Helping attendees return to in-person events – an event planners’ guide to overcoming reopening anxiety
Many have been looking forward to returning to in-person events, both attendees and event planners alike. A recent survey found that 81 percent of meeting planners will hold their next in-person event this year. This figure suggests that optimism within the industry is high.
However, this does not apply to everyone. Reopening anxiety is a phrase that’s circulating due to people’s fear of easing restrictions. Many are concerned about the safety of themselves and others, and events may not initially seem like the safest place to be. They may not feel confident about attending in-person events without any COVID restrictions in place, while others feel uncomfortable at the thought of being around large groups of people for the first time in a while.
As an event planner, there are several things you can do to help reassure attendees that your events are safe. From placing regulations to creating quiet spaces, here’s a few ways you can host a safe event that your guests can have confidence in.
Understanding reopening anxiety
Before we start, it’s important to understand what exactly reopening anxiety is.
Reopening anxiety can be broken down into two groups. People may feel anxious about entering society for the first time in a long time because they’re either:
- Concerned about their safety and their loved ones
- Worried about their social skills and the mental fatigue
Not being around different groups of people often has meant that our social skills are now out of practice. For introverts, and even some extroverts, the pressure of socialising may trigger anxiety.
Couple this with fears of staying safe and making sure your loved ones are too. Some may also feel nervous about travelling to different locations for events, as they’re unsure about the restrictions there.
It’s also important to note that event planners may be feeling reopening anxiety, too. They may be feeling the pressure of hosting safe and successful events while concerned about their own safety. The prospect of socialising with large numbers of people throughout the day can be daunting.
Event organisers need to be aware of attendees’ concerns while also being mindful of their own worries. Here’s some things you can do to help reassure your guests that events are a safe place to be.
How do you ensure safety at an event following COVID?
As an event planner, it’s imperative that your event is safe for all involved – your team, your attendees and yourself. There are a few things to consider, including:
- Communicating with attendees
- Ensuring team safety
- Being aware of socialisation fatigue
We’ll break these down below.
Clearly communicate with your guests
When it comes to organising an event, communication is always key. Pretending that the pandemic doesn’t exist will do little to ease attendees’ concerns. It’s best to acknowledge that risk still remains and everyone needs to do what they can to protect those around them.
Therefore, all marketing materials should clearly state the measures in place for your event and where attendees can go to express any concerns. This also needs to continue throughout the event itself.
In the lead up the day, emphasise the safety procedures in place. A good starter point is a dedicated page on your event website that clearly details everything attendees need to know. This can be linked to on social media and in email newsletters.
It’s also important to encourage guests to ask about anything they’re not sure about, or even suggest some ideas for the event. Create a hashtag for your event on your social channels for attendees to use. It may also be worth hosting Q&A sessions, where your followers can find out more about your event. You can also create a designated email address if attendees would like to send questions privately.
Do not let your communication levels dip during the event itself. Ensure that there is plenty of signage around your events venue that attendees can easily see. Include the information in any extra handouts, and make sure that employees fully understand the restrictions. This is so they can help answer questions and maintain safety standards.
Ensure team safety
Your staff are just as important as your guests, and it’s essential that they also have their say. They are not immune to reopening anxiety.
Think about how you communicate with your team as well as attendees. Listen to any concerns they may have and check in with them regularly. Ensure that they have a good understanding of safety measures to help inform attendees, what to do if someone doesn’t comply, and they know where to go if they feel anxious themselves. If your events team feels confident in what to do in these situations, then they’ll feel more at ease.
It’s likely that you’ll need to hire more staff to accommodate the new safety measures. This includes someone to monitor one-way systems and intensive cleaning methods. Working with people who you’ve never met before can be nerve wracking, and may make team members feel even more anxious than they already are. If possible, try and organise a team get together or encourage time for socialising at event meetings. This is a great way to allow team bonding and help employees feel more comfortable with one another.
It’s worth noting that your team’s behaviour may also affect your attendees’ nerves. It’s therefore essential that they follow all safety procedures set. You don’t want your guests to feel put off. Consider getting employees to sign a code of conduct before the event, to ensure that they set a good example.
Despite the trends and predictions, no one really knows exactly what events will look like in a post-COVID era. So when planning an event, it’s important to be flexible and listen to what attendees want. Their expectations may have changed since lockdown, and easing their anxieties surrounding events is a priority.
A good way to do this is to send out a poll or survey before the event. This allows attendees to explicitly state their preferences and any concerns they may have. You can then also follow this up with comment cards for attendees to fill out at the end of the event. They can drop them in a box near the exit so you can take them out at the end to see how everyone felt about the day.
If a significant number of attendees are feeling too apprehensive about attending in-person events, then you may want to consider hosting a hybrid event. This will give your guests the option to join virtually if they’d prefer to not travel or feel too overwhelmed by the prospect of in-person events. To find out more about hosting hybrid events, click through to read our guide.
Be wary of socialisation fatigue
Zoom fatigue was a common consequence of lockdown, a result of the increased levels of screentime. However, the return of live events could now be introducing a new type of fatigue: socialisation fatigue.
Many attendees may feel the pressure of having to stay engaged 100% of the time throughout your event. They can no longer multi-task and work on a task while meetings take place, or step away from the screen whenever they need to. They need to be switched on all the time, ready to network and learn.
This can also apply to yourself and your team, too. For many, behaviours may have changed over lockdown, including your own. You may have a shorter attention span or are no longer used to concentrating on one thing at a time. This might make it harder to stay focused and perform to the best of your ability, especially towards the end of the day.
There are several things you can do to help attendees, staff and yourself get through the day. You can:
- Cooperate with speakers and plan activities between sessions to help keep audiences engaged. These could include quizzes, Q&As and, of course, regular coffee breaks.
- Make sure there are plenty of refreshments as well, like sandwiches or a slice of cake.
- See if your event venue has water stations attendees can use before the day, and supply water bottles if not.
- If possible, create some quiet zones for attendees, team members and even yourself to visit throughout the day. These could be little havens for when someone is feeling overwhelmed and needs a break.
In the lead up to the event, it’s also vital that you encourage your team to have some downtime. Planning an event is hard work and involves a lot of collaboration, so it may be an overwhelming experience for them. Make sure they have some time off during the planning process, and celebrate everyone’s hard work once the event is over.
Collect Event Data and Feedback
As an event planner, you’ll know the importance of collecting event feedback. The best way to understand how attendees felt about the event is to ask them. And as we navigate these unprecedented times (sorry), it’s more important than ever to understand how attendees are feeling. This way, you can get a better idea of what people expect to see at events.
So what is the best way to capture feedback from attendees?
- Send out polls/surveys after the event via email or social media. Take your time to design this and make sure it’s compatible with different devices – the easier it is to fill in, the more likely attendees will complete it.
- Monitor social media channels during and after the event. Encourage guests to share any photos and thoughts they had so you build a steady collection of post-event feedback.
- Create comment cards and hand them out with any packs and freebies during the event. Ask attendees to fill them out either during or after the event, and leave a clearly-marked comment box near the venue’s exit. Attendees can pop the cards in there so you have feedback immediately afterwards.
Data and feedback is an imperative part of event planning. Click through to read more about using event data to host an event if you’d like to find out more.
Looking after your own mental health
Event planning can be stressful – you don’t need us to tell you that. Creating a memorable day for everyone takes lots of effort and meticulous planning. Shifting to in-person events is only going to add to that. Changing restrictions, rigorous safety procedures and potentially reduced budgets may make event planning harder than before. It’s therefore important that you take the time to look after your own mental health.
Organise your time to ensure that you’re staying productive and setting boundaries, so you maintain a work/life balance. Break down your goals into smaller, more manageable ones. This way, you’ll achieve something every week and feel good about yourself.
You should also take note of how you are feeling. Burnout can happen to anyone, and so you should learn to recognise the signs:
- Feeling frustrated or upset about every little thing
- Feeling tired or drained
- Lack of motivation and feelings of self-doubt
- Increase in mistakes and lowered levels of perfectionism
- Sudden changes in sleep patterns
If you’re starting to experience any of these emotions, then it’s time to slow things down. Take some time off if need be – keep members of staff in the loop with your tasks so they can efficiently manage planning while you’re away.
While you are working, make sure you’re eating well, taking regular breaks and drinking plenty of water. Talk to others about how you’re feeling, and they can help you spot any potential signs of burnout.
If you’re currently feeling down and need someone to talk to, here’s a few resources that can help:
Mind – the mental health charity
Mental Health UK – for mental health support
You can find other resources on the NHS website.
Safe and successful events at 20 Bedford Way
Here at 20 Bedford Way, we understand that the event planners have gone through a lot since the start of the pandemic. So we’re here to make things a little easier. Our events team are on-hand to help plan your event and make the most of budgets, ensuring that the day is a success. Our affordable venue is based in central London and is fully equipped with everything you need for your event. From the latest tech to flexible venues, we’re confident that your event will be a day to remember.
To get in touch with our professional event team, call us on 020 7612 6143 or make an enquiry.