After more than two years in a COVID world, many companies and conferences are back to planning and hosting in-person events and meetings. Many are simply dusting off the plans from 2019. But the times have changed…and in-person gatherings must change too.
The health and safety of event attendees should always be top of mind. But you also want to be sure they’re getting what they need out of your event. The old way of doing things can be overwhelming, seem out of touch, and even be off-putting. But if you take the extra steps to ease your attendees back into in-person events, it can make your time together more valuable and effective. Here are four things you can do:
Continue to take COVID precautions
When you walk through the grocery store, you’ll still see fellow shoppers and employees wearing masks and protective equipment. You’ll likely find sanitizing wipes near the shopping cart corrals. And you may even see bottles of hand sanitizer placed throughout the aisles. While most states, cities, and venues have completely relaxed COVID mitigating protocols, there is still a risk of contracting the deadly virus.
It’s important to make it known to your attendees that you’re still taking their health and safety seriously. Offer plenty of hand sanitizer and masks. Regularly have the restrooms serviced to ensure there is plenty of soap. Provide packaged snacks, meals, and beverages when possible. And, of course, encourage those who feel ill to stay home.
Schedule plenty of break time
This is something meetings and conferences should have been doing pre-COVID, but is even more important now. For those who’ve been in a remote work environment, stepping away from the desk is much more common than it was in the office. A quick walk with the dog after a meeting, stepping out for lunch or coffee, picking the kids up from school — all are commonplace for remote workers today.
Schedule some longer break times between sessions so that attendees can process information, network with other attendees, decompress, go for a walk, or knock out a few tasks without sacrificing time in their next session.
Make networking a priority
Sure, evening happy hours and networking events are age-old ways for attendees to meet new people, catch up with colleagues, and relax after a long day. But creating intentional blocks of time for networking during in-person events can be even more valuable. After being limited to online networking and session chat rooms, conversing, ideating, and exchanging information in person brings significant value.
Set up spaces that encourage connection and conversation. Create specific networking spaces based on learning tracks, roles, goals, or interests. Or even encourage session leaders to dedicate 10-15 minutes of their session to networking or idea sharing.
Record all sessions
Whether or not you decide to offer a virtual event alongside your in-person event, recording sessions — even smaller breakout sessions — can really add value to your attendees. It can be tough to choose from multiple sessions and most attendees don’t want to lose out on information. Even if video or sound recording isn’t possible, you can encourage session leaders to offer handouts, presentations, or other resources to share with attendees.
COVID drastically shifted the way we live, work, and interact with others. It shifted priorities, exposed cracks, and added a level of complexity we could have never imagined. We’re all managing it differently and each event’s unique circumstances make planning even more challenging. However, if you stay focused on health and safety, practicality, and accommodation, you’re sure to execute one of your most valuable events ever.
Kadi McDonald is a freelance writer, marketing strategist and dog lover.