If there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it’s how to think on our feet. Organisers and venues have had to become expert at changing plans last minute and making a success out of situations that should have spelt disaster. But we’re a resourceful bunch, us event industry folk, and we should all give ourselves a large pat on the back for what we’ve all achieved in the last 12 months. That said, we’re happy to admit that re-organising an event at the eleventh hour – whether it’s to incorporate social distancing on to transfer the entire thing online – really isn’t fun.
So, as the world begins to open up again and live events slowly start to pop back up in our calendars, we can understand the caution with which organisers, delegates and venues are approaching 2021. We also understand how the term ‘contingency’ now needs to cover a whole lot more scenarios than ever before. That’s why we thought it might be a good idea to pull together some top tips on putting a comprehensive contingency plan for your post-Covid event.
This is a really important part of the process and where you should spend a good proportion of your time and energy. Invite your whole team, particularly the more cynical amongst you, and try to map out every disastrous scenario you can think of. Obviously, these are going to differ from event to event, and there’s no way you can protect yourself from every eventuality, but there are several more common ones you should definitely look to include.
Inclement weather: If you’re hosting an outdoor event, this will mean thinking about all sort of different weather issues. Drizzle might simply mean you need to have some sheltered areas, a cold snap could be solved with some outdoor heaters and too much sun might requires you provide some shade for your guests. With any outdoor event, however, there needs to be in indoor plan B, unless you’re prepared to call the whole thing off should the weather turn really bad. As well having this worst-case plan B well thought out, you and your venue also need to come a decision as to when the call to move inside is taken. No doubt the venue team will need a certain amount of time to set the space up, so the timing may well be out of your hands.
If you’re holding an indoor event, there is also the possibility of snow or storms preventing your delegates or guests travelling to your event.
A new factor to consider for 2021 contingency plans, is the sudden introduction of travel and meeting restrictions which will force your event to be moved online. Although we all hope life will be free of lockdowns for the second half of this year, it makes sense to be prepared for the worst. The perfect way to be prepared for this, is to plan a hybrid event from the off. This way you’ll be ready for ticketing, registration, streaming and all the other elements required of an online event. You’ll be able to simply transfer your live guests, over to your online offering with confidence.
A hybrid event will also cover your bases if your venue, caterers or other suppliers are shut down due to a Coronavirus outbreak, which in turn means your live event can’t go ahead.
It might even be an idea to offer a free transfer of live tickets to the online event in the case of people getting cold feet and simply not being happy to travel and mix in large numbers. This way you won’t miss out on ticket sales to individuals who are still feeling cautious.
Have you thought about what you’d do if one or more of your speakers suddenly couldn’t attend because they had to isolate due a Covid track and trace? Ensuring your content can be delivered remotely to your live audience might not be ideal, but it would definitely be a better solution than a gaping hole in your schedule. In some scenarios it might be wise to find out if any of your talks or seminars could be delivered by an understudy. Either way, it’s important to do everything you can to avoid disappointing your audience with any no shows.
How are the majority of guests planning on getting to your event? If it’s by public transport think about what you’d do if there was a strike or problems on the lines or roads. Would you be able to get your visitors to your event by using private hire vehicles? It might be worth keeping a little bit of budget back if you think this might be a possibility.
Will your outdoor event be relying on a portable generator? Is there a back-up in case it breaks down? And if you’re hosting a gathering inside, how will you cope if the internet goes down or if one of your screens suddenly doesn’t work? We advise that you have a very detailed conversation with your venue team to make sure that you can be confident that technical glitches or power outages won’t ruin your event. Asking the simple question ‘what if’ to a range of scenarios will test a venue’s back up options. It’s also asking whether or not any of your ‘disaster’ situations have happened before and what the team did to rectify the problem.
No doubt the safety of your team, guests and speakers will be of huge importance to you, so make sure you think about what you’d do in a variety of potentially dangerous situations. A suspicious package, an unruly guest, a fire… Any one of these could prove to put the health and safety of any one of the people at your event at serious risk, so make sure your team and the venue staff all know how they should behave.
Checking and double checking your attendance numbers should be something you do, right up until the day of the event. But there’s always the chance that you’ll be over-, or under-subscribed on the day, no matter how careful you’ve been. Turning people away from crowded seminars and running out of food for the buffet could lead to an awful lot of disgruntled delegates – is there a way you can be prepared to re-run your key talks or have a back-up supply of returnable food and beverages? What about a large amount of no shows? There’s nothing worse than a room full of empty seats. Are you and your team ready to clear out the back half row of chairs to ensure the space feels full?
Running through your day, from start to finish is a great way to spot potential issues that might arise. You’ll be surprised at how much this exercise will teach you. It’s even worth going out of the venue and coming in as though you were one of your guests so you experience everything, including signage and flow.
As ever, it’s a good idea to get the best insurance you can afford. It’s likely that Covid-related situations are going to come under new, separate clauses in your policy, so make sure you talk to someone in detail about what you’re covered for, and what you’re not. It’s also a good idea to shop around, as it’s a whole new world out there and reading the small print and comparing prices is going to be more important than ever.
As we’ve discussed, many of your potential ticket buyers might be nervous of booking up for your event, so we’d advise complete transparency. Everyone will understand that you can’t predict the future, but they should be able to see that you will do everything in your power to host the event for which you’ve planned.
If you’re looking to host a live, online or hybrid event this year, but are unsure of how to go about it or what the new rules are (at the moment!), then give our friendly, professional conference team here at W12 Conferences a call to talk through your plans and concerns. You can reach us on 020 3313 1606.