One way or another, the last 18 months has thrown up all kinds of learning curves. Yours might have been figuring out new ways to stay accountable working from home, getting into new exercise routines without the gym, or maintaining levels of business when everyone’s cut back budgets or restrictions were put on what you do.
That last one, event organisers know particularly well. In March 2020 the very purpose of their jobs – i.e. bringing people together – suddenly became totally off-limits. To adjust, many of them began quickly learning how to hold online business events and tried to account for the lack of face-to-face with new innovations. Virtual and online events did exist pre-covid, but it was such a niche that for the majority this was completely new territory.
Now, as we reach the end of restrictions here in the UK, any events post-pandemic are likely to look little different compared to before. All the new knowledge and skills organisers picked up over the last year and a half isn’t about to be forgotten; they’ll want to make the most of their newfound penchant for planning virtual and hybrid events.
But which bits will be carried back over into their physical event planning? Or even, what should a business event look like on the other side of this Covid pandemic?
One of the biggest differences in events then and now will be the lingering health and safety measures in the months to come. As an organiser, you’re the one responsible if your event ends up as a covid-spreading encounter and so will want to do everything to prevent that. Even as a growing majority of the population becomes vaccinated and lowers the risks, there are still other things like insurance companies to consider; many won’t honour a covid-related claim if sufficient safety measures weren’t in place.
Despite official guidelines saying social distancing and face coverings are now optional, you should expect to be asked to keep hold of those habits for attending business events in the foreseeable. So, don’t say goodbye to hand sanitiser stations, one-way systems and elbow bumps just yet people.
Say hello to hybrid
Did you attend any online events or during lockdown? If so, you probably already recognise some of the benefits hosting an event or meeting virtually has over hosting those in-person. There’s no need to worry about capacity limits, location is no longer a restriction for anyone, and the format comes with new opportunities for innovation. As a result, there’s been exponential growth in the options available to host genuinely engaging online events, allowing them to meaningfully compete with in-person events for the first time.
Virtual events still have their limits: we’ve all learnt Zooming isn’t a long-term substitute for real life human contact! Enter, hybrid events. Offering the best of both worlds, your typical hybrid event has both a physical and virtual element so people can choose to consume the content from your business event the way that suits them best. The most common format is for that content to happen live at the event for those in-person, whilst simultaneously being livestreamed for those who want to engage remotely.
One thing to bear in mind is that not every venue is currently kitted-out to host high-quality hybrid events. If you’re unsure where to start, we recommend using a venue finding service as they’ll have a much better idea of what options are available and suit your event brief.
The practice of recording talks and making them available online later isn’t new, but you can expect livestreaming to become much more prevalent at business events like conferences and tradeshows. Hybrid is here for the long haul.
New, innovative catering trends
During the weird state of limbo lots of us found ourselves in between the start of lockdown easing and now, some kinds of event could take place for limited numbers of people, as long as they also followed certain safety rules.
Amongst other things, that meant there was a need for food options that were suitable for groups that didn’t risk contamination or need others to get too close to each other.
Long gone are the days of free-for-all buffets; tongs left the wrong way round, a mystery delegate who keeps taking all the chips, even a sneeze guard if you were lucky. The pandemic has spurred on the creation of new event catering styles and standards which have since proved to be popular.
Pre-packed lunches, convenient bento boxes and one-on-one food service have all come to the fore in the last year. Caterers have had the chance to get creative and since turned this one-time compromise into some fantastically tasty full menus. Bento boxes have proved particularly popular thanks to, not only to their convenience, but their flexibility – it really doesn’t have to be limited to Japanese cuisine (although, it wouldn’t be an issue if it was)! This covid-safe menu from Searcys (for 10-11 Carlton House Terrace) is a great example of that kind of innovation in the world of individually portioned meals. A breakfast bento with a coconut bircher, pastries and brioche bacon roll? We’ll take 3!
Let me entertain you
Because guests are going to be limited on how to entertain themselves for a while. Organised, seated entertainment will be the go-to until everyone is comfortable mingling like its 2019 again. Nightclubs and concerts maybe back on, but squeezing up against other delegates shouldn’t be a requirement at business event just yet.
This comes back to the need for at least some safety measures to still be in place. Dancing? Networking at the bar? Anything that encourages crowding? You’ll have to put those options on the backburner for a while. If you’re struggling for alternative ideas, try going with something a little competitive, but can be done from guests’ seats; things like a pub-style quiz or crazy bingo (e.g. Bongos Bingo). Some other traditional options still work too, like dance troops or musical performances.
No matter whether you’re planning a trade show, conference or corporate away day, it’s going to look a little different than before. Ultimately, try your best not to overthink things and if you’re unsure about a choice – er on the side of caution! (Just for now, at least.)