The New Playbook: How Event Venues & Hosts Are Adapting to Social Distancing

As Mohegan Sun shared of its June 23-24, “hybrid” event: “20 in-person guests joined from a conference room at Mohegan Sun set up for social distancing while another 80 attendees joined from other locations.” (Mohegan Sun)

The Coronavirus pandemic shook the entertainment and event industry to its core. In the throes of quarantine, event hosts pivoted to virtual environments, leveraging technologies like Zoom, Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting. Only recently, brick-and-mortar venues have started unlocking their doors with protocol in place to limit the potential spread of the Coronavirus. Yet nearly every aspect of the live event experience must be rethought and recreated in the age of COVID-19. 

Of course, for businesses that market an “experience,” connection is key. But at least for now, that in-person bond requires plenty of physical space — and oftentimes digital streaming of the live conference to reach a wider audience. 

As Mohegan Sun shared of its two-day, “hybrid” event, held June 23-24, on LinkedIn, “We recently hosted our first group meeting since March. 20 in-person guests joined from a conference room at Mohegan Sun set up for social distancing while another 80 attendees joined from other locations.” 

All team members and guests were required to wear masks in addition to undergoing thermal temperature checks upon arrival. Meanwhile, sanitation stations were in place, six-foot floor markers designated line spacing between presenters and guests, and in bathrooms, every other sink was blocked. 

Thanks to ample space, the event operated smoothly, said John Washko, vice president of expo and convention sales for the Mohegan Sun. “When organizations are ready to return to face-to-face, live events have different factors they need to consider to keep their attendees as safe as possible,” Washko told Northstar Meetings Group

Washko pointed to the physical layout of the facility as a primary consideration. “They need to ensure there is ample space and options for meals, functions and egress,” he said. “This is a significant competitive advantage to a property like Mohegan Sun, that has more than 35 restaurants/lounges, two separate convention centers with 275,000 square feet of indoor meeting space, and a variety of routes to travel to and from events, meals, guest rooms, etc.”

Washko’s promotion of Mohegan Sun’s successfully social-distanced, live event on LinkedIn was met with praise. “If we can practice social distancing in restaurants then we can also do it at meetings. Great example,” wrote Martina C. Schramm, CEO of Las Vegas-based Golf Ball PRO Launcher. 

While virtual events may seem to offer a layer of convenience — oftentimes lower cost and no travel — a recent survey revealed that more than 70% of participants prefer to attend conferences in-person. The CensusWide for PromoLeaf study surveyed upwards of 1,000 conference participants across the country, hitting a diverse array of industries and age groups. 

Pivotal among their responses: 1) The best networking usually happens in person. It’s hard to get the same effect online. 2) Body language and subtle communication cues don’t come across as well via video chatting. 3) Vendors and service providers can’t provide the same level of examples and demonstrations virtually as they can in person.

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