With the weather heating up around the country (if you're lucky where you’re located, maybe it was never cold this winter), it is a perfect time to plan to have some parts of your conference or event outdoors. Until people become more comfortable with large indoor gatherings, a hybrid indoor-outdoor event is another great way to ease attendees' minds.
Though restrictions are becoming much more relaxed as more of the population is getting vaccinated, many large-scale events, conferences, and gatherings will be held outside for the rest of the year. Outdoor events continue to be a much safer option as large numbers of people come together for various occasions – meetings, conferences, events, festivals, weddings, and other social gatherings.
Researchers have determined that the transmission rate for Covid-19 is 19 times higher indoors than outdoors and that fewer than 10% of global infections have occurred while gathering outdoors. Not only do outdoor events allow for much better ventilation, but with proper precautions and social distancing measures, the risk of transmitting Covid-19 drops astronomically.
Preventing the spread of Covid-19 is much easier during outdoor events, and your guest is going to feel much safer while attending. By transitioning some parts of your event outdoors, you can make your attendees feel safe while providing the same great elements as any indoor event you’ve planned. Keep reading to learn how you can bring indoor aspects of your event outside!
First Thing’s First – Choose The Right Venue
Just like when we plan an indoor event finding the right venue is key. Does the facility not only offer adequate space for your attendees to social distance during sessions, speakers, and meals but do they offer an outdoor area that can be transformed to accommodate various parts or components of your event outdoors? Are there covered areas or the ability to bring those components back indoors if there is inclement weather? Are the outdoor areas easily accessible for attendees and vendors alike? Both indoor and outdoor spaces will have to be considered when accessing logistics, comfort, safety, and legality and selecting your venue.
Components of the Event to Move Outdoors
No two events are alike, and every event that we plan will have different parts or components depending on the budget, location, and focus of the event. Still, some categories are a part of almost every meeting, event, or conference. We’ll dive into ideas and best practices of how to bring registration, keynote speakers or sessions, food and beverage, and entertainment outdoors.
Since registration is often the first interaction your attendees have with other attendees or staff, it often sets the tone for the entire event. This is the perfect opportunity to show them that their health, safety, and experience are at the forefront of your mind. Aside from the keynote speaker, registration is often the largest gathering of attendees, speakers, and staff in one place. It is best to move this outdoors.
Moving registration materials and tables should be simple enough logistically, but be sure to plan for and factor in the weather. It might be best to have any printed materials assembled and packaged ahead of time. This will prevent the wind from sending these flying, rain from ruining the print, and limit the areas and amount of surface contact. When planning to have registration outdoors, we recommend setting up the tables and materials under tents and providing adequate signage to direct your attendees. Consider replacing your traditional foam core signage or retractable banners with heavier easel-based signs (like The Edge), weighted banner stands designed for outdoor use, flags, or textured slip-resistant floor decals.
Branded event giveaways or promo items can further assist in setting the tone for aspects of the event to be conducted outdoors. Fun ideas include sunglasses, umbrellas, ponchos, sunscreen, hands-free, USB or personal fans, vacuum insulated bottles or cups (to keep drinks cool),
Keynote Speakers or Sessions
Like we mentioned above, the keynote address or speaker will have most of your event gathered in one location. Instead of having to limit the number of people able to see the speaker in person (rather than streamed or virtually in another room), set up the keynote outdoors. This allows you to increase the ability to have people socially distanced while keeping the excitement and energy of sharing an experience with a large group of people. The logistics of transitioning this outdoors is slightly more complicated than moving registration as audiovisual will have to be involved.
If your event is large enough to make it difficult for all the attendees to see and hear the main stage (while maintaining safe social distancing), we recommend setting up side or auxiliary stages that can use a screen to display the speaker. This gives all attendees the ability to participate in person, feel the excitement of the group and have a great experience!
Setting up socially distanced seating or gathering areas is as important outdoors as it is indoors. This presents an added opportunity for sponsors to provide seating areas or upgrade existing seating areas or provide a VIP area through the use of tents, fans, personal coolers, and cold drinks.
Since you have already gone to the effort to get AV equipment and a stage set up outside, why not keep using the main stage for speakers or sessions that will draw a larger audience? Tents and seating areas can be set up with simple podiums for smaller sessions or less popular speakers. If you will have many “meeting rooms” running concurrently, make sure the areas are spaced far enough apart to avoid any issues with attendees being able to hear the presenter. Consider providing attendees with branded Bluetooth headphones and broadcasting the audio of the presenter through your app or another online platform. Attendees can tune in without the risk of overlapping audio from multiple sessions.
Food and Beverage
Moving the event’s food and beverage services outdoors is a great way to make attendees more comfortable with removing their masks while partaking in the food and beverage consumptions. You’ll still want to make sure the area is set up to not only allow for but clearly mark areas to encourage social distancing.
One of the most fun parts about moving this component outdoors is there are so many options that you can pick one that works with your event theme and is the most memorable and enjoyable for your attendees.
For lunch or a more casual feel for any meal, food trucks and barbeque-type foods can provide your guests delicious food in a laid-back atmosphere. Make sure to consider limited menus (to reduce food prep time) and possible dietary restrictions to make sure there is something for everyone. If you decide to go the food truck route, don’t assume the trucks themselves will have the signage necessary for your setup. Coordinate with them ahead of time to provide any necessary directional or COVID-related signage. Considerations for this are the same as registration signage - replace lightweight foam core signage with heavier easel-based signs, weighted banner stands, flags, and textured slip-resistant floor decals.
Another great idea for casual food service is prepackaged picnic baskets. These create another great branding or sponsorship opportunity. Consider gifting your attendees the full set or components of the picnic - like baskets, coolers, blankets, dining sets, or cutlery. These casual options pair perfectly with some of the entertainment options we dive into below.
Suppose you are hosting a formal event or a gathering that requires a more professional setting. In that case, there are also many great options to help accommodate your guests. Setting up an open-air tent and serving guests under string lights or by candlelight is a very effective way to create a comforting dining experience for your guests while they dine. Dining al fresco can easily become a beautiful dining under the stars type atmosphere.
As with all post-pandemic food services, make sure to eliminate/minimize shared points of contact. Have silverware wrapped ahead of time, offer prepackaged options, or have an employee assist with any self-serve options (that way, each attendee is not touching the same serving utensil).
Since recent surveys have shown that networking is one of the top reasons people attend a conference or event, creating opportunities to meet others, mingle, and network should be a priority. Setting up activities and planning entertainment events throughout your gathering will keep everyone busy and allow your guests to connect in a relaxed social setting.
If you’ve opted for food trucks, BBQ, or a picnic theme for one of your meals, games like cornhole, bocce ball, washer toss, lawn dice, lawn pong, giant checkers, giant dominoes, or giant connect 4 are fantastic ways to bring people together while still maintaining restrictions and social distance requirements. To limit shared surface contact we recommend you have people wash or sanitize their hands before and after playing. Another way to make people more comfortable participating is to allow time for the materials to be wiped down or sanitized between participants. Setting up activities and planning entertainment events throughout your gathering will keep everyone busy and allow your guests to connect in a relaxed social setting.
Another fun bonding activity is hosting a scavenger hunt! Your guests will not be required to assemble or work closely to participate in this activity, but they still have the chance to connect and work together to win. Scavenger hunts are a fantastic team exercise that promotes team building while creating a fun environment for the entire group!
Live entertainment and movie viewings can also be moved outside. Set up a stage or large screen and place picnic blankets, picnic tables, or other small tables six feet apart on a large lawn. As we discussed in the keynote section consider offering additional sponsorship opportunities with upgraded seating areas. This keeps everyone safe and allows the entire group to enjoy the entertainment together while maintaining all restrictions and social distancing measures.
Other Things To Keep In Mind
Hosting aspects of your event outdoors certainly presents a different set of considerations than a fully indoor event. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are creating the same level of accessibility and comfort during your gathering. This includes creating comfortable seating areas, ensuring that your guests have access to bathrooms and facilities to wash their hands, and of course, making sure there are plenty of weather-proof areas in case of any unforeseen inclement weather.
To ensure safety at your event, there are a few measures that you can take to make sure your guests are kept safe while enjoying the event that you planned. Try your best to create distance limitations around buffets and bar areas. Make sure your event is filled to a lower capacity to ensure extra space for social distancing. Highlight the use of masks throughout areas that may require any gathering. Also, provide plenty of hand sanitizer locations.
As you plan your outdoor event, keep in mind that safety, comfort, and excitement should be top priorities. Moving components of your indoor event outdoors are not only entirely possible with the proper planning and a bit of creative thinking but are sure to create an enjoyable and memorable experience for your attendees! You will be able to create an amazing social atmosphere for your guests (that they are sure to be talking about for years to come) while they enjoy the events that they have all been waiting to get back to for the last year.