We all know that 2020 was a bad year for the events industry. The emergence of the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in multiple lockdowns, meant that event planners didn't know which way was up, and events all over the world were cancelled, postponed, and forced to go virtual. Although restrictions in the UK have now eased, the future of the events world is still uncertain and 2021 has presented unique problems for event planners and the success of their events.
It's therefore crucial that organisers develop a solid contingency plan they can rely on if things go pear-shaped. Below, we've listed the key elements to consider when contingency planning so that you and your team can sleep easy.
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Prepare an in-depth Contingency Plan
First thing's first, what actually is a contingency plan? Put simply, it is literally an assessment of any and all possible risks that could arise at your event, which will enable you to put into place measures and solutions to prepare for or prevent the worst from happening.
Download our example template below, and use it as a helpful guide for all your events going forward.
So what could go wrong?
Ever heard of Murphy's Law? Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong! Below, we've listed some unique problems event organisers may face in 2021. This list is by no means exhaustive, but will hopefully get you thinking ahead and preparing for all eventualities.
Limited appetite for in-person attendance
Uncertainty in the industry has seen planning for in-person events programs significantly delayed. Plus, the "pingdemic" has forced many people into self-isolation, which means many attendees may be reluctant to attend if potential exposure to Covid-19 impacts their ability to attend important near-future events (weddings, visiting family, work commitments).
To help offset this, reassure attendees that you have put measures in place to ensure your event is as safe as possible, but also offer a hybrid solution so that those who are nervous to attend in-person or those who are forced into isolation can attend virtually.
New lockdown and restrictions enforced
With numbers of cases constantly going up and down across the country, it can be tricky to keep on top of all the changes to guidance and restrictions and what we can and can't do. Keep on top of latest changes by following our 'Can we hold events now?' blog and regularly checking the government website. Stay flexible and be prepared to change to a different event format at the last minute with Covid Cover Guarantee.
Changes to travel guidance
Frequently changing travel guidance makes planning international events extremely challenging. Because of this, try to plan for virtual, or offer a hybrid component for these international attendees. You may also find that there are road closures, accidents, or train delays on the day, so make sure to put alternative transportation plans in place in case your attendees can't get to your venue.
Changes to guidelines around on-site testing and Covid certification
We found that nearly all businesses planning in-person events will be conducting some form of on-site testing or certification regardless of the guidelines (it's better to be safe than sorry!), so we recommend planning for this and communicating expectations with your delegates.
There is always the chance that factors out of your control may mean that your event must be cancelled. So it's best to make sure you have negotiated flexible cancellation policies with your venue and suppliers to account for this contingency. Hire Space can also negotiate on your behalf with venues to ensure you have the flexibility you need, allowing you to switch your event to virtual at no extra cost if required.
Drop-out rates for self-isolating individuals
With many people receiving notifications to self-isolate every week, there is likely to be many cases of staff and delegates unable to attend on the day. Consider engaging an agency who offers on-demand staffing to be able to get the right people to fill in as needed. And, of course, account for a chunk of your delegates not attending. Drop out rates are likely to be higher than ever before, so account for that when planning your event.
Speakers or special guests drop out
Make sure you have backup speakers or the tech in place for speakers to tune in virtually, in case your speakers suddenly can't make it on the day.
The weather takes a turn for the worse
If you were planning on using an outdoor space for your event, do you have a backup in case it rains? And if you do, you need to make sure this indoors space can accommodate all of your attendees in line with any regulations in place.
The tech fails
This is a rather broad concern and there are many things that can go wrong with event technology. The best way to plan for this is to have an experienced event technologist and AV technician on hand to help if things go wrong. This is especially important if your event is hybrid and you have virtual attendees becoming increasingly frustrated at their blank screen.
If your registration system goes down, do you have someone who can sign in people manually? Additionally, if the internet goes down, you need to have a backup. Always make sure your venue is prepared for the worst with backup internet connections.
Health and safety issues
Aside from Covid, there are all sorts of health and safety nightmares waiting to happen. Make sure you have a solid health and safety plan in place to cater to all eventualities such as fires, accidents, medical emergencies etc. Ensure you have a first aider on site and that entrances are not blocked in case emergency care is needed.
Gatecrashers are not uncommon, so how will you ensure they are dealt with efficiently? What if some attendees have a bit too much to drink? You'll also need to consider worst case scenarios - like a terror threat. Thoroughly brief your security team so everyone is on the same page and knows exactly how to act when emergency security issues arise.
Your sponsors encounter issues with their stands
No matter how many checks you do the night before and the morning of, sponsors will find issues with their stands. Have one of your events team based at a table in the sponsor hall for sponsors to head to in case they need something sorted out. Also, make sure this person keeps a record of what the sponsor wants/is complaining about and the exact time the complaint was made. This helps cover your back if issues arise later or post-event.
Your team is unprepared
Failure to prepare is preparing to fail, and nowhere is that more true than at an event. It is crucial that you and your team are completely synchronised at every single step of the way, and that everyone is familiar with the contingency plans should an emergency occur. Make sure all your team members have reviewed your contingency plan, your risk assessment, and have signed them to confirm this. Have copies in your staff room, on each team member's clipboard, email it to them, dictate it to them, do whatever you need to do to ensure everyone is prepared for all situations.
Guidance for Planning in 2021
Knowing how to avoid the aforementioned issues, or even simply how to go about organising an event on the backend of a pandemic, can be tricky. Read on for our guidance for planning events in 2021.
Plan for virtual as a contingency
Whilst planners are thinking about organising in-person events again, there is still a lot of uncertainty around lockdown restrictions, travel guidelines, and vaccine passports. So, a general consensus we're seeing in the industry is that it's a good idea to plan for a virtual option in case anything goes wrong.
With event organisers already working to tight deadlines, it can be hard to have a full virtual option ready to go with limited resource. Consider bringing in an on-demand team that can help you switch your event to virtual with a short lead time.
Arena is a great virtual technology option that allows you to set up your event quickly, easily and on a budget if you do decide to go virtual as a contingency plan. Our Covid Cover Guarantee is also a useful option for switching events to a virtual format last-minute should you need.
Communicate with venues
Maintaining good communication with venues is really important. Make sure to discuss the venue's latest terms and conditions (to reflect new guidance), the venue's flexibility towards cancellation policies, its location and logistics around travelling to and from the venue (to alleviate potential delegate anxiety), and whether the venue is set up for hybrid.
If they aren't hybrid-ready, the venue needs to be open about this and have the right relationships in place if they don't have the capability and technology for hybrid in-house.
There are other things to look out for when venue-sourcing for your events, which you can read more about in our article on finding the perfect venue in a post-pandemic world.
Consider asking for help
It can be really tough to navigate the events landscape at the moment, so if you're feeling like you're drowning in different guidance and opinions, you're not alone. Hire Space 360 could be a great contingency option if things start falling apart, or even as an option to prevent things going wrong in the first place! Hire Space 360 offers venue sourcing, access to our state-of-the-art online event platform Arena, help with registration technology, assistance with contracting and payments, supplier sourcing, and on-demand staffing from event & live stream experts.
Put an emergency team in place
In terms of contingency planning for the day of the event itself, devise a core emergency team who are able to resolve any issues you may face. This will almost definitely need to include a couple of tech wizzes, someone who is constantly in touch with the speakers, as well as a dedicated person to monitor live chat or email - so that if any delegates are facing difficulties, this can be resolved quickly and easily before it becomes an issue.
Assign dedicated roles and responsibilities to each team member and create a plan for how you'll communicate issues and tech emergencies to your team and/or speakers. Consider setting up a Whatsapp group so everyone can see when something needs to be actioned, and establish when you'll need to escalate to a more senior decision-maker.
Have a backup tech option for virtual
If your live stream is kaput or your platform has packed it in and there's no saving it, you'll need to have a backup. Make sure you have an emergency backup stream ready in the wings in case of emergencies. You should also create a strategy for keeping your attendees informed and directing them to a new platform if needed.
Another backup you could put in place for workshops, webinars, or meetings is to provide a conference call option. This way, if internet completely fails, participants and speakers can rejoin via their phones without requiring an internet connection.
Hope for the best, plan for the worst
Go through each element of your event with a fine-toothed comb; identify what can possibly go wrong at every stage and create a backup or solution for this. Try to create backup plans for your backup plan! It never hurts to be prepared, and the larger or more complex your event is, the more straightforward your life will be if you've thought of everything beforehand.
You may never need to use a contingency plan, but having a plan in place will reassure not only you, but your clients and stakeholders too, that the event will be able to run as planned - no matter what life throws at you.
Whilst 2020 was a tricky year for many, it's important to remember the sense of community that developed within the events industry, and the resilience and adaptability of event planners that shone through in such a positive light. Whilst 2021 poses fresh challenges, let's all stay focused and use our newfound skills to inform how we plan our events for this year and beyond.