The events industry is forecasting a return to in-person events as soon as this fall, but in the new age of ‘digital first’ strategies, the next chapter of in-person events will have different rules of engagement for the better.
Considering the anti-climactic end to the pandemic with new COVID-19 Delta variant that have been discovered across the world alongside increasing vaccination rates, it raises questions for the industry: What does it mean for events and conferences until we reach heard immunity? How do we optimize success for stakeholders in the ladder half of 2022? What can we all start thinking about in-person events as planners, marketers, exhibitors, and attendees alike?
In a recent #EVENTS360 webinar, Certain’s Senior Marketing Manager, Marcela Ricci, and Founder of Endless Events & Co-Host of Event Tech Podcast, Will Curran, joined forces to provide up-to-the-minute advice on getting ready for in-person events, as well as some useful tips for attending, hosting, and exhibiting at your next in-person event.
Let’s face it, you’re not the one orchestrating the event, but your attendance will help make the event what it is! Attendees will range in willingness to return to in-person events, and a great event will follow suit of the varying ways to engage audiences.
Don’t be unsure of the rules of engagement
Many in-person event goers may be required to provide a pre-event negative COVID test or proof of vaccination. Acceptable forms of proof while traveling and at the event can include:
- A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-issued vaccination card;
- a printed photo of a CDC vaccination card;
- a digital photo of the vaccination card;
- or a digital vaccination record from your doctor.
Clear safety and health guidelines will most likely be in place, and it’s important that you take the time to be on the receiving end of the event’s communication channels. Perhaps they’ll even provide an event app or two you’d be happy to install on your phone before traveling.
“Certain works closely with customers to make sure that if for any reason they need their event to change, we have a contingency plan with options in place,” says Marcela, “As an attendee you might consider what your contingency plan is. Can you go virtual last minute if you need to or don’t feel comfortable? What will it take for you to travel to that event?”
Health and safety will be a top priority as we look towards the future of events, and event hosts must step in to communicate the rules of engagement clearly through all available communication channels.
Many eager attendees will be happy to comply with your events’ rules of engagement regarding temperature tests, proof of vaccinations, interaction guidelines, etc., but the flow of this information must make sense. This essential pre-event information gives a knowing breath of fresh air for attendees and must be part of your event website and a larger email drip sequence that will add value and outline expectations.
The “getting ready”
“Firstly, take up a virtual, digital mindset so you’ll always have a backup event model to fall on,” Will stated. Many will find that having a contingency plan is a huge priority right now. Make sure you can commit to a virtual event if you need to and have an event technology provider to help set that plan up for you.
Many people internationally are still not comfortable attending in-person events, and a great digital experience will make your audience at home feel less like a second-class citizen. By the definition of hybrid, virtual and in-person attendees should have the same level of quality experience without trying to replicate the same experience. While you can’t recreate those warm moments of running into an old coworker at a happy hour, you can create other exclusive engagement opportunities on a virtual platform to provide a balance of quality. Check out this awesome Guide To Hybrid Events from our friends at Endless Events.
Despite new rigorous protocols, many production companies in 2020 continued their work through the pandemic by streamlining their workflow, which in many cases increased their productivity by accelerating their use of technology. Production companies naturally took on responsibility for safely making virtual and in-person events possible, so discussing best protocols for in-person and hybrid events with your production team is always a great resource.
Event teams have shifted and changed, but has your team evolved to consider a COVID Compliance Officer (CCO) for your in-person event? Digging deeper, many would suggest having a CCO on-site. It’s important to stress that it is not a good idea to try to monitor vaccine responses and test results all by yourself. Appointing a COVID Compliance Officer, AKA an event health officer, can help event hosts focus throughout the entirety of programming to keep everyone healthy and safe. If this internal role doesn’t work for your team, try tapping into a vendor who can advocate for your health and safety measures on-site and develop the standard of care. This role will take charge of safe check-ins, temperature checks, contract tracing, and mask usage monitoring that you don’t have time to perform if you, as the host, oversee programming, catering, the experience of the event, etc.
Don’t Live in 2019
Above all, make sure you’re not implementing the same strategies you had in 2019. As an event industry, we were completely disrupted by the pandemic, we faced heartache and unfortunate (events), and many event professionals will waste this new opportunity to do exactly what they did before COVID-19 lockdowns. Take what we’ve all learned about technology and apply it moving forward to evolve as an industry. Initially, companies might be able to get away with not evolving because people are just going to be excited to be back in-person. You could have no music, no bar, no exhibitors, and people will still be excited to get back together at the event. This will only last for a short period of time because all the professionals who’ve learned something from the last year are going to take what they learned, apply it, make better events, leaving the rest in the dust.
Certain has ramped up technology offerings by looking closely at the exhibitor experience because they’re a huge piece of how we all need to start thinking about 2021-2022 hybrid events. “The virtual exhibitor experience wasn’t really what we’d hoped it could come close to being. So we’ve really looked into different ways beyond a virtual booth to set up ways to engage with sponsors and exhibitors more,” Marcela explained. So, what is the mindset for investing as a sponsor or exhibitor at in-person events?
Great Sponsors and Exhibitors will Integrate
Event hosts across the board have also ramped up offerings by taking up a digital first mindset and are eager to find exhibitors that understand the value proposition of their hybrid and in-person events. Gold star exhibitors add value to an event by staying digitally engaged, understand inbound marketing, and are active in session chats with attendees.
Find and Create Value
If one thing is certain, exhibitors should not undervalue the digitals spaces that audiences live in. Gone are the days of Platinum-level event sponsors who solely rely on leads to pull attendees towards their booth. Platinum sponsors must provide platinum-level participation.
Exhibitors should go beyond the virtual booth by setting up ways to engage attendees, and have solutions in place to create meeting opportunities, digital maps, and valuable learning sessions. You might also consider walking attendees through gamification to engage more with exhibitors/sponsors. This gives attendees an incentive to meet with a sponsor and earn a badge. Adding competition through leaderboards that show where attendees rank has proved digital and in-person engagement success.
You can’t copy and paste the way we used to with event programs. With the huge boom in technology over the last year, there’s so much out there. We as an industry didn’t bother to think about the many details we do now. It’s an exciting time, but we must be willing to keep up with the times and not fall back to old strategies now that in-person is coming back. Let’s be fair, digital and virtual always kind of had a role pre-COVID, but now, after being forced to arrive at these options, we view them differently. It has allowed us to question our reality and what we’re producing all along.
Learn how Certain can make your next in-person event a smart one. Contact us today to speak to one of our event experts.