Photographer: Guillermo Arias/AFP via Getty Images
The live events industry was hit hard and fast with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. First came the cancellations; when to cancel, how to communicate to the audience, how to deal with the consequences. Next was the adaptation to dealing with the current situation in both personal and professional lives.
Now, and for the foreseeable future, the industry is in a rebuilding phase. With the rebuilding efforts, comes a necessity to account for not only health and safety considerations, but for the collective mindset of potential audiences.
As a community, an industry and a world, we need events to rebound. Small businesses need ways to expand their visibility and contacts. Large companies need ways to connect with their audience and ensure relevancy. And most importantly, the world needs those face to face interactions on so many levels.
The truth is no-one knows how quickly events will rebound or how they will look one year or two years from now, but there are clearly many imminent and necessary changes.
Photo by: Ross Findon on Unsplash
1. Live Versus Digital
In the short term, the only alternative to a live event cancellation has been a virtual event. Virtual can indeed cover everything from an intimate board meeting to a large-scale conference. As live events work their way back into the mix, the key will be evaluating the best options for your event. While hybrid events are currently getting some buzz, it is important to remember that what engages an audience in a live capacity will not always translate to a virtual experience.
2. Event Structure and Logistics
Already a few events are ramping up in areas of the world that were hit first with this pandemic. As expected, entrance to events is a process with limited attendees, infrared cameras, temperature checks, hand sanitizer and disinfection mats. Because the process will change, events will likely restrict entry points, meaning that traffic patterns and staffing needs will also be affected. Food and beverage logistics will see a huge impact. For food-based shows, the ages-old appeal of mass self-serve sampling will be missed. And even for venue-owned refreshments at a trade show or independent food vendors at events, changes will need to be made and they will likely follow the restaurant learnings as those establishments will open before events are back up and running.
Technology will play a key role in the ability for events to adapt and evolve. Existing technology such as VR and AR do allow visualization of environments that cannot be visited in person. However, usage that has been popular at events, such as VR goggles as an interaction, will need to improve disposable options and sanitization of equipment. Touchscreens are an integral part of events, being used for everything from check-ins, to engagements and purchases. Already existing, but likely to become more widespread soon are anti-microbial screen protectors and glass, as well as screens with touch-free controls.
4. Event Staffing
Audience perception of safety measures will be critical, so processes should be streamlined to eliminate excessive brand representatives. For event staff outside of your company, such as hired Brand Ambassadors or booth staff, it will be critical to train them on health and safety measures. Additionally, there must be a culture shift regarding the need to call in sick for shifts, as brands will be judged if staff seem to be working through an illness.
5. Customer Journey
Not only will attendance and event flows change, but the way we use our event environments will need to adapt. Focus may switch from volume of attendees to quality interactions as improvements are made for appointment-making at trade shows and streamlined messaging at events. The customer journey could merge with technology as large scale events use cameras, location-based technology and even heat maps to avoid overcrowding.
The bottom line is that guidelines, requirements and best practices are likely to be a constantly-moving target. Our experience, relationships and resources mean that part of Exhibit Partner’s role in a partnership is to collect and process the information out there in order to make recommendations for our client partners. At Exhibit Partners, we see our role as being the watchtower and we are embracing that now so that we are ready for the inevitable opening up of events, whether they be in real life, the virtual world, or both.