With the growing concern of the COVID-19 virus, it’s no secret that the meetings and events industry is taking a huge hit. If you have an upcoming event within the next three to four months, it’s definitely crossed your mind whether or not to pull the plug. Although media and news outlets are full of reports of events canceling or postponing, more than 19,000 conventions scheduled over the next three months are planning to proceed. A recent live poll taken during the Events Industry Council (EIC) webinar revealed 28% are proceeding as planned, 40% are increasing hygiene and communication with attendees and other stakeholders, 14% are postponing their event, 10% are canceling their event, and 8% are adding virtual or hybrid options. Here are cautionary measures you can take before and during your event to enhance the health and safety for all in attendance.
Education and Communication
First and foremost, it is imperative to educate yourself before you can make any decisions. By this, we mean through reliable and factual resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and Events Industry Council (EIC). Keeping up-to-date on fact-based information will allow you to make the appropriate decision for your event, event attendees, and to properly communicate with them, your sponsors, and other stakeholders about what safety measures are being taken during the event. Before your event, be as vocal as possible with your attendees about these measures by sharing updates, good hygiene tips, and other information on the event website, through email, social channels, and other outlets you see fit.
Implement a No-Touch Policy
In an effort to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, experts are strongly advising against handshakes. Although it's second nature for us to extend our arm to introduce ourselves when meeting someone new, there are alternative ways to greet people at events. Some of these no-touch greetings include a simple wave, peace sign, bow, and even a "footshake." Other meeting and event planners are implementing even more creative ways for attendees to network touch-free through “virtual handshake” button pins or name tags (see below for a great example of pins from the American Association of Community Colleges). To prevent attendees from feeling awkward or rude for refusing to shake someone’s hand, we recommend that you pre-communicate this information as an event policy or rule.
Provide Handwashing and Other Recommended Hygienic Instructions and Techniques Through Signage
Include instructions on proper handwashing and preventatives to spreading germs through coughing or sneezing on signs, banners, and wall decals throughout the venue, especially in restrooms. The CDC recommends washing hands for 20 seconds. Try humming the “Happy Birthday” song twice or sing the chorus of one of these songs - we’ve included one for each decade: ‘Jailhouse Rock’ by Elvis, ‘My Girl” by Temptations, ‘I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll’ by Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, ‘Say My Name’ by Destiny’s Child, ‘Ms. Jackson’ by Outkast, and ‘Truth Hurts’ by Lizzo (CNN, March 10, 2020).
Download chart here.
Download chart here.
Invest in Hand Sanitizing Dispensers and Stations
Rent handwashing or hand sanitizer dispensers or stations and place them throughout the event venue. Make sure that dispensers are filled with alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Consider adding signage to educate attendees on CDC guidelines for using hand sanitizer. According to the CDC, when using hand sanitizer use the same technique as hand washing, “rub hands together until hands feel dry… this should take around 20 seconds.” If budget is a concern, ask sponsors to fund these extra rentals in exchange to have the stations custom branded. This is great exposure for a sponsor to showcase their concern and importance of your attendees’ health.
Gift Attendees With Hygienic SWAG
Give out hand sanitizer, wipes, tissues, hand lotion, or other sanitary items as swag items. Like the handwashing dispensers and stations, these too are a great funding opportunity for potential sponsors.
Consider More Frequent Smaller Events
Public officials in higher affected areas such as Seattle and New York have announced bans on public gatherings over a certain size to slow the spread of the coronavirus. With that said and the unpredictability of this new virus, it may be effective to have smaller more frequent events as opposed to large events. As updates with COVID-19 continue to change frequently, check with your location in the weeks and days leading up to the event.
As a Last Resort: Offer a Hybrid Option
Instead of completely canceling or postponing your event, consider offering hesitant or traveling attendees with the option of a hybrid event to ease fears. According to Socio author Mike LaFollette, hybrid events “blend the live, in-person experience with a remote, virtual conference. Using technology, event organizers can reach attendees both onsite, and in the office—via recordings of the on-site event or live-casting.”
Currently, there have been no travel bans put in place in the United States and many organizations are continuing to hold events, meetings, and conferences around the country in a safe manner and state and local municipalities recommended size. Before making a decision, do your homework, confirm with your state and local municipalities guidelines for public gatherings, and communicate with all stakeholders involved to determine the best course of action for your specific event. If, after careful deliberation, you plan to carry on with your event, keep in mind the precautionary measures recommended above to ensure the safety and well-being of yourself, event personnel, and attendees.
For tips on keeping remote events engaging and different than a typical webinar, check out our newest blog post here!