when it’s acceptable to resume the party. The changing regulations in your state/country, the fluctuations of COVID-19 infections, the reopenings/reclosings we will probably experience as a result of those fluctuations, the feelings of your attendees and your own beliefs will all play a role in how you determine when it is ethically and legally OK to send those invites.
When you are ready to move forward, though, here are some things you can do to prepare your guests and staff for your first in-person post-coronavirus event:
- Keep it small – Many local governments and health departments are recommending small gatherings during the first reopening phases, so you will need to consult with your local authorities for the exact cap on attendees based on the current situation. (Check out this great guide on COVID-19 reopening guidelines state-by-state and country-by-country.) And keep in mind that when we are past the pandemic stage, many people will likely suffer from post-traumatic anxiety and may be triggered by overly crowded places.
- Give instruction – The first few events post-COVID may take a little more explanation. Let them know what they can expect from you (health standards, cleaning practices, etc.) and what you expect from them (face masks, protective gear, physical distancing). And make sure you communicate these guidelines and regulations both in writing (via email, on your event website, etc.) and on location (using signage, etc.). IMPORTANT NOTE: You may want to seriously consider requiring attendees to wear cloth face masks, especially if gathering indoors, as it is one of the two methods the Centers for Disease Control recommends for limiting the spread of coronavirus (6 foot personal distancing is the other).
- Allow for health-related refunds – If guests are paying to attend your event, give them an easy option to receive a refund if they aren’t feeling well, as you certainly do not want infected people showing up at your event. It will help to prevent spreading viruses and make other guests feel at ease. NOTE: You may want to factor this into your revenue estimates.
- Make it a hybrid event – Not everyone is ready to be in public, and those who are high-risk people may not even be able to join just yet. Giving them an option to still attend in a virtual manner can keep them connected.
- Sanitize and monitor – Mimicking what other public spaces have been doing during the pandemic, such as grocery stores, and following CDC cleaning and disinfecting guidelines can help to integrate people back into physical gatherings safely. Regularly clean and sanitize, and seriously consider checking people’s temperatures at the door.
- Equip staff with protective gear – Ensure that any on-site staff is protected with gloves, face masks and other essentials. It not only keeps your team safe, but it also sends a message to your guests that you are taking things seriously and that they should follow accordingly.
- Provide specialized staff training – In addition to personal protective equipment, staff may need to make changes to things they’ve done before. This might include extra attention to sanitization, keeping a proper distance and enforcing health rules.
The rise of the virtual event
When it comes to changes that are here to stay, virtual events are one of them. Event planners were already taking to online platforms as a new way to bring people together from around the world. And now, with stay-at-home orders and travel limitations forcing people to utilize online tools and video conferencing platforms to host business meetings, happy hours and classrooms, guests are already prepped and ready to log into your next event.
Some of the benefits of hosting virtual and hybrid events (now and forever) are:
- Connecting people from all over the world
- Reducing event costs (no location booking, no food costs, etc.)
- Making events more accessible to more people
- Fewer logistical challenges
- More concentration on content
Of course, before deciding that your event should be virtual (or hybrid), you should ask yourself these questions, determine if your event is the right “fit” for virtual and educate yourself on how to throw the perfect virtual event. Also, try to have fun and get creative with the new event space. Create customized Zoom backgrounds to send to guests, come up with video-friendly networking games and give people a fresh perspective on celebrations and get-togethers.
NOTE: Besides finding the right virtual event software platform, you will also need to find an online event management tool that easily lets you and your team collaborate virtually to plan and manage your event details.
How to plan with health in mind
Another big game-changer for event organizers is the increased awareness around health hazards. While COVID-19 is likely to be managed with scientific and medical breakthroughs, it is also quite probable that it won’t be our last threat. Even “common” illnesses, such as the flu or cold, are easily spread and are the cause of thousands of deaths and severe health complications each year. For event planners in the coronavirus era, this means including health safety into your regular planning briefs.
Some ways you can protect your guests’ health is by:
- Reminding people to stay home if they aren’t feeling well – No one wants to miss a party, but if you don’t feel well, it’s your responsibility to stay home and avoid spreading the infection. If you know you will have at-risk guests (older guests, babies, autoimmune-compromised, etc.), you can add that there will be vulnerable guests present and ask for others to consider this before showing up with a cough.
- Creating an alert system if someone may have spread a virus at your event – This should include providing directions on how ill guests should contact you, protecting their medical privacy and having a way to reach each guest with necessary information.
- Sanitizing and disinfecting common areas – Not only should you do a proper cleaning before the guests’ arrivals, but you should also take care to clean and disinfect throughout the event, especially in high traffic areas (like restrooms) and frequently handled items (like door handles and faucets). For instance, if you are hosting a large conference, schedule a team to clean and disinfect seats and mics while people are shuffling to different rooms for the next speech or workshop.
- Think of all the things we touch – One of the simplest pieces of an event, the guestbook, could be a haven for germs, bacteria and viruses. With all of your guests sharing the same writing utensils, they could be unknowingly spreading viruses. Consider virtual sign-ins or leave behind cleaning wipes for guests to sanitize before and after use.
- Protecting food – Up until now, serving food family style or banquet style both have been very popular for event dining. However, passing the bread amidst the coronavirus pandemic can cause some anxiety at the dinner table. Equally, buffets can leave food vulnerable to contamination. Serving plates individually, offering individually wrapped/boxed portions, or wrapping buffet tables with protective glass and having staff serve each portion can help to minimize the spread of germs and guests’ anxieties.
- Ensure staff, volunteers, vendors, etc. have proper protective gear – Before you allow anyone to clock in for your event, you should make sure they are taking necessary precautions to protect themselves and others. Establish clearly-defined rules and regulations and provide gear if needed. Also, you may want to test the temperature of each event worker before they enter the venue.
While some tactics may begin to ease as infection rates lower, it’s still important to remain health-conscious when planning your events. Coronavirus is just one of many illnesses that can concern your guests.
Hosting your first post-pandemic event
If you feel nervous about hosting your first post-pandemic gathering, know that you aren’t alone. We are all in uncharted waters. However, with proper planning, careful considerations and the occasional gut-checks, event planners can begin to plan events that will get your revenues flowing again and start brining back our industry. Just remember to keep the guests’ “new needs” in mind, respect health regulations and not be afraid to challenge old traditions and go digital.