For years, everyone from socialites to marketers has expounded on the benefits and necessity of hosting in-person events. Whether it’s a conference, a dinner or a fundraiser, a live event can bring organizations and people emotionally closer to each other. But in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, many events have moved to a virtual format. And that can be a lot of fun. Consider the recent political conventions as an example of just how engaging digital events can be.

But sometimes, only the chance to be in the same space with other people will do. Celebrating milestones or reconnecting with clients certainly brings a yearning for at least the possibility of an elbow bump. So many of you are probably wondering – should I host an in-person event during COVID? We’ve put together a list of six questions and considerations to help you decide.

1. How many people do you want to invite? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends social distancing or physical distancing of about 6 feet from people who are not part of your household whether inside or outside. If you plan to invite a multitude of guests, it may be difficult to find a venue large enough to make social distancing possible.

Additionally, some municipalities or states may restrict or recommend restrictions on the number of guests at any gathering. Because these recommendations change, be sure to check the current allowances in your location.

2. Will your event take place indoors or outdoors? You’ve no doubt heard that people are significantly less likely to catch coronavirus outdoors than indoors. Although it doesn’t mean that the great  outdoors is a completely safe bet, especially when space is crowded, and guests don’t wear masks. But like outdoor dining, holding an al fresco event offers more options than moving it inside right now. Social distancing and mask wearing should still be practiced.

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3. What kinds of food options will you offer? How you serve food in the COVID-19 era really counts! You may need to rethink the idea of buffet-style dining – even Whole Foods. But that doesn’t mean you can’t safely provide food at your event. After all, who wants to go to an intimate, BYOF wedding?

Instead, you can provide pre-packaged options that are self-serve but safely wrapped. Think about doing the same for drinks. Take a tip from the airlines and offer little sodas, mini bottles or alcohol or wine, individual water bottles or small juices. You’ll recycle it all afterwards, of course! 

4. How will you ensure guests are comfortable when many people have different social distancing practices? The CDC and WHO have provided guidelines, while local and state governments have issued mandates. But people have varying levels of comfort when it comes to being around others right now. You can help make each guest’s personal preferences clear in a non-confrontational way. One option is to have guests choose a colorful ID bracelet at the door. Post a visual key to decipher the meaning behind each color.

Red = no hugs
Yellow = elbow bumps only
Green = embrace me as long as you are wearing a mask

You get the idea!

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5. Is the event program intended to create emotional connections or delivery information? You might feel like only an in-person get together will provide your guests with the interaction you desire, or you may try to convince yourself that it won’t make a difference if the only guests at your anniversary party are present via video conference. But really give this some thought.

If your event is intended to provide information, like you would at an annual sales conference or monthly meeting, there is a lot you can do at a virtual event to keep guests engaged. But when looking for more of an emotional draw, an intimate in-person event can make social distancing possible while giving physical meaning to we’re “in this together.”  

6. Are you willing to be innovative with COVID-19 safety guidelines? That the pandemic has led to sweeping changes in the event industry is an understatement. Since the coronavirus began spreading rapidly last spring, we’ve had to rethink many aspects of how we bring people together. Being creative has been more important than ever, and we’ve come up with ways to make staying safe an event feature rather than a detraction.

If you are willing to be a bit innovative, your in-person event and branding can benefit from some of the safety recommendations too. For instance, put your logo on a mask and ask all guests to wear it. Set up handwashing stations with the latest and coolest hands-free faucets. Provide a sensational array of soaps. Put up fun signage with social distancing explanations or provide guests with party favors to measure where to stand.  Mark areas of the floor or add directional patterns with branded shapes or colors rather than simple lines.

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In-person events are not a thing of the past. But they are going to look different for a while. You never know, maybe some of our new event habits and features will make being in crowded spaces so much more pleasant that they will end up sticking around.

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