Special Event 9/15: How to make your next event sizzle like Broadway on an association budget.
Learn More
Image of a pink clock

5 Ways to Prepare Your In-Person Events for the New Normal

October 11, 2021
Beth Surmont

In the past 6 weeks, I have been to 4 in-person events of various sizes. Each one has been a synchronous hybrid event. Each time, I was caught off guard by the experience.

Here is what you need to know: people are different now, expectations are different now, and we must adjust, or we will lose our in-person audiences.

Here are 5 things we recommend you put some thought into before you host your next in-person event:

1) Your audio quality is not going to be great

This is the most striking thing I’ve noticed, and I attribute it to multiple things:

  • Speakers who Zoom in and don’t have professional mics have terrible audio quality compared to in-person speakers. It’s difficult to understand them and they even hurt my ears with “s” and “t” sounds.
  • We are setting huge rooms with 1/3 of the bodies for social distancing and that affects the audio. We don’t have enough mass in the room to absorb the sound, and echoing is a real problem.

How to fix? Talk to your AV team and consider live closed captioning in the room to improve the audience experience.

2) Masks and Social Distancing make talking awkward

I was never one for small talk previously but now it is so much harder. All of us are out of practice and we are missing previous social cues like smiling, because of masks. Sitting far apart makes it hard to strike up a conversation, and it’s hard to know how to approach someone.

How to fix? Add more intention to the event. Large name badges in big font that can be seen from a distance. Add “ask me about___” conversation prompts. Put table topic cards out. Have your speakers encourage conversation. We need help!

3) Traveling is stimulus overload

After spending most of the past 20 months in the same few rooms in my house each day, stepping back into the world is overwhelming. It’s loud. It’s crowded. It’s exhausting. The energy it takes to navigate a new place is a muscle I haven’t exercised in a while. And it means I want to cut out of the sessions or receptions early, because my energy is spent.

How to fix? This is the time to make your event as seamless and barrier-free as possible. Give as many instructions and details as you can:

  • Here’s how you get to the venue from the airport
  • Here is where you can get coffee in the morning
  • Go to floor 2 and turn right for registration

“Don’t make me think” design is critical to keeping your attendees feeling like they want to engage.

4) Speakers won’t make me get on a plane

I’ve watched both in-person and streamed-in speakers and each time I was surprised at how I felt. I was missing the opportunity to multi-task. It felt like things went on too long. It was weird to sit so far back from the speakers. And I had a moment of despair when I realized I was at the equivalent of an in-person Zoom meeting.

How to fix? For the short term - in person HAS to be about connecting and leave the content for digital. If there is in-person content, it should be dynamic, short, and involve the audience.  It must be more than listen and leave.

5) We’ve got to WOW

Everywhere back in the real world that I go is leaving me underwhelmed. We should be greeting people at the curb and welcoming them into the building. We should be providing custom coffee that was brewed at the time of badge pick-up, not 5-hour old brown water. We should be waving and gesturing and opening our arms to welcome people back and let them know how happy we are to see them.

People are taking a big risk by traveling to an event. It’s safety. It’s cost. It’s time out of office and time away from home. We weigh these things differently now.

An in-person event is a luxury, and it should feel this way.

This takes money, time, and resources. There’s a reason that 4-star resorts cost more than the motel by the airport. There’s also a reason they attract more people.