Many are talking about when in-person events will be returning during this pandemic twilight zone. It’s an interesting topic that I discuss often with many leaders in the industry.

It’s most likely that none or very limited in-person events will be happening in 2021 across North America and most of Europe. This may be quite different for some countries like Australia where some F2F events are already happening.

In the best case scenario, F2F events across North America could return in smaller groups starting this summer, but we will have to wait until the fall for F2F events to return in a significant force.

We are in now in the so-called third wave and it seems like the doctors are already talking about the fourth wave. No one knows how many more waves will be happening but it seems like we continue hoping for the best but still planning for the worst.

The biggest determination factors will probably be the level of population being vaccinated and the available treatments to prevent death. With this virus under predictable and sustainable control, things can go quickly back to mostly normal.

That said, the show must go on at some point. We are already seeing the fallout from the lockdown and I am not sure we even started to fully understand the damage that will be caused to mental health, abuse, crime, education and progress.

I am hoping that when the dust from this disaster finally settles, we would have enough positive outcomes to justify the pain, suffering and destruction caused by COVID. I am also hoping that everyone learns from this so it will never happen again. I think the world needs a smart disaster-continuity plan moving forward.

I doubt that massive gatherings will happen as event-size restrictions will probably be imposed. Attendees from certain countries will probably not be allowed for some time without some proof of vaccine or negative test. Rapid testing will hopefully become as common as the disinfectants we see at every entrance.

For the near future, F2F events will probably be targeting local regions instead of having the people come from everywhere.

F2F events will also need to be more accommodating to 3 types of attendees:

1. Those who want to be close up and personal.

2. Those who want to have some in-person contact but at a safe distance.

3. Those who prefer to digest the content remotely through live-streaming or on-demand viewing.

We also need to consider sponsors, speakers, facilities and everyone in the typical event supply chain. I am sure that facilities like hotels will have their strong safety policies in place. How will liability issues be managed for all attendees and event supply-chain staff?

Event organizers will have to do a lot more planning and on-site management for F2F events to accommodate the various types of attendees. Our Global Event Manager, Gerlinda Ringe, has been rethinking F2F events (that we have been doing for the past 20 years).

Our F2F event strategy for 2021 will be more localized events with limited attendees and live-streaming as well as recorded for on-demand viewing. Everyone wants F2F to be back in full swing, but relaunching prematurely may actually cause more set-backs.

I have already seen some smaller road-shows happening, but attendance will most likely be very small to justify ROI and risks. For now, it’s probably wise to continue to be more creative with virtual events.

Here are some tips we learned about doing better virtual events:

1. Keep virtual events short. Actually pre-covid type webinars for 30 to 45 minutes are still effective. To extend the reach, record and socialize it.

2. Do smaller virtual events but more often.

3. Offer better content. If your content is weak, you will lose attendance and worst, future attraction. Do not sell and do not disguise sales pitches with education.

4. Be creative.

5. Be innovative.