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What we learned about events during COVID—and 5 ways to prepare for what’s next

by | Nov 9, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

It’s hard to believe that after the past 18 months, we are still trying to navigate the best approach to staging an event amid the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic.

But as it stands today, for every step we take forward, we seem to take half a step backward.

There has been much prognostication about what the future holds for events. Will they remain hybrid forever, or will we forget about the pivot we made during the COVID-19 pandemic and revert to our old ways—all in-person events?

Unfortunately, in this case, the more things change, the more they stay the same, which translates into some level of uncertainty. As a result, no single approach will work for companies, associations and organizations planning to stage an event in the current landscape.

However, as the world returns to more in-person gatherings, a hybrid component should remain a part of any event’s plan. A few best practices for planners to consider have become clear in recent months.

Develop a flexible plan

A plan—specifically one for addressing potential changes that might arise—has never been so important. The unexpected has never posed such a serious threat, and event planners may have to make substantive changes to an event with little warning.

In many ways, it’s a lot like crisis planning, as it requires thinking through the various possible scenarios. Then, contingent on updated circumstances and developments, it requires constant refinement.

Know your vaccination and testing requirements for in-person

At the moment, vaccination and testing requirements vary widely by location and organization. In planning an event, organizers must first know their local government mandates and what additional requirements they plan to put in place.

Then, they can begin communicating with attendees so they have time to decide. Regardless of the requirements, the ever-present unknowns may deter some potential participants from attending in person.

Solutions for video fatigue

After 18 months of participating in virtual meetings and events, many people crave the opportunity to meet again in person. But not everyone is at a place where they are willing to do so.

For the foreseeable future, a video component should be part of the meeting and event landscape. That puts the burden on event planners to make sure events are compelling and engaging and that attendees feel involved no matter where they are.

Navigate resistance to a hybrid component

Despite the growing use of hybrid events, there remains some resistance to these events. Given the current landscape, organizers have no option but to bring attendees along with the notion of a hybrid event.

To an extent, it requires selling the event differently to potential attendees. Planners need to focus on the benefits for participants and use that as a selling point to help drive attendance.

Communicate (clearly) early and often

Clear and regular communication is imperative for any successful event. Event details may change without warning, and attendees may not know what to expect without regular updates.

How many times have companies delayed office re-openings or re-scheduled in-person team meetings over the recent months? Change is inevitable, and those who don’t plan for it are effectively burying their heads in the sand.

Much like during a crisis, the audience will fill in the voids with their preconceived notions. Allowing that to happen could be enough to sink an event.

Companies and organizations need to treat uncertainty as an opportunity to connect with their audiences. The technology that enables hybrid and virtual connections enables us to stay connected, and we should use it to our advantage.

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John Walker
John Walker is founder and managing partner of Chirp PR, an integrated brand-marketing, communications, digital and PR agency for high-growth companies, including those focused on virtual and hybrid event marketing. He is also an adjunct professor at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business, and serves on the Executive Committee of PRSA’s Counselors Academy.

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