You planned a spectacular event. The venue was perfect and the speakers top-notch. No wonder registrations soared off the charts.

Then along came Delta.

Now, companies are taking a harder line on travel. Speakers want to present remotely, and attendees and sponsors are starting to drop off. Do you cancel or continue with your live event as planned?

The fact is your event deserves to be successful despite all the uncertainties in the market. That’s why I’m sharing best practices for a rock-solid Covid contingency plan. In this article, you’ll find what you need to roll with the punches and plan successful gatherings—even if the situation changes before your event takes place.

The following tips will allow you to leverage technology to:

  • Improve Covid safety
  • Simplify hybrid events
  • Run hybrid gatherings without a hitch, even if you never planned one before
  • Boost ROI with innovative ticketing options

What if travel policies change, and speakers, attendees and sponsors start to cancel?

  1. Know your audience. Do they want to meet virtually or in person? Conduct surveys, analyze behavioral data from past events, talk to registrants and read comments they post in chat. You’re collaborating on a new playbook. Make sure it stays true to audience needs.
  2. Have a back-up plan. For example, enrich live events with prerecorded content by thought leaders. If infections spike and you need to cancel your in-person event, you’ll still have valuable digital content to share with your audience.
  3. Capture the energy of live events. Go simulive and stream pre-recorded sessions as though they were happening live, while speakers connect simultaneously with attendees in chat. After recordings, participants can continue the conversation during live Q&As.

What if registrants are divided? Some want to attend in person, others prefer to join from home.

  1. Incorporate hybrid into your Covid contingency plan. Add a virtual component to your in-person event. You’ll avoid cancellations by people who won’t travel and reduce crowds at the venue to enhance Covid safety.
  2. Maximize all benefits. A good hybrid strategy also expands audience reach and event lifecycle. Plus, you can capitalize on advanced analytics to improve return on investment.

We’ll talk more about ROI in a minute, but first let’s answer planners’ top questions about hybrid events.

How do you make hybrid gatherings easier?

  1. For starters, choose technology that handles virtual, hybrid and in-person events on the same platform.
  2. All-in-one platforms are like an insurance policy on your event. If you need to cancel an in-person gathering, you can switch to virtual easily with a click of the button. Ensure the show will go on, even if market conditions change on short notice.
  3. Consolidating data across in-person and digital activities will:
  • Make pivoting easier
  • Streamline the user experience for planners, attendees and stakeholders
  • Unify branding across all events formats
  • Cut training time and costs
  • Get deeper customer insights to improve marketing and event outcomes
  • Gain a comprehensive view of ROI

Read MoreCan One Virtual Meeting Platform Rule Them All?

What if you and your audience and speakers lack experience with hybrid events?

  1. Tip the odds in favor of flawless execution. In the month leading up to your event, invite attendees to a series of virtual preview sessions.
  2. Design previews to feature your speakers and show attendees how to use the technology to full potential. You’ll build excitement for your main event and give speakers a chance to practice using your platform.
  3. After each preview, evaluate what worked (and what didn’t). Make adjustments to keep improving and deliver a polished main event.

How do you handle networking during hybrid events?

  1. This is the question planners ask me the most. The answer lies in your mobile event app. Choose an app that’s optimized for hybrid. With mobile and virtual tools working in sync, attendees can engage with presenters and content real time through live Q&As, polls and chat.
  2. No need to create networking experiences for separate audiences; focus on producing one great event. Integrated hybrid engagement expands opportunities exponentially. Participants in the same room and across the globe connect seamlessly through live video conferencing and chat.
  3. Most likely, hybrid networking will be a new experience for attendees, so encourage them to engage. Arrange for a dynamic emcee to serve as the glue binding both audiences together. Also use gamification that incentivizes virtual and in-person attendees to connect.

How do you keep virtual audiences engaged?

  1. Another big question. Recent research by Aventri shows engagement is the No. 1 way global planners want to improve the virtual attendee experience, cited by 68 percent of respondents. Make sure your Covid contingency plan lays the groundwork for a compelling online experience.
  2. To this end, think like a TV producer. High production quality is vital for delivering engaging digital content, so consider recording key sessions in a studio.
  3. Or use a virtual platform equipped with cloud-based video production software. You’ll get a suite of tools and tech support to deliver quality, TV-like content and reduce the risk that comes with producing these events.
  4. No need for TV-broadcast quality for your entire event. Focus on keynotes and main presentations instead.
  5. Take inspiration from Major League Baseball and the National Football League. They engage fans virtually with the live experience as it happens at the venue.
  6. Add extras to make the digital experience special. Feature live, TV-news-style interviews for your virtual audience while in-person attendees break for lunch. Talk 1:1 with top influencers for commentary on the day’s top issues.
  7. Put your production crew in the limelight, too. Let attendees listen to the producer calling the show and learn something new about how to produce hybrid events.

Read MoreHow to Produce Compelling Content that Drives Engagement

How do you incorporate on-site safety into your Covid contingency plan?

  1. Make sure your health and safety protocols follow or exceed the latest state, local and federal guidelines. Pre-event, share protocols with constituents often. They’ll be more inclined to attend if they’re confident your event adheres to strict protocols.
  2. On site, the arrival experience sets the tone. Make people feel safe, not only from Covid and its variants, but for the upcoming cold and flu season as well.
  1. Leverage digital badges to cut crowds and make your event as contactless as possible. These badges are accessible through your mobile app. At check-in, instead of waiting in line, attendees can hold their phones up to a scanner and breeze right in.
  1. Multitasking digital badges reduce crowds and shared surfaces throughout events. Use them for quick, contactless access to sessions; payments; contact info exchange; lead capture at exhibitor booths; and access control for physical distancing in sessions and on the show floor.
  2. What if attendees favor paper badges? Choose scannable options to keep check-in touch-free. Speedy, integrated solutions let attendees check in and print badges in just a few seconds.

How do you deliver positive ROI on hybrid events?

  1. In the current uncertain climate, ROI is more important than ever. Your Covid contingency plan may be airtight but to get senior leadership buy-in, make sure it supports ROI.
  2. My advice? Grow your audience. Using virtual and hybrid formats, you can draw attendees worldwide, from Dallas to Dubai. I’ve seen companies charge less per online ticket, but the numbers still worked in their favor when they capitalized on massive audience reach.
  3. Attract new customers. Collaborate with your marketing team to turn sessions into short videos, blog posts, webinars, ebooks and more. Your organization can promote repackaged content to people who are likely to be interested but didn’t attend your event.
  4. Keep growing. Virtual and hybrid conferences are content engines. Generate ongoing engagement and commerce by cultivating a year-round, events-driven community.
  5. Populate this digital content hub with an exhibitor marketplace, sessions, roundtables, chat lobbies and more. Members can connect on-demand with a global community of experts and peers.
  6. Year-round event communities pave the way to a radical rethinking of pricing. For instance, sell conference tickets as part of an annual membership to a community that engages and educates all year long.
  7. Create sponsorship packages combining live trade show booths with digital opportunities that drive ongoing awareness, leads and sales.

What can you learn from event data?

  1. The pandemic has brought the importance of data into full focus. The reason: Critical business intelligence is easier to capture during digital events. Track attendee engagement, such as sessions attended, dwell time, exhibitor booth visits, poll responses and more.
  1. Analyze the types of audiences that engage with your content for a deeper understanding of what works for different profiles. Then personalize the attendee journey like never before.
  1. Data will tell you what worked and what didn’t. Use these insights to improve your Covid contingency plan and make your events program stronger overall.

In Summary

Don’t get caught off guard. Market conditions will keep changing, so develop a plan. Know your audience, stay agile and use proven tools on hand. You’ll bypass the uncertainties and deliver successful events that drive safety, engagement and ROI.

Brad Langley is vice president of channel and enterprise sales at Aventri, a leading global technology provider of virtual, hybrid and in-person events.