Even as the first vaccine programs roll out, Covid continues to loom large as a public health threat. While face-to-face events may become increasingly possible, it is still too early to abandon safety guidelines. But what is the best way to enforce these rules ?
Cases are still rising in both North America and Europe, and new strains of the virus have been found in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. The recently approved vaccines are bringing hope, however it’s still uncertain whether they will fully protect against asymptomatic transmission.
In short, event planners can expect to face pandemic-related restrictions for at least the next six months. With the public’s patience running short, how can they convince attendees to keep following the rules?
Unfortunately, there is no sure- fire way to guarantee attendee compliance with social distancing and mask wearing policies, but some tactics have proven more successful than others and planners may need to innovate and adapt. Ultimately, it is as much about effective communication as it is about consistent oversight, and both require careful planning from start to finish.
The concept of a ‘health steward’ or ‘social distancing ambassador’ (SDA) has been trialled in several major US cities, and the idea is spreading to the event industry. As the name implies, an SDA is employed to promote and monitor compliance with public health and safety (H&S) rules. Generally, governments have turned to this model as a less confrontational alternative to police enforcement.
HOW CAN THIS MODEL BE APPLIED TO EVENTS?
Clarify Health & Safety expectations before the event begins;
Messaging needs to start as soon as the organiser announces the event. When planners make their expectations clear from the outset, prospective attendees know what is required of them.
In some ways, this opportunity to set the ground rules gives event planners an advantage over government-backed H&S ambassadors. Unlike the general public, event participants are actively opting into an event’s code of conduct.
H&S should be re-enforced by stating rules at multiple points:
In pre-event marketing
On the event website’s general info page
During the registration process
Event registration forms should ask, “Are you compliant with wearing a mask?”
If the answer is no, engage the prospective attendee in a conversation. For example, if they have a complicating health condition, the planner might politely suggest avoiding the event altogether. This ensures consistent enforcement of mask wearing rules, whilst respecting the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and those it’s designed to protect.
Venues can use a similar tactic when setting out the terms of their contracts. A three -stage warning system could be employed. If attendees continue to disregard mask wearing and social distancing rules after three warnings, the venue could withdraw its services and shut down the event early.
Maximise Social Distancing reminders at the event
While some kind of warning system is necessary, it’s also important to realize that many attendees have the best of intentions. Some may fall back into old habits of talking of talking at close range. Others might forget to put their masks back on after having a snack. Attendees are being asked to change many of their most fundamental social behaviours, and it’s incumbent on event planners to give them all the support possible.
Sone venues are asking all attendees have their temperature checked before entering an event. Whilst checking temperatures there is an opportunity to explain their policies about social distancing and mask wearing with a face-to-face conversation.
Printed informational material is another way to drive home the message. For sit- down meals, some venues have put out postcard-sized bullet lists of its H&S policies at each table setting. Since guests have to move it to begin eating, it becomes difficult to overlook.
Signage and floor markings that help attendees to visualise 2 metres
Slides in the meeting rooms
Notifications on the event’s mobile app if it has one.
Rethink Food and Beverage to Minimize the Risk of Non-Compliance
Good ventilation and adequate space are essential for reducing transmission risk, but can a building’s layout influence attendee behaviour?
It’s best if the venue has a separate breakout room or dining area. This allows organizers to conduct meetings and meals in different spaces — the simple process of moving from one room to the next gives attendees a physical reminder to put their mask back on.
If you’re used to attending board meetings for example, you’re used to having boiled sweets on the table and a bottle of water, or coming from a meal and bringing your beverage with you. We need to change that mindset—no beverages in the meeting room.
As Operations Manager at one major venue observed, access to alcohol is the number one predictor of attendee non-compliance. Three strategies to mitigate this are;
Host drinking events outdoors where possible
Allow networking activities to continue until 10 pm, but alcohol service stops at 9pm
Always serve food with drinks.
Social distancing ambassadors and health stewards can be part of an effective H&S strategy, but they can’t be added as an afterthought. Social distancing and mask wearing protocols need to be considered at every stage of the event-planning process. That means:
Setting clear expectations in pre-event messages
Making attendees consent to a H&S code of conduct before hand
Reminding attendees of their obligations (e.g. during the health-screening process)
Using the event’s physical space to reinforce messaging
Developing tactics to mitigate the influence of alcohol
Leading with a positive message (eg. by encouraging compliance and offering free masks)
Developing a clear plan of action for different scenarios
While every event planner and venue knows that there is no such thing as a fool proof plan, thinking ahead can go a long way to making an event run as smoothly as possible The stakes have never been higher.
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