Head of Marketing at All American Entertainment, the leading full-service speakers bureau that exclusively represents event organizers.
With vaccine adoption climbing and mask mandates lifting or loosening in many states, event professionals are looking ahead toward planning in-person events for the first time since early 2020. According to Northstar Meeting Group data from May 2021, 82% of planners surveyed will hold live meetings this year.
Events might not look the same for a while after we return in person. Here are a few changes I think you’ll see pretty consistently for the next year or longer.
1. Attendee experience will be prioritized.
After more than a year of social distancing, people are experiencing different levels of comfort when it comes to meeting in person. The biggest way in which I expect to see this change the attendee experience is that organizers could offer the choice between in-person and virtual experiences so that attendees can choose how to engage with their events.
I also expect that we will be seeing visual coding systems where event organizers can use colors or tags on attendee badges to indicate whether or not someone is comfortable shaking hands and having conversations less than six feet apart, or whether they’re only comfortable interacting with other masked attendees.
Here’s a hypothetical example of a tagging system that an event organizer might create. This example uses a simple stoplight approach.
• Green means I’m open to a discussion with or without masks, will shake hands and am comfortable with not being socially distanced.
• Yellow means I’m more comfortable being masked myself, but it’s okay if you are not. I won’t shake your hand, but elbow bumps are welcomed.
• Red means I’ve chosen to stay masked and request that anyone who is near me is also masked. Also, please stay socially distanced from me at all times.
Whenever an event focuses on improving the attendee experience, that’s a good thing for everyone involved in that event, including the event organizers and sponsors. Happy event attendees contribute to a positive brand impression.
2. Safety protocols could become standard.
We’ve gotten so used to seeing people wearing masks and following protocols that it may take some time to reverse the expectation. For me, when I’m watching a TV show where the characters meet and shake hands or even hug without wearing masks, my first thought is that they’re going to spread the virus. Sound familiar?
Safety protocols like mask-wearing, hand washing stations, and socially distanced seating may be the norm at in-person events for a while. Some events, like Lollapalooza, are choosing to require either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test for admission.
Much like we all adapted to the increased airline travel screening and restrictions following 9/11, I think we will easily adapt to these safety and health protocols as part of meeting with others in person at an event. These protocols may become a seamless part of the backdrop of events and barely be visible to attendees, as many people have grown accustomed to promoting safety in their everyday lives.
3. In-person events may be smaller and more expensive to manage.
Keeping people safe in a post-Covid-19 world costs money. If the protocols I mentioned become standard, organizers will need safety supplies and expanded safety services and may employ on-demand healthcare staff. Room capacity may also be limited in some regions, either through regulations or by choice.
Hybrid events seem to be taking over the event space — with good reason. Oftentimes, this means that a smaller group of people will attend an event in person, and a larger group will attend that same event remotely. Some sessions will be live-streamed, and others might offer unique content depending on whether an attendee is on-site or virtual. This allows hundreds, if not thousands, of additional attendees to virtually stream your in-person event.
One trend to note is that, at our speakers bureau, we’ve noticed that some professional speakers are quoting their hybrid event speaking fees based on total audience reach. Get an accurate fee upfront by clearly estimating your total event attendance, including the number of people attending virtually.
If fewer people attend in person and there are increased expenses related to Covid-19 safety, you may need to pay a premium to attend a paid conference in person.
The Outlook For In-Person Events
I can’t help but remember this time last year when so many in-person events were canceled, postponed or moved to virtual formats. It was such a chaotic time but was one that taught us that we could communicate and gather virtually if we have to do so.
Attendees are likely excited to return to live, in-person events. I expect that the second half of this year will allow much of the meetings and events industry to finally get back to business.