What to consider when planning an event in the era of social distancing

By May 13, 2020 TAGS:    ,   ,   ,   ,   

The traditional focus for planning onsite events usually has been around creating a memorable experience, whether that be for immersive training events, product launches, or networking events. While typically, event planners do consider elements such as ventilation, cleaning protocols and food safety practices, they have taken on more significance these days given the emergence of COVID-19. Today, as life returns to a “new normal”, planning an onsite event means ensuring you are working with vendors as well as venues that are practicing safety procedures as recommended by federal and local institutions.

So how do you sift through all the information out there to know what types of vendors to partner with, and more importantly, what elements demonstrate that onsite properties are ready to receive event attendees? Read on for a list of 5 things to consider when determining which site might be right for your event.

1. Look for virtual tours to evaluate the space

Take a virtual tour of MEET

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then video is like the trilogy book series of The Game of Thrones. With everyone already set up in their home offices, there is no need to physically visit a location since you can use the internet to do the work for you. Look for properties that offer virtual tours, 360 degree or 3-D imagery of the location, front entrance, lobby, break out rooms, etc. While photos and floor plans are helpful, they are still two dimensional and static. If you prefer to “walk” the room to envision set up and brainstorm on how best to create an immersive experience, virtual tours are the closest equivalent. The bonus is that usually locations that offer options like this are more digitally savvy and thus more likely to accommodate any technical configurations you might need.

2. Locations that are wired for speed and can also support virtual needs

MEET-Classroom

Speaking of technology, with everyone working from home, bandwidth requirements (and expectations) have increased across the board. Choppy connections, robot-ed voices and dropped connections are frustrating to say the least. Look for sites that are have invested in technology to upgrade WiFi to accommodate virtual and streaming requirements. Why is this important? While we’re all working to return to a version of normalcy, there will be those who might not yet be comfortable participating in traditional in-person / onsite events. As virtual events have quickly emerged to be the alternative to live events, the impact and results of such events are interesting – increased attendance by those who have never participated in the past, a high level of engagement and participation via collaboration tools, and an increased desired to network in person when the actual event returns as originally planned. These results indicate the potential development of hybrid events down the road – those that simultaneously accommodate people physically onsite as well as those that want to attend virtually and still have a similar experience.

Technology such as livestreaming or VR headsets require reliable, customizable venue features to ensure high performance levels. Having WiFi connectivity isn’t sufficient, be sure it’s up to par. If you connect virtually with your venue partner as you plan out your event, take note of how comfortable they are with technology, connectivity and compatibility. A savvy partner will help you create hybrid experiences that are seamless and enjoyable for all participants, and won’t be afraid to innovate and explore interesting options that your attendees will find appealing.

3. Alternatives to traditional options for food and beverage

Food Trucks in Front of MEET

This is important – you need to feel assured and ensure your attendees feel safe when it comes to onsite interactions. While food and beverage are usually an important part of the event experience, it might be time to truly consider and evaluate how it fits into your overall event. Depending on what you’re planning, you might want to consider ruling food out altogether, or at the very least think about layouts that honor social distancing requirements. Look for a venue partner that is willing to be flexible on how best to accommodate your needs, BUT also stands firm on not supporting any self-serve type of food service like buffets. Caterers will give you options on how food can be presented, ordered and served in a way that ensures safety. A venue with a blank canvas floor plan is ideally suited for this type of arrangement.

4. Flexible floor plans to accommodate social distancing

Traditional venues with standard round tabletops are at a disadvantage here. Overall, event planners are now challenged with how to create an intimate, memorable experience when only 4 people are sitting at a table usually meant for 10. How do you keep it cozy? How do you prevent people from feeling like they have to yell to be heard by those on the other side of the table? You’ll need to work with locations that are ready, willing and able to accommodate social distancing requirements. Look for partners who already have floor plans mapped out – you shouldn’t have to do all the work. Venues that are prepared to host events in the short term will be able to easily share how you can host a 20 or 50 person event while keeping everyone safe, and still create an enjoyable experience.

Remember that you can use technology to support your social distancing floorplans. Creative use of lighting on the floor, in your branded colors, to mark of 6-foot increments is an option. Providing headphones for those who are sitting far apart but still want to talk with others and network is another option to consider.

5. Don’t be shy to ask about cleaning protocols

We’re all in this together. Which means that we all have a responsibility to ensure everyone is practicing safe measures as larger groups of people start to gather in one place. You should make it a point to look for, as well as understand, what a venue does to ensure safety on their part as well as measures taken for their own staff’s well-being.

Confirm that they will make hand sanitizer stations available in various locations, not just in the room your event is in, but in the lobby, at entrance and exit points, or near any food stations. Venues should be sharing their protocols that meet EPA guidelines when it comes to sanitizing procedures regarding rooms, equipment and all materials before, during and after an event. In addition, they’ll likely share their own guidelines mandated for staff to keep both staff and guests safe. Working with venue partners who are up front and happy to disclose what measures are being taken to keep their staff as well as clients and guests safe is key.

In Closing

Without a doubt some of the items on this list haven’t always been part of planning checklists, but given today’s environment, it helps to look for venues that can accommodate you from all aspects as you begin to plan your events. Take the opportunity to work with locations that can accommodate creative needs as well as practical ones – check out the space at MEET Las Vegas and take a virtual tour to see how you can continue to create memorable experiences safely.

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