How to organize Covid-19-proof events (including hybrid ones)

What measures will need to be taken to ensure the safety of attendees during an event? What characteristics must a location have to ensure a safe execution? How many people to involve and/or invite? How to make the most of the new frontier of hybrid events? In this article we try to answer these “million-dollar” questions to shed some light in this climate of uncertainty.

The unusual and difficult historical period that the whole world is facing due to the Coronavirus emergency has forced us to radically change and evolve in order to adapt to a completely new reality. We are developing a new mindset, which in addition to guiding our habits and lifestyles, also involves marketing and communication, pushing experts and key figures of the industry to rethink their strategies in order to adapt them to the new daily life.

A new daily life that has affected all industries worldwide – there are sectors that have experienced a sudden increase in demand and others that have experienced serious drops. The events sector is among the latter. In fact, the decrees that impose social distancing and that exhort to not frequent crowded places, and the global economic losses and restrictions on travel were the main factors that led to the postponement – if not cancellation – of most of the events scheduled for 2020. Thus, in recent months the organizers have been forced to shut down many of their activities and the entire sector lives in uncertainty. Uncertainty also due to the fact that we do not know how the situation will evolve in the near future (and never as today are we aware of how vulnerable the world is), and related to the numerous doubts of those who need to organize an event – whether it is an international fair, a meeting, an inauguration, a reunion or a local party.

In this article we will try to clarify how to successfully and, above all, safely organize a traditional physical event, without neglecting hybrid and digital events. Although we think that hybrid or digital events will never be able to fully replicate the experiences offered by in-person events (which will probably be back as soon as the epidemiological situation allows it), we are also convinced that hybrid or phygital (from physical + digital) events will persist even after the emergency thanks to the several advantages demonstrated in recent months: from the possibility of cancelling the geographical and temporal distance to that of offering participants innovative digital content that can enrich the in-person experience (virtual or augmented reality, 3D catalogues, instant chats, audio meetings, demos, etc.).

But at the moment, unfortunately, we are still far from a return to pre-pandemic normality. So, it seems clear that to organize an event in the Covid-19 era, we will have to rethink the methods, formats and organization. Let’s see how.

How to organize an event safely?

Events, fairs and congresses are slowly restarting after months of hiatus. However, since events are inherently a chance for gathering, they should be organized taking into account the guidelines that authorities and industry associations have drawn up, based on the directives of the World Health Organization.

Interpersonal distancing and reorganization of spaces

For the entire duration of the event, the social distancing of at least one meter between the participants must be maintained and ensured.

This implies that the choice of a location will have to be rethought. The organizers will have to opt for a larger location – or even better for an outdoor one if the type of event (and the climate) allows it – which enables them to organize spaces in such a way as to reduce the risk of crowding and ensure safe movements. For example, if we have to organize a meeting, it will be necessary to understand what is the appropriate number of seats, by virtue of the distance that will be maintained between the seats.

Or, on the occasion of a trade fair, it is advisable to limit entrances to avoid overcrowding of people entering and exiting, by arranging separate routes or by extending the opening hours to dilute the turnout.

Or again, for example during an inauguration, where catering and banqueting services are usually provided, it is necessary to make use of staff for table service and/or assisted buffet or opt for pre-packaged meals.

Therefore, based on the capacity of the available spaces and the type of event, the organizer will have to evaluate the maximum number of participants and arrange all the necessary measures so as to avoid crowds.

Protection equipment

In compliance with the guidelines drawn up by the WHO, it is mandatory that all the attendees wear a mask for the duration of the event. Furthermore, the organizers will have to make sanitizing solutions for hands and containers dedicated to the collection of PPEs available in several areas of the location.

Equipment and tools available to speakers, moderators and listeners (e.g. microphones, keyboards, mouse, etc.) must be disinfected after each use.

Finally, it is essential that the organizers predispose thermo-scanners at the access gates and forbid entry to those who have a temperature above 37.5° C.

Rooms sanitation and ventilation

As for the spaces, regular cleaning and disinfection must be carried out at the end of each activity/day, paying particular attention to the most exposed surfaces, toilets and common areas (i.e. vending machine keypads, handrails, door handles, elevator push-button panels, etc.). The WHO also invites to favour the rate of air change in closed environments, while, if possible, deactivating the air recirculation function from the air conditioning systems.

Registered access and contact tracing

Contact tracing remains one of the most essential activities to defeat the ongoing epidemic. To this end, the organizer should set up registration desks at the access gates where staff can record the data of each participant. Entry must be allowed only to registered people. Also, on this occasion, it is necessary to avoid aggregation, to favour the maintenance of at least 1 meter of distance and to ensure access to the event in an orderly manner.

For this purpose, technology comes to the rescue thanks to specifically developed apps and software. In fact, various digital tools launched on the market are dedicated to the registration and management of participants’ information; while others allow you to see where other people are in real time, in order to avoid

QR Codes and e-tickets are the ideal solution for recording personal data and other useful information of visitors before the event.

Finally, it is recommended to study an emergency plan to be applied in case that a person shows symptoms related to Covid-19 during or in the days following the event. Organizers can also take into consideration health insurances for the participants and all the staff involved.

Information material

The World Health Organization recommends informing participants about the behaviour and about the hygiene and health rules to be followed by disseminating information material.

The organizer can study an awareness campaign even before the event, by sending electronic infographics, videos and newsletters on the prevention measures adopted for the organization of the event and on the behaviours to keep. The same information must then be showcased on site, with the aid of special signage, billboards and audio-video systems.

It is preferable to not print and distribute leaflets and flyers so as to avoid interpersonal contact and reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.

To monitor the compliance with the measures, the event organizer can hire staff assigned to this task. Obviously, for this and all the aspects mentioned above we also have to appeal to the visitor’s sense of responsibility.

After having seen what are the main recommendations to be taken into consideration for the preparation and duration of an event, we cannot fail to mention a growing trend in the sector: hybrid events.

The boom of hybrid events

The new needs deriving from the Coronavirus anti-contagion measures as well as the restrictions in terms of social distancing, travelling and gatherings have led to a significant spread of the use of digital technologies for the organization of an event. This is a trend that has already been growing for some years, but which is currently experiencing an even greater acceleration for obvious reasons.

What is a hybrid event?

The hybrid or phygital event arises from the combination of the traditional physical event – i.e. with people physically present at the event venue – and the virtual event, that entails the participation of people via a virtual connection.

What are the benefits of hybrid events?

  • Higher number of participants: when organizing a traditional event, the total number of participants depends on the capacity of the venue. Even more so in this period, during which the number of those who can access a space is limited, the hybrid event allows for the online participation of a greater number of people.

In addition, in the following video you can see how a hybrid event can help understand the needs and behaviours of our audience, as well as connect with new people and acquire a new audience, who might not otherwise have attended one of our events.

  • Breaking down distances: thanks to digital tools, it is possible to reach users from all over the world, especially in a period like this where travel is difficult or people are unwilling to move.
  • Greater visibility on social channels and on the official website of the event thanks to the possibility of sharing content online.
  • Greater engagement: unlike the purely virtual event, the hybrid event allows for greater participation and involvement. In fact, the virtual audience can participate and interact actively (speaking, commenting, sharing, liking, etc.) directly from their device. It is also possible to organize moments of direct engagement, such as surveys, in which both those present and those virtually connected can participate.
  • Reduction of environmental impact and costs: the reduction of travel has certainly had a positive impact on the environment thanks to the reduction in emissions. But the advantages do not only concern the environment: a hybrid event can also reduce the costs related to any travel (transport, accommodation, etc.), to the number of staff on site or to catering.
  • Greater flexibility: in this uncertain period, in which the situation can change from one moment to the next, it is of fundamental importance to be able to rely on digital tools. In fact, in case that, close to the start of the event, new restrictions are issued, being able to count on a digital platform and strategy gives us the chance to keep running the event online. A functional compromise for both the organizer and the participants.

What are the critical aspects of organizing hybrid events?

As with all things in life, there are a few critical aspects that we have to take into consideration when organizing a hybrid event. For instance, there could be a loss of personal contact between speakers and participants or between exhibitors and visitors or technical problems related to the practical management of the event (problems with internet connection, streaming platform that doesn’t work and so on).

Furthermore, the communication itself may be less direct due to the space-time distance compared to face-to-face interaction.

Surely, one of the most critical aspects of organizing a virtual event to which the organizers must pay the utmost attention, is the need to guarantee the same experience and the same possibilities to both bystanders and virtual participants: if, for example, an event involves interaction between the audience and the speaker, this possibility must be given equally to both audiences. The same goes for all other networking and interaction opportunities. In general, it is essential that our entire audience has the opportunity to experience the event in the same way. It is certainly not an easy task – which is added to the already complicated management due to the health emergency – but surely feasible thanks to the technologies available.

Summing up

In such an uncertain and ever-changing situation, it may be difficult to imagine organizing an event.

Surely the responsibilities to be assumed are even bigger and the decision must be weighed and evaluated with the utmost attention, possibly resorting to the support of associations and industry organizations that have joined the government bodies to promote guidelines and indications on how to organize events safely.

So, let’s monitor the regulations, the recommendations and the guidelines issued by the health and government institutions, but also sensitize the participants to individual responsibility, so that everyone is committed to respecting the regulations in place.

Digital technologies are crucial elements in daily life and are essential tools for the organizers of an event, today more than ever. From apps to manage user data to those that monitor the flow of people, up to softwares for designing virtual events: let’s take advantage of the technologies available to ensure that our event happens in total safety.

EOS Mktg&Communication can be your ideal partner in the organization and promotion of an event, supporting you in the implementation of all the regulations necessary to guarantee the safety of staff and participants, and of the fundamental digital technologies to ensure maximum enjoyment of the event by all the participants. Contact us to find out more about our services.

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Since I was a child, my school career has been driven by a passion for what I wanted to do when I was grown up. So I graduated in modern languages and cultures at the University of Pavia and now I'm studying journalism and communication at the University of Bergamo. Today I do what I like most: I work in the technical publishing industry dedicating myself in particular to social media and digital marketing at Eos Mktg&Communication, the publishing house of the international ipcm® magazines. If I had to describe myself in three words according to my hobbies and interests, I would say: globetrotter, shopaholic and motorsport-addicted.

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