Planning Conferences, Events amid Coronavirus Crisis

David Revoy, a Digital Illustrator, Comic Artist, Art Director had an opportunity to Speak at the famous annual conference LibraPlanet (Boston, U.S.A.) hosted by Free Software Foundation.

But due to the continuing Novel Coronavirus outbreak, the event had to be canceled.

Well, it’s not just LibraPlannet, there are hundreds of other important events got canceled or delayed due to the pandemic. The Summer Olympics, the biggest sporting event, got postponed about a year. Even Facebook and Microsoft canceling their popular events.

What you should know about Coronavirus outbreak

Covid19 has revealed itself to be the next disease pandemic which will go down in the history book, right next to the Black Death and the Spanish Flu. The disease is highly contagious, so much so that it took just a few weeks from being laughable stuff to be the worst pandemic seen in a century.

Because of the public health concerns, the Governments in many countries had to ban in-person gatherings and travel.

Schools are closed, streets are empty, people are locked down inside their house, businesses are going bankrupt, hundreds and thousands of people losing their jobs, and the global economy is experiencing an even worse hit than the great depression. And the most upsetting thing is thousands of People are dying.

Because of this, the entire event industry has been scrambling.

Event Industry Bloodbath – Jordan Kettner

Conferences, Meetings and Experiential Events amid Coronavirus Crisis

This is a very tough time for our industry. Nobody anticipates the industry and in fact, the entire world’s economy going down so fast. And there is no sign of improvement in the situation soon.

Events affect so many people – the attendees, the organizers and other staff, the people who work at venues, vendors, people in the travel and hospitality industries, and even those in your event city are all impacted by the decisions you make about your event.

So, what do event planners do? What other options do we have now?

It is a really hard time, but we got to hang there and find ways to overcome it.

Do you wanna know, what happened to LibrePlannet?

Well, their original conference got canceled but at the very last moment, they reorganized the event into a Virtual Conference and Livestream event.

For them, it is more difficult. As they are all about Free and Open Source Software, they just cannot use any popular proprietary Event Tech Solutions.

They held their first virtual event, using all open-source software. And it was quite successful considering such difficulty. In case you are interested, they used Jitsi for video conferencing, which allowed speakers to present their speech remotely, then the team streamed out the video for the audience via Gstreamer and Icecast.

Now, that’s the spirit.

So, if you are unable to have your event as planned, consider other options the industry is trying. Consider turning it into a Virtual Event or postpone it.

Here we will discuss some solutions and ideas to make your Conferences, Meetings, Experiential Events successful. But first, please take safety for your staff, event workers and attendees first and foremost.

Refer to WHO’s Guidelines that can be found here.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also recently released a 9-page document that offers both general and corona-virus specific considerations for organizers hosting big events.

Here are the key recommendations of WHO’s document:

  • Organizers should be in contact with both local and national public health authorities
  • The decision to proceed with a mass gathering or to restrict, modify, postpone, or cancel the event should be based on a thorough risk assessment, which is undertaken in partnership with local and national public health authorities
  • Organizers should review their plans to ensure that they correspond to the most current evidence and recommendations.
  • During the event, there should be regular and full sharing of information by organizers and public health authorities
  • Communicate steps to attendees, such as respiratory etiquette along with hand hygiene, and to be for example.
  • Have a plan if attendees exhibit symptoms consistent with the virus during the event, including how they will be transported to a treatment facility.
  • Consider providing isolation facilities at the venue for those who develop symptoms and must arrange for a health assessment.

Find WHO’s Risk Assessment and Mitigation Checklist here.

For more guideline you can refer to these resources:

4 Options for replanning Events and Meetings in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak

Event marketers are not new to last-minute changes and crises. They usually have to deal with speaker cancellations, change of schedule, and other last-minute challenges that may seem like a big deal but are nothing in comparison to the pandemic of coronavirus.

So, here are 4 options you have; according to the nature of the event, depending on the situation, with the consultation of Local and National Healthcare Authorities you should consider one among the following options.

i. Go ahead with your Show (with minor changes)

Well, depending on the current situation it is very unlikely that you will be allowed to have a Mass gathering very soon, so this option might not be available now. 

But if you are checking this when the pandemic got under control or you are checking it amid another outbreak, depending on the events size, location and the current guidelines from the Authority if you decide to hold the event, you still need to make some adjustments to your plan. You shall find the following suggestions helpful…

Steps to Plan, Prepare and Proceed with a Mass Gathering

Pay close attention to what official resources are saying

Refer to the guidelines of (WHO) World Health OrganizationPMCAAssociation of Event Organizers (AEO) (mentioned above) and your local authority. undertake Risk Assessment and decide if you should still hold the event. Be in contact with your Local and National Authority and keep them updated.

Have a plan of action if attendees exhibit any symptoms of the virus during the event.

The Global Association of the Exhibition Industry (UFI) and the Society of Independent Show Organizers (SISO) teamed up to release the “This Show Is Open” campaign, in order to provide messaging and visuals that organizers can use to reassure and inform attendees. Go ahead and use those.

Follow official sanitization precautions

Make your event safer for attendees and other participants by purchasing extra hand sanitizer and place them at popular touchpoints. Also consider having extra handwashes, wipes, etc.

Awareness and signage and communication

Spread awareness about protocols of mass gatherings through a lot of signages and wall posts or even through social media posts. Using an Event App is a really good option for communicating any type of information with the attendees. Some general protocols are

  • Washing hands as frequently as possible, using soap and handwashes
  • No handshakes. Though Handshakes are an essential part of networking events, yet any physical contact must be avoided.

Avoid long queues

Avoid any crowds forming at entrances or registration desks, make a plan of how to deal with them. There are many solutions for that. You may use Dedicated event apps, consider having check-in feature. It will allow attendees to check-in without any or least interaction with Event people at the registration desks; at the same time, it takes a fraction of time taken by manual registration which will eventually help prevent forming a long queue.

ii. Pivot to an Online/Virtual Event:

If it is possible for the nature of your live event, shift it to an Online Event. This is probably the best option right now. By taking your event or conference online, you can recoup at least some of your hard work and money by hosting your events virtually.

Set up Virtual Events and Conferences:

Nowadays, there are many options and platforms for you to host an event online, but a dedicated Event Software can be more useful, it will encourage Audience Engagement also provide a lot of tracking data to the organizer.

Make sure to test all different scenarios several times. Create documentation or how-to video and share it with all the attendees, which explains the entire procedure that they may need to go through at the time of the event. Remind them to have their sound turned on, mare people than you think will forget to do so.

Here is a complete guide a hosting a virtual event successfully.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

If you are really considering doing this massive change, you must communicate with each of the attendees, speakers, sponsors immediately. Use all modes of communication, email them, SMS them, post on Social Media, Communicate through Event App. Make sure no one misses anything important.

You must make sure the delegates understand how to register, whether they need to pay and which web-link to use to access the live streams and so on. Be sure to remind them about the timing of the Live Streams they are signed up for.

An all in one Event Management System makes the work a lot easier. 

Create Engaging Presentations

When switching to a virtual meeting, encourage your speakers to spruce up their presentations to make them more interactive. At online Live Streams, it is comparatively difficult to keep people engaged. Interactive presentations can be greatly engaging.

Ask speakers to add graphics and animations to their slides.

Utilize Interactive Features and keep the networking online

Make sure you research beforehand and utilize all the features that come with it that can help keep people engaged. Tools such as chat boxes, Q&A, screen sharing, Live Polls, annotation, and more are popular.
Event Apps allow the Sponsors, Speakers, Attendees to discover and connect each other. Well, that is not as effective as an in-person meeting experience, but it does the job.

iii. Postpone your event

If pivoting to Online is not viable for you, Postponing your event or conference might be your best bait. It will allow everyone to stay on the course in this difficult time, at the same time allow your team more time to craft the event experience and sell more tickets.

Best practices for postponing your event:

If you decide to postpone, you should communicate with stakeholders and delegates quickly. They may have booked flights, accommodations. Also, if the event is canceled they might consider being engaged in some activities, they should get enough time for those.

Shifting dates will impact the entire lineup of speakers, crew, vendors, sponsors, and stakeholders, they will need to realign their calendars. Though it’s difficult to anticipate when everything will be stable, you can settle on a ballpark date for the time being and communicate that with all the delegates.

Postponement policies – Given the exceptional circumstances, your venues and vendors may allow some leeway on their policies. At the same time, consider giving delegates a part refund, a full refund or credit for your next event depending on your ticketing policy. If you are waiting for a decision from your insurance company, then keep your delegates updated about your current position.

You need to stop seeling tickets now, and immediately inform the existing ticket holders about the postponement. But, it is also essential to keep building excitement around the event. Communicating with everyone is now more important than ever.

But, in the end, expect lesser attendance, some fallout from this as new plans clash with existing ones. But stay prepared. Be flexible to venues and preferred dates, it might be difficult to keep all those. Adjust your other budgets and spending areas.

iv. Cancel Your Event

The decision to cancel is not an easy one to make. But with several countries experiencing extreme disruption, the status of global health and daily life and travel restrictions do not seem to come to normal pretty soon. In this situation, cancellation might be inevitable for some events.

If you have no way but to cancel your event, here are few things to keep in mind, to minimize the adverse impact.

Let every delegate know about the cancellation as soon as possible. And be prepared with all the questions that delegates may have. What do you want delegates to do about the cancellation process? Do you want them to phone your office, do you want them to e-mail, or do they need to complete a form on your website? Whatever you want them to do, be sure to communicate that properly. Also, make sure the cancellation procedure for the delegates is as painless as possible.

Insurance for Event Cancellation – Event cancellation insurance can protect event expenses and loss of revenue against the risk of unforeseen circumstances beyond your control. Check to see if your losses are covered under your event cancellation insurance policy and try to reclaim maximum recovery.

If you are hosting an event later this year make sure to purchase insurance that covers the “unforeseen communicable disease outbreak” clause.

Recommendations for managing Coronavirus Impact on your Event

Communicate with your Delegates

Confidently communicate with your attendees, sponsors, partners, vendors, and everyone involved in the event. Keep them updated about everything they should know. Make sure your message is very clear. The crisis is hitting and you need to know the delegates how that affects the event. If you don’t inform them, delegates will feel the void with their interpretation – too bad for you.

Be honest with your message, don’t make anything up, provide clear guidelines about what the delegates need to do (for example if they need to apply for a refund, provide guidelines on how to do that), remain optimistic but realistic.

In a serious crisis like COVID-19, mostly they will be very understanding.

Consider using Event management Software to be able to communicate with your attendees with ease. You can send timely update emails, show notifications in an event mobile app and event website, even can send personal messages in the mobile app.

Refund policy:

If your event gets canceled or postponed to such a date that delegates are not interested, consider giving delegates a part refund, a full refund or credit for your next event depending on your ticketing policy. If you are waiting for a decision from your insurance company, then keep your delegates updated about your current position.

Use Social Media  

Social Media is a great way of marketing your event as well as communicating important updates. 

For public events, make sure to inform your delegates of the actions you are taking while the crisis is still there. Even if your event is postponed and canceled make sure to broadcast on social media.

If you wish not to share the updates to the public, want to keep it only with the delegates, you can form a private group and communicate there. An even better option is wishing an Event App that provides social media like feature, which is accessible only by the people who are registered to your event.

But if you wish it to the public, you will need a proper strategy otherwise you will waste time and energy. Target the right social media channels that your delegates use and have a simple hashtag for your event.

Final thoughts

We understand you have made a lot of investment in terms of effort and money, and this can really hamper your business. Yet keep calm, stay positive, the crisis is not lasting forever.

Continue to monitor public health notifications, use the information provided by World Health Organization (WHO)PMCAAssociation of Event Organizers (AEO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (if you are in the States) or the Authority charged with monitoring and responding to the coronavirus in your country.

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