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Event Planning & Management
25 August 2021 

Creating an Event Contingency Plan: 6 Tips to Beat the COVID Variants

Rachel Rappaport
Creating an Event Contingency Plan: 6 Tips to Beat the COVID Variants

There’s a lot of uncertainty regarding COVID variants and in response, event organizers are creating event contingency plans to prepare for the future. Here are our tips on what to consider.

Though we may have weathered the pandemic for a while now, the question of what the future holds continues to be a sticking point. How can we continue to plan for the seemingly unplannable?

One method to set yourself up for success is having a plan b – or a contingency plan.

Having an event contingency plan is an essential part of being an event organizer but it’s especially key in 2021 and beyond. An event contingency plan ensures that every stakeholder, from your internal team to your speakers and attendees, has a great experience and a seamless transition.

We can’t predict the future, but we can plan for it. That’s why we’re providing actionable advice for responding to the uncertainty surrounding the newest COVID variants.

Read on for our tips on how to create an event contingency plan that will keep you calm, cool, and collected when planning your in-person, hybrid, or virtual events—no matter what variant comes your way.

1. Future-Proof Your Events With a Hybrid Platform

We know you’ve heard it before. Hybrid seems to be the newest buzzword of 2021. But there’s a good reason for that. Hybrid opens up the doors and allows you the freedom to make changes to your event strategy and pivot when necessary. And a hybrid event platform is the best investment you can make when it comes to future-proofing your events.

A hybrid-first platform can easily support the switch from hybrid to virtual, virtual to hybrid, and even in-person. For any type of event you’re planning, you can be confident that a flexible platform will support you.

As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “The only constant in life is change.” Even before COVID, this was true of the events industry. Plans change for a number of reasons and the best thing we can do as organizers is set ourselves up to handle those changes as seamlessly as possible. Choosing a hybrid event platform is one of the best ways you can do that.

2. Venue Contracts

One of the best ways to protect your event and your budget is to pay close attention to your venue contracts. But more than that, the current state of the industry and the world also gives you room to negotiate. We are all businesses trying to stay afloat and thrive in these unprecedented times, while that can seem overwhelming, it also opens the doors for being more collaborative than ever before.

When it comes to your venue, make sure to voice what you are looking for and start a conversation to determine how each party can benefit and how you can create a win-win scenario.

“Event organizers are going to help venues know what to invest money in. For example, numerous properties in Vegas are investing in on-site studios for broadcasting and Lowe’s is packaging a virtual piece so that your contract includes almost a ready-made hybrid checklist.”

—Katie Bohrer, CEO & Event Strategist at Onwardly

Contracts will make up a large part of your hybrid event budget, so make sure you are negotiating where possible and that you are aware of any liabilities you’ll be held to if you do shift your event strategy, including force majeure clauses.

3. Flexible Registration & Ticketing

Registration is a major aspect of the administrative work that goes into planning an event. And if your event changes, you will likely have to reflect those updates in your registration process and ticket types. But in an uncertain world, we can pretty much bet on the fact that things will change.

Choosing a platform with flexible registration and ticketing allows you peace of mind in knowing that if your in-person event suddenly becomes virtual or even hybrid, you can easily update your ticket types or even refund tickets as needed.

The Empower Conference was originally an in-person event that went hybrid when they saw the need to add a virtual element. The SBTC team was able to easily update their tickets to offer both in-person and online attendance.

Flexible Registration - Event Contingency PlanSource: SBTC

Flexible registrations let you convert your on-site passes into virtual tickets, virtual into hybrid, and vice versa. Flexible registration is a seamless experience for the organizer, and it creates a frictionless attendee experience as they receive their refunds or updated tickets.

4. Digital-First Events

One of the most effective ways to prepare for the unpredictability of the new variants is by planning digital-first experiences. Virtual experiences are a valuable approach while there are still health concerns raised by the pandemic and will help mitigate any risk caused by the uncertainty.

Online events are here to stay. And the pendulum will still likely swing back and forth between on-site and virtual over the long-term, simply because there are so many benefits of digital for planners and for our event participants.

Virtual experiences are especially important in the short term because they allow you to add on live elements as needed, but they aren’t dependent on the state of COVID.

Take for instance what Sarah Reed, Sr., Director, Global Strategic Events at Zendesk, is embracing a digital-first approach:

“I’m not optimistic that the coronavirus isn’t going to come back in certain ways. So,I see digital-first being the direction in 2022 and I do truly hope that we stay that path. Digital-first offers us a lot of opportunity to experiment, to take risks and to do the right thing by our business and our audiences without jamming everybody back into a convention center.”

—Sarah Reed, Sr. Director, Global Strategic Events at Zendesk

Zendesk isn’t the only company making the conscious choice to go digital-first. On our recent episode of the IN-PERSON Podcast, Kim Darling shared with us how HubSpot is planning for the short term future:

“For INBOUND 2021, a lot of the US is having in-person events again, but it’s not the case everywhere. There are different variants of COVID, different levels of vaccine adoption, different circumstances, different weather patterns. This year, we are doing a digital-first event. We will have a very small in-person component in Boston but the digital experience, we’re really building upon the success of last year and continuing to iterate.”

—Kim Darling, Vice President, HubSpot

5. Localizing Live & Hybrid Event Production

If you are planning an in-person event or an in-person element to your hybrid event, a great way to ensure a safe experience is through small localized events. This could be just one location or regional micro-events. This event format allows you to mitigate the risk among the continuing pandemic and increases the likelihood of your live event happening.

“For the next 18 to 24 months, we’re going to be in this pattern of opening up and closing down. So certain global geographies might be more limited, and a lot of our in-person events are going to remain more local in nature. People that are coming to in-person events are mostly going to be people that can get there locally.”

—Julia Cyboran, C2 International

At our recent event, Agents of Hybrid, we welcomed only a few dozen attendees on-site. This way, we were able to create a highly immersive experience while keeping our attendees as safe as possible.

event contingency plan tips - agents of hybrid

In addition to on-site production, your virtual event AV production can also set you up for success, no matter what changes you encounter. Investing in the right event technology and support will ensure your digital experience is high-value and engaging.

6. Health and Safety

Health and Safety is one of the most important topics as we think about how we approach our events. It’s critical that we do everything we can to mitigate risk and create a safe environment for our attendees, speakers, and our own staff.

A great event contingency plan will include a fully-baked plan for health and safety. Some of the tips we outlined in our recent post, returning to in-person events safely, include:

  • Pre-event COVID-19 testing
  • Sanitizing stations
  • Social distancing signage
  • Contactless experiences

And you can be creative to really drive adoption of your safety practices. Richard Black, who recently joined us on the IN-PERSON Podcast, gives a great example of his imaginative approach to promoting on-site health and safety:

“You build trust by reducing fear. So, we integrate it into the creative. When you go to Outside Lands, our festival that’ll happen around Halloween in San Francisco, you’ll see Ranger Rick wearing a mask. Make it part of the messaging in a way that people really care about.”

—Richard Black, President & General Manager, Superfly

Key Takeaways

Here are our top tips for creating a robust event contingency plan that will ensure you can still produce a great experience and will help keep everyone informed of changes and their specific role – from your own team to your speakers and attendees:

  • Invest in a flexible hybrid platform that can support your event amidst changes whether in-person or virtual.
  • Look closely at venue contracts and embrace the power of negotiation.
  • Flexible registration and ticketing will allow you to pivot your event and still create a seamless experience for your attendees.
  • Planning for digital-first events is a great way to mitigate the risk of live experiences while we are still in the midst of a pandemic.
  • By producing local live and hybrid events, you can still embrace on-site audiences while keeping safety a priority.
  • Health and safety will continue to be a top priority that will make your attendees feel more comfortable.

For more tips for navigating the future of events, check out Agents of Hybrid On-Demand.

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