February 12, 2021

The following is republished with the permission of the Association of National Advertisers. Find this and similar articles on ANA Newsstand.

By Wendy Gibson

Safety processes have always been included in event planning, but they are now more important than ever due to the pandemic and people’s concern for their health. Having appropriate protocols in place will help everyone feel safe when attending events in person — no matter the type of event or venue.

In this new age, it’s imperative that event professionals innovate how they approach event planning and proactively open the lines of communication with exhibitors and attendees, creating a transparent workflow so safety mitigation needs are met with confidence.

Using Data and Insights for all Points of View

Equally important is including insights and feedback from attendees, colleagues, and industry partners from the very beginning of planning. Doing so will help identify pain points when considering what participants will require or what they might be concerned about when attending or producing their next in-person or hybrid event, trade show, or conference.

Key findings of a GES survey conducted in June and July of 2020 show that 88 percent of respondents said they are open to attending shows in person, with 65 percent of those respondents demanding some form of mitigation to attend. As a GES infographic based on the survey illustrates, respondents’ expectations for mitigation can be divided into five segments based on their level of concern over COVID-19:

  •     Very concerned and believe mitigation efforts won’t work (12 percent)
  •     Concerned but open to attending if the event provides a lot of value (24 percent)
  •     Moderately concerned and, though willing to engage in personal restrictions, are not open to set meetings or limited meeting times (24 percent)
  •     Low to moderately concerned and want both personal mitigation and structural changes to the show they attend (17 percent)
  •     Low concern about COVID-19 and want the show to proceed as normal (23 percent)

“Those programming events should identify their show’s core customer segments and design to their needs,” notes Dan Hilbert, EVP of Events Worldwide at GES Events, in a recent GES webinar called “What Attendees Really Want.” People wanting to return to events have different levels of risk perception; it’s up to organizers to acknowledge that and address those mitigation needs.

Taking the Attendees’ Point of View

“Surveying attendees to gather data, insights, and their POV helps everyone develop a better path for experience strategy and design,” Hilbert says. “Candid conversations with clients and proven insights have led to growth, new ways of innovating, and reinventing how we design and produce live events safely in the future.”

When incorporating health and safety mitigation so attendees feel comfortable, event organizers should consider how to design each element to ensure attendees remain engaged and connected to the experience. For example, attendees now may want to engage with content both virtually and in person and connect with other attendees and event staff safely while on site. Reinventing the way planning incorporates the attendee journey both online and offline will be key.
Omnichannel communication.

Event organizers should provide robust communication through all phases of the event to keep attendees engaged, whether they are attending the event in person or online. The type of content created and how it will be shared with attendees is important to consider. Will it be pre-recorded or live? Will it be shared pre- and post-event or limited to the event only? By marrying the strategy for content development with the communication tactics, attendees are more likely to stay engaged throughout the event or trade show.
Health and safety precautions.

Identifying new ways of creating safe environments to foster necessary face-to-face interactions is paramount to reopening events safely. Defining and implementing well-considered operational practices to promote the health and safety of everyone involved in live events will reinforce trust in the industry’s ability to return safely. Organizers should keep an eye on updates and requirements from government health officials as well as what event companies are proposing.
Reinvented event spaces.

Organizers should ensure safety and hygienic practices are in place throughout the in-person or hybrid experience, beginning with registration and following through until the attendees exit the event. It’s a good idea to use contactless interactions and badge retrieval options at registration and to rethink the overall registration process to reduce crowding. For general sessions or the exhibit hall, organizers should keep in mind that room capacities may be lowered in each event area and physical distancing required due to government regulations. In these instances, it might be worthwhile to get creative when designing floor plans to include safety mitigation so attendees feel comfortable while still feeling engaged.

Taking the Client’s Point of View

Having an open dialogue and collaborating with clients and internal stakeholders is crucial when incorporating new safety protocols for the best attendee experience, while still meeting clients’ goals. By holding client roundtables and ideation sessions prior to designing the layout of an event, organizers will have a strategic approach to best plan for future events, whether they are hybrid or in person.

Proactive client collaboration.

Now more than ever, organizers should proactively discuss pain points with clients and work with them to find viable solutions.

“In the spirit of developing the best thinking, ideas, and recommendations to better serve clients, GES hosts informal roundtables with clients who want to discuss recent and future events with their peers,” says Chuck Grouzard, EVP of Exhibition Sales at GES. “The sessions are intended to be highly collaborative, focused on sharing concerns and seeking clients’ feedback about how best to plan and produce a show during and post-COVID-19.”

Organizers should start small and keep the roundtables exclusive at the beginning, build on discoveries, and modify discussion points to benefit future roundtables.
Brainstorm and strategize.

“I believe live events will return with a vengeance,” says Jen Beindorf, VP of Business Development and Global Strategy at GES Events. And, she emphasizes, “They will be even better than ever — with upgraded, amazing experiences and activations that did not exist pre-COVID.”

Beindorf explains that taking the time to hold brainstorming or strategy sessions is highly beneficial in identifying and developing innovative solutions for future event experiences.

Conducting ideation sessions with internal stakeholders and clients opens up pathways to creative solutions and can inspire innovative thinking for new safety protocols and procedures. This will help address new COVID-19 safety mitigations while also reinventing the attendee experience.
Keeping clients and staff safe during production.

Whether events are virtual, in-person, or hybrid, producing high-level content and other engaging elements will most likely still require in-person production. It’s a good idea to keep safety mitigation efforts like temperature checks, physical distancing, and mask requirements in mind when planning out the event production to ensure the client, internal stakeholders, event speakers, and staff feel safe.

A best practice is to create a company program around health and safety initiatives to share with internal and external stakeholders, similar to Southwest Airlines’ Southwest Promise and Target’s SAFE Retail programs.

Incorporating stringent health and safety procedures to protect the welfare of everyone involved in events will instill confidence in future face-to-face interactions and restore vitality to the events industry.

About Author: Wendy Gibson is the CMO at GES, a partner in the ANA B2B Thought Leadership Program.

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