How to Create Better In-Person Events in 2021

The world is opening back up. Daily airline travel is creeping back up to its pre-pandemic levels. Major sporting events such as the Tour de France and political meetings such as the UN General Assembly are back on. And when the CDC recently changing its mask guidelines for vaccinated people, the New York Times asked, “What will we do with our masks now?” 

While it may seem as though things are easing into a more familiar pre-pandemic rhythm, it is important to keep in mind that pandemic fatigue has affected most of us. Characterized by the mental exhaustion, anxiety, and sadness that it takes to manage everyday tasks and human separation,  pandemic fatigue (or pandemic burnout) reached an all-time high of 250,000 diagnosed cases. 

While that number has dropped to 150,000 cases per day since the vaccination rollout, the number is nowhere near where public health experts would like to see it. 

As you plan your event (or events) this year, there are some key considerations for event planners to ensure that everyone feels safe and can enjoy themselves at in-person gatherings. 

Give People More Time and Space to Regroup Between Sessions

In the past, it was typical to schedule jam-packed event days. From breakfast to post-dinner gatherings, many events had attendees’ schedules filled before they took their first sip of coffee.

Now, people may need more time and space. 

Consider offering more break times in between speeches or seminars. If attendees are transitioning from hearing a speaker to a networking event, allow for the option for them to regroup in their hotel rooms or in more relaxed settings maybe by the pool or the hotel bar. 

Allowing people to rest and regroup more often will help attendees feel like they can be their best selves. In addition, as people ease back into in-person gatherings, they will need to rebuild their social ‘muscle’ to do so.  

Offer Meditations and Mindfulness Activities at Your Event

There are plenty of ways for people to connect that don’t include coffee breaks or cocktails. There are many different ways to incorporate meditation, for one. According to PCMA, “meditation breaks as a way to help attendees focus and provide some stress relief during the continuing COVID-19 crisis.”

At the end of a long session, you can have a 5-10 minute mindfulness session. This can be led by a non-spiritual coach or you can play calming music with a ‘no phones’ policy. Also, you can offer to start or end each day with a yoga session. 

It is critical to communicate your organization’s intention for offering the mental health break for your attendees. Is this session meant to create an intention or help decompress? Offering different types of meditation and mindfulness practices in a group setting will help build trust and a sense of community amongst attendees. 

Have ‘No-Tech’ Seminars and Breakout Sessions

Mobile phone usage increased 70% worldwide during the pandemic. Stuck at home or working remotely, more people than ever before relied on their phones and more frequently. 

Between texting, emailing, tweeting, and Slacking, many of us became addicted to the small screen in our hands. What’s more, is that ‘doom-scrolling’ has become a common complaint of many smartphone users. You’re checking your email and suddenly you’re in a spiral of news alerts and social media posts with negative information and alerts. 

To avoid distracted attendees and reduce the risk of any ambient anxiety, create clear rules about when attendees can and cannot use their phones. For instance, discourage phone use at networking parties or keynote speaker events. Do encourage cell phone use if you want live-tweeting, photo sharing, or ticket sales. 

Incorporate Physical Activities

Last, but certainly not least, plan small group physical activities as a way to boost spirits and build camaraderie. Physical activity dropped dramatically worldwide last year, so offering ways for attendees to get physical is a reminder of their pre-pandemic lives. 

Depending on where you are hosting your event, some ideas for group exercise are city-guide runs, nature walks, and indoor climbing gyms. If you want to get creative, many cities have specialized sports classes such as fly-fishing and horseback riding. 

Ask Your Attendees for Feedback

At the end of your event, ask your attendees for their thoughts. Which specialized events did they participate in? What did they like about the event? What do they want to see offered next year?

Creating excitement around the quality of your event in addition to the quality of your speakers and invited guests, means that you can continue to create more value-add to grow them in future years. 

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