March 10, 2022

In-Person Events

Returning to In-Person Events: How to Make the Transition Safely

By:

Victoria Rudi

You may be returning to in-person events - or at least a hybrid format. How can you make that transition safely for attendees?

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Two years ago, the unthinkable happened: A pandemic took over the world, reducing all activities to almost zero. As country after country closed their borders, everything was put on hold. 

We saw an unprecedented wave of cancellations for travel and in-person events This had a domino effect on the revenue goals of companies that depended on engagement and event marketing to drive demand — which was a lot. According to Statista, 84.4% of B2B marketers in the United States admitted they relied on in-person events to drive demands before the coronavirus pandemic broke out.  

Luckily, the market was resilient, and people and businesses quickly found solutions to survive. Event tech companies had to rethink their business strategies overnight, coming up with new digital tools and platforms to meet people differently. Companies like Atlassian, Webflow, Okta, and ThoughtSpot embraced virtual events as a medium for building connections and interacting with leads, prospects, and customers.

Learn How to Run an Event That Isn't Terrible. Get the Workbook.


Two years later, nothing looks the same. Although we’re still vulnerable as COVID-19 mutates and affects people worldwide, we’re gradually learning to live with it. Rather than returning to “normal,” the world is adjusting to a “new normal.”

Each month, more countries are relaxing their COVID-19 restrictions, and more companies are beginning to plan in-person events. For example, the Atlassian team is already planning their Las Vegas event. 

A survey conducted by Northstar Meeting Group Survey revealed almost 80% of respondents intend to create their next in-person event in the first half of 2022. 

Similarly, according to a 2022 EventMB survey, people are still interested in attending in-person events.

From a 2022 EventMB survey, 50% of respondents have the same level of interest, 17% are less interested, and 27% are more interested in attending industry events compared to a pre-Covid pandemic.



When asked, “What is your level of interest in attending industry events compared to a pre-Covid pandemic?” respondents said they were:

  • More Interested: 27%
  • At the same level of interest: 50%
  • Less interested: 17%

David Adrian, CEO at ExpoDevCo, stated in the publication, “The digital events, quite frankly, are not satisfying customers… Getting people back together again is more than just a nice thing to do - it’s a necessary thing to do.”

Event attendees at in-person event


So, how can we ensure a safe transition from virtual to in-person events while still facing uncertainties and charting new territories? 

In-Person Events To Plan in 2022

We’re still navigating troubled waters, as we can’t predict how COVID-19 will mutate or manifest in the following months. That’s why you should first ensure your event marketing strategy can weather whatever changes occur.

You can do this by assessing and deciding the type of in-person events you should plan in 2022. Here are two guiding principles to follow when making this decision:

  • Stay local. For the time being, plan local events. International events are great, but they involve higher levels of risk, such as travel restrictions, location-based protocols, strict rules because of a sudden worsening of the situation, and more. Fortunately, staying local won’t limit your options; you can still run workshops, conferences, or product launches without worrying about being shut down. 

  • Stay small. You may be (understandably) tempted to attract a high number of attendees. However, you have to be able to pivot quickly and transition back to virtual in case of sudden restrictions. Also, a lower attendance rate lets you learn and practice safety protocols in a lower-risk environment. You can always run micro-conferences, micro-seminars, or micro-product launches. 

To increase resilience against uncertainty, keep your in-person events local and small. 

How To Keep Your In-Person Events Safe

A successful return to in-person events depends greatly on building trust with your attendees. To do that, you need to reassure them they’ll be safe at your events. Here’s a list of recommended precautions to consider: 

I. COVID-19 Restrictions

  • Restrictions: Follow the official federal government announcements closely. Things may stay the same, or the government may decide to relax or tighten restrictions. In any case, you need to prepare accordingly. 
  • COVID-19 certificates. If official protocols require a COVID-19 certificate at indoor and/or outdoor events, you’re obligated to allow only those attendees who can provide it.
  • On-site testing. If official protocols require people to present a negative COVID-19 test result to enter an event venue, make things easier for your attendees by providing on-site testing facilities. 
  • Masks. If there’s a mask mandate, respect it.

II. Venue 

  • Maximum capacity. When selecting a venue, you need to know the number of expected attendees and the maximum capacity allowed by the government. If there’s a 50% seated capacity limit at indoor events, factor that into your calculations when renting the venue. 

  • Ventilation. According to the CDC, good building ventilation reduces the spread of disease and lowers the risk of exposure to COVID-19: “Ventilation system upgrades or improvements can increase the delivery of clean air and dilute potential contaminants.” So, when renting a venue, look at the building’s ventilation system. A poor system will increase the risk of contamination at your event. 

  • Cleaning. The CDC states, “The virus that causes COVID-19 can land on surfaces.” That means it has another avenue of spread. To prevent this, you have to work with a cleaning service to develop a cleaning plan. This should include how often the event rooms are cleaned, identifying the high-touch surfaces that require frequent disinfection, etc. 

  • Social distancing. Although official protocols may not require social distancing, it’s important to keep your attendees safe and avoid crowd formation at your in-person event. Moreover, you have to consider social distancing when arranging the furniture for both the event and the lounge areas; it should be easy for attendees to stay six feet apart.

  • Hand sanitizers. Locate strategic areas to set up hand sanitizer stations. Place them at the venue entrance and at the entryway of every event room and lounge. To make things safer, use touchless sanitizer stations. 

  • Restrooms. Prevent crowds from forming by limiting the number of people who can use the bathroom. Also, be sure to rent a venue that has multiple restrooms.

III. Catering

  • Sneeze screens. If you’re offering buffet options, always install sneeze screens or guards to protect the food.

  • Pre-packaged meals. Forget about trays of food traveling around the room. To minimize risk of exposure and unnecessary interactions, offer pre-assembled lunch boxes.
Attendee enjoys boxed lunch at event


  • Floor markers. If people have to wait in line to pick up food, add floor markers that will help your attendees keep their distance. 

IV. Communication

  • Pre-registration. Some people are still uncertain about attending in-person events. To ease their fears, communicate how safe your event is. You can even build a special page that outlines all the measures you’re taking to safeguard your attendees and the guidelines people must follow when attending the event. 

  • Post-registration. Be active in communicating the event safety guidelines. You can’t expect people to retain all the attendance rules just by reading the post-registration email. A better idea is to create an email campaign that will remind people what’s expected of them. For example, you can send your attendees two or three reminders that include the event’s COVID-19 policies and protocols. Note: Make sure to send communications that discourage anyone who has COVID-19 concerns from attending the event. The message can be something along the lines of: “If you have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of illness, you should not attend the event.” Also, make it clear that those who fail to comply with the safety rules aren’t welcome to attend. 

  • On-site. Communicate with your attendees using on-site signage. You can remind them to keep their distance, wash their hands often, and wear a mask at all times. 

V. Event Team Management

  • Team safety. Apart from attendees, you should think about your team members as well. Encourage your teammates to practice good health habits and avoid situations that may jeopardize their health. Also, discourage them from showing up at the event if they have even the slightest COVID-19 concern. 
Three women planning an event


  • Floor volunteers. What will you do if one attendee doesn’t respect the safety rules and walks without a mask? Or if you see someone displaying COVID-19 symptoms? You need floor volunteers to monitor and know what action to take in case of an emergency. 

Should You Make Some Events Hybrid?

The short answer is yes. 

According to Gartner, “Most event marketers have come to value the reach of virtual event delivery models but remain eager for the return of in-person events. They are also more consistently offering hybrid events — in-person delivery complemented with digital components. Gartner expects this transition to hybrid to dominate event strategy discussions in 2022.”

Moreover, hybrid events allow you to better accommodate your attendees. They’re an excellent alternative for people who are still afraid to attend in-person events or who are in the high-risk category, as they can connect from the safety of their homes. Also, consider those attendees who’re at home with COVID-19 concerns or mild symptoms. With a hybrid event, they can still learn, engage, and participate while keeping everyone safe. 

Luckily, there are some great event technology platforms that support different event formats. So, transforming your in-person event into a hybrid one isn’t so difficult. 

The End of Virtual Events? 

Are we saying goodbye to virtual events? Definitely not. In fact, Statista reported “marketers worldwide revealed that 40 percent of their events were projected to be virtual in 2022, a five percent increase from 2020.” 

Woman attends virtual event


Rest assured, virtual events are here to stay. As EventMB’s 2022 Event Trends Report highlights, “The recovery will not be driven by the traditional business model, but by the integrated business model of both on-site and online experiences.” 

Learn How to Run an Event That Isn't Terrible. Get the Workbook.


In other words, you have to prepare your company and team with a flexible and agile event marketing strategy that accommodates both virtual and in-person experiences. Thankfully, sustaining this strategy is becoming easier each day with powerful event tech solutions available to help you and get people to your in-person, hybrid, and virtual events.


* Gartner Article, “In-Person, Virtual or Both? How to Manage Conferences and Tradeshows in 2022” February 08, 2022

GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.





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