In recent months, there has been a lot of uncertainty around event planning. Events are being changed last minute, moved to an online platform, or cancelled entirely. As an event planner or coordinator, even if it’s your sister’s wedding shower, communicating with your attendees is your final step. Right now, attendees are looking to the event businesses, planners, and venues to be pro-active in COVID preparation. How you handle (or mishandle) an event will stick with your attendees and impact future events.
The Guest List
Whether you had a private guest list or an open-to-the-public setting, communicating with your attendees during COVID is going to keep them safe and keep them interested in future events. Depending on the type of event (and the type of updates!), your guest list may include attendees that have RSVPed no or tentative, but it will always include any yes RSVPs.
Private Guest Lists
Did you draft a list of names and addresses for your event? Maybe you sent personalized emails or mailed invitations to a select group of friends, family, or contacts. Then you have a private guest list! Your event isn’t open to the public, so you know exactly who to contact when plans change. In general, you don’t have to communicate with attendees who have already declined to attend your event—especially if you’re cancelling your event. They already weren’t planning to attend, so they won’t care if you’ll have hand sanitizer all throughout the venue or mask requirements.
On the other hand, if you are postponing your event or moving it online—send them a new invitation. In the invitation, recognize that they already declined to attend, but ask if this new date or format will change their mind. Worse case, they decline again, but they know you were thinking of them. It goes without saying that you should definitely update any guests who have not yet responded, responded tentative, or responded attending.
Instead of having a specific guest list, you may have a public ticketing system that allows anyone who’s interested to attend your event. So while you can contact attendees who have signed up or purchased tickets, letting interested, potential attendees know can be tricky. That’s where lots of online and social media updates come in! However you were sharing your upcoming event—share your updates, policy changes, and cancellations the same way. Plus, directly communicate with confirmed attendees.
While your attendees don’t need to know every detail immediately, they do need to receive regular updates leading up to the event date. The two most important elements are to communicate often and clearly. Even if you don’t know what your event will look like—don’t let that stop you from communicating with your attendees during COVID! Be honest with them, and let them know when they can expect more information.
In general, you want to keep communicating with your attendees using the same method. That way, they know where to look for information and updates. However, if you’re making last-minute changes or cancellations, some methods (like a mailed notice) may take too long. For urgent communications, always send an email first. Your guests will receive the information quicker, and you can confirm that they have received and opened the email. Of course, if you want to send a follow-up in the mail, go for it! Just don’t rely on that as your first attempt. (And do mention your email in your mailed notice, just in case they didn’t see the email.)
Create a Support Hub
While your email should cover the major, important event updates, you can’t answer every attendee question in your email. But you can create a support hub where they can get all those answers. It can be a simple landing page with some FAQs or a Twitter account devoted solely to event-related changes because of COVID. For small, private events, you might consider giving out your personal email address or number for one-on-one answers. Then, in your email, let attendees know how they can contact you with questions and get more information.
Establish Safety Measures
Before you make any changes, discuss safety concerns with your team. Do you need to lower the attendee rate? Maybe you need to enforce social distancing or stock up on masks and sanitizer to provide to attendees. Figure out national recommendations, and then make sure you’re complying with your local laws, too. Once you have a solid safety plan in place, communicating with your attendees is your next step.
Once again, you’ll want to communicate any safety measures and requirements with your attendees directly. This includes the precautions that you and your team are taking and any requirements or restrictions for your attendees. Consider sending a safety-themed email multiple times before the event, to increase the open and read rates. Typically, reminder emails are sent the week before, a few days before, and the night before or morning of. Those are all great places to reinforce your safety measures!
Clearly post any and all safety measures on your website and in your safety hub. Include the precautions you are taking, and any requirements for attendees. Don’t be afraid to get detailed, too! Let them know if you’ll have masks and sanitizer on hand. Tell them if areas will be taped off, or if there are specific doors for exiting and entering. And as always, leave room for attendees to ask questions.
Posted at the Event
Repetition is the key to learning, right? Don’t assume that your attendees read all your emails. Even if they did, it’s still your responsibility to ensure their safety the best that you can. Post notices at any entrances, and in well-traveled areas, like restrooms or common areas.
Bonus Tip: If there’s a speaker or loud system, make an announcement at the beginning of the event and during any intermissions. Remind attendees of the safety protocols and thank them for complying.
Set up multiple stations where guests can receive masks and sanitizer and ask questions, too. Think of it like your in-person safety hub! The easier it is for attendees to get the safety information they need, the safer everyone will be.
How will COVID change the landscape of events for the future? While you’re at the event, take notes on what does and doesn’t work. Notice what areas your team is struggling with, and what frustrates your attendees the most. We encourage you to send follow-up emails to your attendees. Ask them for feedback—what worked, and what didn’t? What do they wish was done differently? Then, let them know how you plan to mitigate future events during COVID. Or, if you don’t know, tell them that! Use their feedback to come up with a plan and keep them informed as those details unfold. Remember—the key is to keep everyone safe, and rushing can lead to missteps and compromises.
Communication during any event changes is important. Your attendees will be looking to you for direction and answers, so the more clearly you can provide those answers, the better. Don’t be afraid to email them a few times leading up to the event date, and follow up with them after. Clearly post any safety instructions in your emails, on your website, at the venue, and anywhere else you talk with your attendees.
Has your event planning been impacted by COVID? How have you worked around those challenges?