Throughout my career, I have thrown several types of events for clients including public information rallies, groundbreakings, grand openings, walks, ice cream eating contests and press conferences, so I was pretty confident that I had experienced most every type of function. Then COVID-19 hit and I recently conducted my first event while wearing a mask and practicing safe social distancing.
Here are some helpful tips if you’re conducting a gathering during COVID times.
KNOW THE COVID GUIDELINES FOR YOUR EVENT
Every state and city has different ordinances, so make sure you are adhering to the local and CDC recommended guidelines.
Now more than ever, communication about the event is critically important. If appropriate, send invitations, requesting guests RSVP so you have an accurate headcount and can ensure your venue is large enough. Through the invitation, it is imperative that you educate the attendees on what guidelines will be in place and what guidelines the attendees will be asked to adhere to such as wearing a mask and social distancing.
Not all your attendees will know the guidelines, so be prepared with extra masks, hand sanitizer and creative ways to ensure social distancing. Many of your attendees will be doing this type of event for the first time and may be uncomfortable, so make it fun, keep it light-hearted and provide helpful encouragement.
Creating a set-up that includes a table or signage controlling entry to the venue is a simple, effective way to ensure you have a COVID-compliant event. We typically provide some type of SWAG at any event — because people like free stuff — so the location to pick up the SWAG typically flows people in the right direction without much coaching from the event staff. During COVID, it is a good idea to have someone working the table to explain the layout of the event, social distancing and the guidelines that will need to be followed.
HANDLING A NON-COMPLIANT GUEST
Unfortunately not all attendees or external vendors will be compliant. As with most situations, we tend to manage with a light-hearted approach, “I am sure you didn’t know,” followed up with a “no worries, we have you covered.” Try to avoid getting into a debate about the merits of why or why not the guidelines should be in place, but reference the fact that these are not your rules, and that cooperation would be greatly appreciated AND that actually it is required to attend the event. In my recent experience, while not all attendees arrived wearing a mask, when they saw that everyone at the event was wearing one, they put one on without having to be asked. If someone decides to be obstinate and refuses to wear a mask, you’ll have to escort them out with whomever is in charge of the venue and refuse them entry.
ALLOW FOR ADDITIONAL SPACE
Social distancing of six feet can be challenging for the event space and will require a larger space than pre-COVID. For example, if it is an event that has multiple speakers, the stage will have to allow six feet on either side of the podium to allow the speakers to remove their masks while speaking. Chairs must be spaced six feet apart, so some audience members will be a greater distance from the stage. Using video monitors to stream the event is a great way to counteract the distance.
MONITOR AND ADJUST
And as with any event be prepared for the unexpected, because it will happen. But that is what makes events so rewarding and leaves you saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Remember to have fun and stay flexible.