How to Plan In-Person Events in the Face of Uncertainty


Uncertainty is a constant in life, and live events always come with their fair share of unknowns –– even beyond the current global pandemic.

As humans, we’re biologically wired to feel uncomfortable and unsettled when faced with the unknown. And while event professionals are perhaps some of the most adept at dealing with ambiguity, forever wondering how and if the show will go on as planned can take its toll.

When it comes to planning in-person events, there’s no way to avoid uncertainty altogether, but there are ways to navigate it and develop some foresight, come what may. 

Read on to learn about a few things you can do to set yourself up for success and safeguard your sanity when planning in-person events –– even in the face of uncertainty.

Expect challenges and plan for them

It’s natural to want human connection. In fact, we’re not just wired to be uncomfortable with the unknown –– we’re also innately inclined to gather and socialize.

Part of the thrill of live, in-person events is the element of spontaneity –– those unpredictable sparks –– whether that means new ideas, new connections, new experiences, or all of the above.

But to create those powerful moments, event professionals often have to roll with the punches, too. Here are a few ways to anticipate challenges and prepare for them when planning a physical event:

Accept the uncertainty

Expecting obstacles turns the unknown into the known. Our brains appreciate certainty, so while it may sound counterintuitive, accepting that a degree of uncertainty exists for all events can help decrease stress if an issue arises. It’s kind of like naming an emotion so it loses power.

Create a set of must-follow rules

Establishing rules for your in-person event and sticking to them prevents your team from feeling like they need to keep up with changing requirements. If you put a set of ground rules in place, everyone involved knows what to expect and how to prepare. They’ll also be free to focus on other elements of the event.

For example, the SaaStr team developed comprehensive safety rules for the 2021 version of their annual conference. With constant fluctuations in local ordinances at play, the team decided to implement clear rules for their specific event. They required masking and proof of vaccination for everyone present at their on-site conference.

Have a backup plan and be ready to act on it

Consider drafting a pre-mortem of what could go awry and how you’ll pivot if one (or more) of those situations comes to pass. Keep your attendees’ safety and comfort top of mind.

For example, being ready to go virtual or hybrid as needed –– and securing an event management platform to support any in-person, virtual, or hybrid event –– can give you peace of mind.

Look out for your event community

People always come first –– full stop. And event professionals already have a knack for putting the audience at the center every decision.

The same holds true when planning for today’s in-person experiences. Tailor on-site events to  attendees’ comfort levels and prioritize their health and safety by keeping the following considerations in mind:

Understand state and local regulations

It often seems like everything is in flux, and keeping up with rules and regulations is almost a full-time job. 
Leaning on official resources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention State Public Health Directory or the NAACHOS Local Health Department COVID-19 Directory, can help organizers understand local public health regulations and factor them in during the event planning process.

Explore indoor-outdoor venue options

Studies show outdoor venues can help minimize the spread of COVID-19. So, if it’s a viable option, the CDC recommends taking your event outside.

The SaaStr team took this approach, opting to hold their large annual conference outside. The outdoor experience was so well received by their event community, they now plan on regularly hosting open-air events in the future. 

If you think your audience might enjoy taking in some fresh air at your next event, keep in mind outdoor venues require extra logistical considerations, like Wi-Fi, electricity, weather, restroom facilities, and the like.

Consider proof of vaccination and rapid testing requirements

When considering whether or not to incorporate health and safety measures like proof of vaccination or rapid testing at your event, ask yourself how your audience will react. Some people might be comforted with these measures in place, while others might be put off by standardized health protocols at your event.

If you decide to go this route, look for specialized health and safety partners to help facilitate the process, and aim to make it as convenient and non-intrusive as possible for your attendees.

The SaaStr team used passive thermometers as an additional safety measure. Having guests upload vaccination cards ahead of time is another possibility for improving your attendees’ on-site experience.

Consider masking and social distancing

Ultimately, you’re striving to make your event community feel cared for and comfortable. So, look to your audience (and, of course, local health guidelines) to help you decide on plans for social distancing at your venue and determine if you’ll ask folks to mask up.

If you decide to require masks, consider making it a fun, branded experience for your attendees by giving away custom masks as swag.

Some people still feel vulnerable in a crowd, especially if masks are encouraged but not required. Others might dread the social awkwardness of verbally enforcing physical boundaries.

Why not use a visual cue to help people naturally communicate their comfort levels when it comes to social distancing? 

At Hopin’s first hybrid event, Illuminate, guests were offered color-coded bracelets, so they could passively communicate their comfort level with physical contact while networking. A red bracelet indicated the attendee wanted to keep their distance, a yellow bracelet meant they were comfortable with chatting but not with any physical contact, and a green bracelet signaled that handshakes, high fives, and hugs, were all OK. 

The result? Everybody could interact and engage based on their preferences and those of their fellow participants. No uncomfortable conversations needed.

Leverage touchless on-site technology

While some folks have been using paper towels to open doors in public and heaping on hand sanitizer ever since they can remember, others might not have been quite as germ-conscious prior to the pandemic.

Touchless technology now makes the arrival process an enjoyable and safe experience for all attendees. Consider using touchless check-in kiosks, scannable mobile QR codes for instant badge printing, and any other available technology to minimize high-touch surfaces.

Don’t underestimate the power of clear communication

What’s the best way to ease any uncertainty around your event? Clear communication.

People like to know what to expect, and communication can play a pivotal role in establishing expectations. So, communicate clearly, early, and often with all parties involved — your attendees, sponsors, speakers, and your event team. 

For their annual conference, the SaaStr team posted attendance rules all over their event website. That way, all in-person attendees knew they needed to adhere to these health and safety requirements. 

Proactively communicating any specific expectations or potential changes results in everyone being on the same page and eliminates confusion due to inconsistent or outdated information.

Be inclusive of your broader event audience

You’re planning a meaningful on-site event people are eager to attend, but some members of your community might not be able to participate in person. Consider including international attendees or others who can’t make the trip by incorporating a virtual experience they can take part in from anywhere.

You can use one event management platform for all your in-person, virtual, and hybrid needs, including registration, ticketing, event websites, communications, mobile apps, and more. This makes the process easier, and provides straightforward contingency options.

Ease the uncertainty of in-person events

When it comes to in-person events, there’s always a chance you’ll get a curveball or two. 

Fortunately, you can temper the stress of hosting in-person events today by anticipating unknowns, adopting an audience-first mindset, using clear communication, and creating virtual experiences to include your entire community.
Want to find out more about how Hopin can provide you with the peace of mind and flexibility to host any in-person, virtual, or hybrid event? Contact our team of event experts to learn more today.