Originally Published: 3/5/20
Updated on: 3/16/20

With growing concerns over coronavirus (COVID-19), you might be questioning what to do about your own event(s) this year, especially if they are happening within the next eight months. If that’s the case, it’s time to move to a purely digital or virtual experience like Google has for Cloud Next ‘20, and if your event is more than nine weeks out, it may be time to plan for doing something in between.

Here’s our guide, based on facts and the most up-to-date information we can get ahold of so that you can continue to create great events while dealing with the uncertain future of COVID-19.  

About COVID-19 

There’s a lot of misinformation circulating online right now about COVID-19 and it can become quite overwhelming very quickly. So, here are the facts to know about this specific strain of coronavirus.

How COVID-19 Spreads 

As of right now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that COVID-19 is spread from person-to-person by: 

  • Being in close contact with an infected individual (6 ft or less) 
  • Respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected individual landing on another individual or being inhaled 

This is why many in-person events have been either postponed or cancelled, and based off the recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), your event should postpone, cancel, or move to being fully virtual if it is planned to be held in the next eight weeks.

COVID-19 Symptoms 

It’s important to recognize the symptoms of COVID-19 so that you can remind everyone (and yourself) to keep their health in mind and practice social distancing.

The three main symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, cough, and shortness of breath. With a virtual event, you won’t have to screen for any of these, but do take a moment at the beginning of any event to remind others what they should be aware of.

Don’t forget to put your best foot forward and do what you can to support everyone during this difficult and stressful time.

COVID-19 Resources for Event Planners

The WHO and CDC are the go-to authorities for guidance on COVID-19 in the absence of any government mandated cancellations of large-scale events. As you continue to plan, here are two of the main resources on COVID-19, which are continually being updated.

👉 WHO Main Resource on COVID-19
👉 CDC Main Resource on COVID-19

The CDC has provided specific guidance for event organizers that offers detailed information and resources for preparing an emergency plan in case of an outbreak in the community where your event will take place.

In addition to CDC guidance, the Events Industry Council has compiled a comprehensive resource page for COVID-19, which includes a recorded webinar on informed decision-making in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Event Industry Perspectives on COVID-19 Impact

With recent news of high-profile events postponing or cancelling out of an abundance of caution, event planners are thrust into contingency planning and determining how to proceed.

How are other industry leaders responding?

Many, many cancellations are happening. I understand how that is the only option for a trade show with 100,000 attendees, but conferences with 4,000/5,000 attendees do not need to cancel. They can still happen with live streaming and mobile apps as networking tools.”

– Julius Solaris, Editor in Chief of Event Manager Blog (@tojulius)

Add a livestream component and sell virtual tickets for those who are concerned about attending in person but still value the content. This adds cost to your A/V budget, but the virtual ticket sales can offset that if you’re strategic. Keep in mind that in-person experiences at a conference far outweigh a virtual seat, however, so you may also want to consider interactive components to bolster the online experience.

Chris Meyer, CEO at George P Johnson

Now’s the time for event planners to get over their fears of diluting their in-person attendance numbers with digital options and take the plunge. In the long run, hybrid or virtual solutions offer greater potential for positive business results as they can extend audience reach, engagement, and sponsorship revenues.

Will Event Insurance Cover COVID-19?

Even if you have event insurance, there’s no guarantee it will cover coronavirus. Event insurance typically covers acts of God, or things that occur outside of the organizer’s control. But that still may not protect you against COVID-19. 

In most cases, you’d have to purchase additional coverage (at a premium) for communicable disease. Considering COVID-19 didn’t become a known threat until recent months, you probably didn’t add the premium when you made the initial purchase. Even more frustrating, some insurance companies are now treating coronavirus as a pre-existing condition, meaning they still won’t cover it going forward.

6 Actions to Take to Protect Your Event (Without Cancelling or Postponing) 

1. Create and Publish Your Plan 

Creating a plan for how your event will move forward and address COVID-19 concerns is critical to ensuring that your attendees, speakers, There needs to be a place where information about your decision lives. 

It can live on a landing page on your website and if you have an event app, it can live there as well and you can also send push notifications whenever updates come out. 

Within this plan, mention items such as…

  • If your event is following the guidance of the WHO and the CDC
  • Making the pivot to a digital-only event

2. Send Regular Updates 

Considering how many events have cancelled at this point, your attendees might be worrying about your event. Send out consistent updates about the situation. You can do this by posting on social media, sending push notifications through the event app, and updating the event website. 

Base all communications on trustworthy sources, such as the WHO and the CDC. You don’t want to add to the panic or inadvertently spread false information about COVID-19 — there’s already enough of that out there. And if you do ultimately have to cancel and are not able to take things digital, take a page from SaaStr’s book on sending out some good messaging. 

COVID-19 is hitting events hard, and things are still uncertain, so keeping your attendees as up to date as possible is key to making sure that no matter what, they have a good experience. 

3. Be Inclusive 

Don’t forget about those who’ve already purchased tickets and are excitedly looking forward to an event that is now going virtual.

Give everyone access to the event app so that they can still be involved and engaged in the event experience. This will keep attendance numbers up, raise brand awareness and loyalty, and help you reach your existing goals and KPIs. Your event experience can still be great for everyone involved, even if attendees have to sit at home. 

5. For Virtual Events 

Many larger-scale events have made the decision to move everything online, and that’s an option for you as well. Moving things online can help ease the fear of contracting COVID-19 at a live event, and an online experience can still meet attendee, speaker, and sponsor expectations. It just needs to be handled correctly. 

  • Keep as much of your existing tech in place to ensure a familiar experience (ex: registration, your event app, etc)
  • Use a live streaming service that can handle the number of online participants. Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and/or Periscope are good options if you expect a large number of online participants.
  • If you can, include all existing sessions, panels, and keynotes in the livestream. If not, focus on those that will have the highest attendance and engagement.
  • Add links to panel sessions in existing agendas in your event app for easy access and to send push notifications when a panel is about to start (can be sponsored).
  • Provide Q&A sessions where attendees can submit questions digitally and get answers in real-time.
  • Check in with attendees, speakers, and sponsors via live polling to make sure that the digital event is providing a positive experience.
  • Layer in gamification to ensure attendees are viewing streaming events remotely.
  • Use an event app to allow for networking and to keep everyone updated on changes to the schedule, speaker line-up, and any other information you want to share. 

6. Move to a Hybrid Event

If your event is in the next eight weeks, you should be moving it to an all virtual experience. But what about for events nine weeks or more out? Think about having a plan to make those events hybrid. Making sure to keep attendees, speakers, and sponsors involved even if they can’t make it to your event in person doesn’t have to be difficult.  

Including both remote and live attendees in the event means that you’ll have to set up ways for them to interact and engage with each other. Nobody who’s remote wants to sit in their chair at home and have no interaction throughout the event. And people who are at the event may not remember that they have the option to connect with those who aren’t onsite. Remind them. 

Here’s a guide on how to pull off a great hybrid event.  

Standing Together

There’s a lot of conflicting, and in some cases false, information circulating about COVID-19 right now, so it’s critical for event professionals to stand together and help spread the correct information. WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has stated, “Our greatest enemy right now is not the virus itself. It’s fear, rumours and stigma. And our greatest assets are facts, reason and solidarity.” 

This guide is based on just that: facts, reason, and solidarity. We hope it helps you navigate this complex situation with a little more ease.

We’d love to hear your ideas on how you are transitioning events, keeping things alive in 2020, and any success stories, so please give us a shout.

IMPORTANT: If you are a Socio customer and your event has been affected or is threatened by COVID-19, we want to help! Please reach out to your customer success manager to discuss any questions, concerns, or to set up a brainstorming session.

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