Lilian Shen, MBA, is the director of marketing for CORT Events, the leading furniture rental supplier for events, meetings and trade shows in the contiguous U.S. She has served as a marketing and customer success lead throughout her past three years at the company.
Planning a Safe, Must-Attend Show In an Age of Uncertainty
Over the past couple of years, folks have become accustomed to a virtual world that allows them to work, learn and play from the comfort of their own homes. In order to get people out of their pajamas and onto a show floor, you have to offer more than just quality content. You must create an in-person experience that meets attendees halfway.
Success would mean marrying both the in-person aspect of networking and engaging at an event with the comfort and flexibility of being at home. Fortunately, there are several ways to achieve this union.
Create spaces that allow for choice. Consider your attendees’ purpose and goals for the day. In between sessions, do you anticipate your attendees will be catching up on emails? Will they be conducting meetings or reunions? Is it their time to decompress in some peace and quiet, or is it an opportunity to head out for a quick bite? Understanding your attendees will allow you to better plan for their needs.
For the worker bee, designate working stations with powered furnishings and maybe even the occasional whiteboard. Loveseats or club chairs in pods of two, three and four allow for comfortable chats and meetings, leading to more authentic and candid conversations. Those in search of a sensory break may benefit from a dimmer—both visually and audibly—environment. Dedicate a quiet space with warm lighting, decorated with soft seating for a relaxing, calm place to reset.
Logistically, designing a more flexible agenda grants attendees a similar luxury, such as watching recorded content on their own time from the comfort of their own homes. Consider offering sessions more than once to suit different schedules. This tactic also allows for smaller audiences, lending to increased peace of mind for the health-conscious.
Although we’re seeing the loosening of health orders and mandates in real-time, it’s important to continue due diligence on safe event design and planning. By ensuring all attendees are at their most comfortable, we’ll continue seeing in-person event attendance rise and our industry move forward.
Ahead of the event, maintaining clear communication about vaccine, mask and/or testing requirements as well as on-site resources available is vital for encouraging in-person registrations. Once on-site, place ample sanitization stations throughout the space as a simple way to put attendee health and safety in their own hands—pun absolutely intended. Similarly, providing multiple and daily wellness checkpoints will allow for smoother attendee flow once on-site.
That’s not to say only six-foot-distanced individual seats should be entertained. The ultimate goal is to meet folks where they are in terms of comfort and distancing. One way to do that while also adding a layer of sophistication and style for a general session, breakout room or demonstration area, is by incorporating choice in seating. Offer loveseats and sofas for those who travel in pairs or triplets. Provide sanctuary seating such as a luxe club chair paired with an end or accent table for those who appreciate personal space. Lastly, fill in a space with rows of traditional group seating for attendees who don’t mind bumping elbows with new faces.
Even as we gradually put the pandemic behind us, the importance of choice in live event design remains. We’ve all become accustomed to the flexibility of a digital platform. In order to encourage live attendance, the in-person experience must be elevated, and we must meet folks where they are. Granting attendees the power and the means to choose their own experience will be the guiding force as we move our industry forward.