Ask the Expert: In-Person Events

Dana Zita, President, aNd Logistix

aNd Logistix is a conference management company that has worked with IBAO on their annual Convention, as well as other events, since 2016. With over 29 years of conference and event planning experience, aNd offers a large portfolio of ideas, trusted suppliers, and global resources, keeping them abreast to newest trends and issues facing live events. Dana Zita, aNd’s president, was recently inducted into the Canadian Meetings + Events Expo Hall of Fame for 2020 Industry Planner.

The pandemic had a major impact on the world of in person events, cancelling them for almost three years—can you provide insight about the extent of this and the shifts you saw in the industry?

Many events were postponed from 2020 to 2021 and again to 2022. This led to many conversations on force majeure clauses which opened the doors to additional clause revisions and negotiations. Though most venues may be willing to move 2022 events to 2023, along with all deposits received, it is important to know that COVID-19 no longer qualifies for force majeure. This means venues will not accept this clause to cancel your current event(s) without a cancellation fee. A renewed interest in cancelation insurance has also surfaced as organizations look to protect themselves better in the future

As an expert in the world of events, can you please tell us some of the current trends that you’re seeing, post pandemic?

Most people want to get back to in-person meetings. Those with uncertainly need the reassurance that they are being heard and taken care of. A lot of events are including a comfort level station. This is to help the attendees communicate their level of interaction with one another. This is set up onsite beside the registration desk where attendees can choose one of three colours of lanyards: RED – No Contact, YELLOW – Elbows Only, GREEN – Hugs Welcome.  

Millennials are big on bleisure (business + leisure). Ultimately, attendees want to travel for professional purposes and feel like they’re on vacation. That desire drives demand for more appealing destinations. Major companies have historically typically held one yearly conference or event. Now that smaller virtual events are becoming more common, events can be put on more often.

Is there anything about events that changed during the pandemic that, given the change you would not want to change back?

Length of programming and duration of breaks are key to keeping attendees engaged. Pre-pandemic, event organizers would try to include as much content as possible in their program to ensure attendees get the most out of their time. However, it’s been made very clear that the level of engagement is not there when there is too much to absorb. Post-pandemic, organizers have adjusted their agendas to have an equal focus on content, networking, and rest time to ensure the attendees are fully engaged without burning out. Some have considered doing a webinar or half day virtual event for the content that would still be relevant, though not mandatory for in-person. 

Can you share three pieces of advice for those people and businesses starting to host events in a post pandemic world?

Buffer your timelines. A lot of suppliers and venues are not yet operating as we are accustomed to pre-pandemic. We’re still seeing staffing shortages and supply chain issues post-pandemic. Some suppliers are still working on a reduced work week. Accounting for additional time on your workback schedule will help you stay on track.

Don’t expect any more Covid discounts. With the high demand for events this year, shortages in staffing and supplies and increased gas and food prices, expect your event budget to increase. Prices are expected to go even higher in 2023.  

Many clients are looking at hybrid events as a solution for those who are uncertain to attend in-person. This could be a great fit for your event, however be prepared for the costs. Hosting a hybrid event really needs to be viewed as hosting two events at the same time, one in-person and one virtual. If a hybrid approach is outside of the budget, consider recording the sessions and offering them to attendees OnDemand.

What should event planners and businesses keep in mind for sanitation/health provisions?

Though it’s not mandatory, it is strongly encouraged to include hygienic and safety practices at your event. This could be as simple as adding additional hand sanitizing areas throughout the venue. Having a couple boxes of masks at the registration desk in case someone requires one. When hosting a reception, you can consider doing individually portioned items so attendees grab and go. That way they are not all grabbing the same utensils. This also helps move the line! It’s important to let your attendees know all the safety precautions you are putting in place. Consider including this in a Know Before You Go email to all attendees. 

Whatever your personal preferences, it’s important for event planners to note that potential guests/attendees are sharply divided over current safety measures like mask-wearing and vaccination. It is up to the organization to clearly outline expectations in advance (i.e., vaccine, face coverings etc.) and also a code of conduct that is respectful to all.

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