If your chamber receives a large portion of its revenue from events, you’re eager for reopening your chamber events. As of this writing, several states are beginning to reopen some businesses with certain levels of restrictions.
You may be wondering what the immediate and on-going future of events looks like.
Here’s what we see from our vantage point of talking with and advising chambers of commerce across the U.S. and the world.
Relaxation of Stay at Home Orders
While pockets of the country are still experiencing escalating numbers of contaminations, some areas are reopening, while others are taking a “watch and see approach.”
California, Oregon, and Washington have created a “regional pact to recovery” and have agreed to work on a plan to reopen. Other states may decide to do the same. So chambers may not only be working with their own local governments but those of other states as well.
The timing of these types of plans will be contingent on the region seeing a downward slope in the number of infections. They will watch the numbers as they relax some of their orders.
It’s important to understand that if these numbers climb after the relaxation of orders, as some people fear, a stronger stay at home order and second closure could occur.
It’s safe to say that reopening your chamber events that are the most large-scale events or the public events are off for the time being. This will be true for large-scale chamber events like festivals and fireworks displays as well. Many towns have deferred their large-scale events into the fall or have canceled them altogether.
This is our current reality and it’s likely we won’t see that change over the summer even when businesses begin to open back up.
Smaller events, however, may be allowed with appropriate social distancing with some creative event venue ideas, safe behaviors including plenty of hand sanitizer, and the possibility of wearing masks at the event (which does bring up some fun costume themes and branding opportunities for masked attendees).
It’s also probably a good idea, even when smaller events are allowed, to make sure older participants and those with additional health concerns stay at home. This may mean that even once the chamber is allowed to have in-person events, it may opt to continue virtual aspects of these events so that the entire community can be a part of them.
When Smaller Events Are Given the Greenlight
It is likely that the health care and government organizations making the decisions will differentiate between small events and larger events, allowing small events to resume before larger events are allowed to.
With that in mind, here is a summary that was based on the CDC’s suggestions on what event planners can do to prepare for events once they’re allowed to open them back up again.
Steps to Plan, Prepare, and Proceed with a Small Event
As mentioned above, the relaxation of social distancing orders will always be contingent on the statistics, which means certain contingency plans are a good idea.
- Request an emergency contact at the venue. This person should be someone you can contact directly to discuss plans, personnel, services and activities, resources, and precautions. Communicate these precautions to those who are thinking of attending. You will also need a point of contact to make difficult decisions and handle last-minute changes should the new freedoms be revoked. Work with your event contact to ensure that your events have supplies for event staff and participants, such as:
- hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
- trash baskets
- disposable facemasks (these will likely be used for the near future)
- cleaners and disinfectants. Decide whether the venue staff or the chamber staff will be responsible for cleaning frequently touched surfaces.
- Create a task force or partnership. A post-COVID task force or partnership is important to have as you begin returning to “regular” chamber business and reopening your chamber events. This group should include local public health leaders, community leaders, faith-based organizations, vendors, suppliers, and possibly law enforcement (depending on the venue and size of event). All of these people should have an opportunity to ring in on the types of events you may be opening back up to. You want to make sure each one of these people understands their role in your task force or partnership and exactly what part of the communications and decision-making powers they have. Are they consultants or will they have an active role in helping with your events?
- Communicate how events will run as they likely will not occur in the same way they did before the virus. The CDC had this expertise to offer on their website:
Promote the daily practice of everyday preventive actions. Use health messages and materials developed by credible public health sources such as CDC or your local public health department to encourage your event staff and participants to practice good personal health habits.
Consider displaying signs (physical and/or electronic) throughout the event to provide frequent reminders to participants to engage in everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These include:
- Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects daily.
Handshakes and ‘high-fives’ are often exchanged at meetings and sporting events, and these can be ways in which COVID-19 can be transmitted from person to person. As a way of decreasing the social pressure to engage in these common behaviors, consider displaying signs (physical and/or electronic) that discourage these actions during the gathering.
Note: Use culturally appropriate messages, materials, and resources.
3. Plan for staff absences and other backup situations. Even when small events become available to us again, people will still get sick. Make arrangements and contingency plans based on what-ifs like staff illness, sudden venue closure, and sponsor sickness. It’s better to be prepared than to just assume once we open back up everything will be fine. We will still have challenges.
If you have staff members or board members who are considered high risk, give them alternative duties that don’t involve being with the crowd. This may also mean waving any sort of staff attendance policy you have in place.
Make it easy for these people to do something other than be in the small group. You don’t want them to feel awkward bringing it up in front of you or feel like they need to share any of their personal medical information. Give them a choice to attend physically or virtually.
4. Explore options for hybrid events. Even when businesses open back up and we’re allowed to host small events, it will be wise for some people to remain at home. In these situations, you can create hybrid events that bring together in-person activities as well as virtual ones. Look into using technology to bridge the gap between these two audiences. Research hybrid events as they were many event planners that were hosting these type of events prior to the coronavirus. There are a lot of interesting ideas out there.
5. Discourage people who are sick from attending. Many people feel like they’ve been cooped up in their homes for a very long time. They just want to get out and among friends again. But that’s not advisable if they’re not feeling well. Don’t make anyone feel like they’re missing Christmas if they miss your small event.
You will need to walk a fine line between marketing the reopening your chamber events as the best thing since corona dampened our fun and not making it sound so amazing that people will leave the house to attend even if they’re not feeling 100%. Make sure everyone knows this is the beginning and you will have many fun events in the future as well.
6. Consider a sick protocol. COVID has a long incubation period. Because of that, it’s possible to develop symptoms even if you haven’t been around anyone for a couple of days. If anyone appears to feel sick at the event, send them home immediately.
Consider a possible course of action should an attendee tell you they tested positive for the virus within a two-week window of attending your event. You will want to be able to get the message out to everyone who attended as quickly as possible. In that situation, you’ll want to make sure that you have an up-to-date list of everyone who attended.
7. Decide your refund policy ahead of time and know the venue’s policy as well. Again, just because businesses are reopened doesn’t mean they necessarily will remain open. Should statistics tell us it is unsafe to do so, local health care and law enforcement may be forced to cancel your event. It helps if you know ahead of time what kind of refund policy you intend to enact.
Will you give them 100% of their money or some other percentage back? Or will you simply host the event in the future and apply their current payment to that? Or only issuing refund if they were unable to make the future event?
In addition to your own refund policy, you should know what that of the venues is. Most venues are giving money back for events that can’t be held due to local health ordinances. However, make sure you’re clear as to what their policy is should you decide not to host the event versus being told you can’t hold the event.
8. Evaluate your success. After you host your first event post COVID, you’ll want to assess its success. Was attendance what you expected? Did you perhaps start having events too early?
How did the attendance of one event compare to another? For instance, did you have a lot of people attend your networking event but fewer people attend a lunch and learn?
9. Use your event evaluation to decide what you continue to offer. It doesn’t take a very astute person to realize that once we open back up for business completely that a lot of people will be looking for work. You will likely need to re-evaluate the types of events you offer. You may find the training and job fairs are top interests in your community. Whatever you discover, rework your events to fit those models.
This virus and subsequent closures will change the future of work and where people are working. The chamber should try to anticipate those shifts as well.
As leaders begin to allow events again, ask yourself, “What does your community need most from your chamber right now?” The success of your events will be based on your ability to interpret those needs and match your offerings to them.