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The Big Event: Road to reopening businesses

Bringing people together while keeping them apart.


October 27, 2020
By Tara Jacobs

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One thing is certain in these uncertain times: live events will make a comeback. According to a recent GES study, “a majority of attendees surveyed are open to returning to live events.” Well, it’s a start.

As noted in an article published by the Trade Shows News Network, the big question remains: “If events are held in a proactive and responsible manner through strict implementation of the latest health and safety guidelines, will people feel safe enough to attend in-person trade shows and events during a pandemic?”

This got me thinking – what will I need, particularly from event rental operators, to adhere to these new rules and guidelines? As I put pencil to paper to plan our 2021 event lineup, there’s a lot of details to consider and numbers to crunch. Over the years, I’ve become comfortable predicting what events need and how much it will cost. This year, it’s a whole new ballgame.

While the rules vary by province, those posted by the City of Toronto ring true for most jurisdictions: “All planners, organizers, operators and permit-holders of events/gatherings, regardless of their purpose and size, have a responsibility to assess the risks associated with their event/gathering, and their ability to mitigate these risks. They are responsible for implementing measures to reduce the risk of infection among all those who participate in their activities.”

Here are four ways event operators can help events make a comeback:

Six feet apart – Got tape? Tape marks, or other visual cues such as decals or coloured tape on the floor can help direct a one-way flow of traffic. While the venue may provide this in general use areas, I’ll likely need your supplies and team to help mark the space. Forget throwing your business card into a fishbowl, paper products are not allowed. No brochures, magazines or even business cards. Without literature to display, that traditional 10-by-10 space may opt for a cruiser table and one chair (because, yes, only one person is allowed to staff a 10-by-10 booth space). Be ready to accommodate a higher-than-usual volume of tables, chairs, drape and tape.

Rethink registration – As an event producer, I’m looking for ways to limit contact at registration. Registration counters will need a plexi-glass barrier, at least head-height. Instead of one counter for three staff, I’ll need three counters – one per staff to maintain social distance and shorten lines. Gone are the days of name badges printed on paper that multiple people have touched. Add in a face mask and we’ll really have to hone our networking skills. To facilitate socially distant check-ins, I’m thinking portable tablet stations may be top of my rental list. If you can get your hands on disinfecting wipes, I’ll need those too (it’s been months since I’ve found any online or at my local grocery store).

Keep it clean – Regular disinfection of high traffic areas and surfaces will be vital. The new normal will also call for disinfection of the conference halls during breaks. The government of Canada’s online risk-mitigation tool asks event producers to “provide convenient and increased access to hand hygiene facilities (for example, by placing hand sanitizer dispensers or hand wash stations in easy to see locations)” and “Promote increased environmental cleaning of attendees’ personal environment if appropriate.” If you can invest in high-quality sanitizing stations, I promise there’ll be a sponsor for that. And more hand wipes.

Unloading, loading and storage – One of the most congested areas of an event setup is the loading dock before and after an event. Do you have the space to provide advance warehousing? If you make sure the service is economical and provide great customer service, you can sell the opportunity to minimize contact with vendor deliveries. If you can receive pallets, store them and ship them at one time to the facility (after being disinfected), that will make for a much safer (and smoother) setup.


Tara Jacobs is event director for Annex Business Media. tjacobs@annexbusinessmedia.com