We’re living in an unprecedented moment. As the coronavirus upends daily routines and livelihoods, we know it can feel difficult to not have the answers.

At Planned With, our hearts go out to every small business impacted during this worldwide pandemic. We understand just how overwhelming it can feel to navigate upcoming events in an unstable time while keeping the safety of your team and your event guests as a top priority. While we can’t predict what tomorrow brings, we can help you prepare for your next steps during the COVID-19 outbreak. Our team has put together a comprehensive guide to help you pivot your event strategy in a productive and safe way.

Top Tips to Navigate Events During the Coronavirus

Stay informed and follow advice from the CDC

Information is power and safety. Now more than ever, we need to unite around the globe to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. As professionals in the events industry, we must adapt in times of hardship and uncertainty. Stay responsible and keep your event guests safe by adhering to the policies from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and your local government. 

Know the latest happenings in Houston: 

  • Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has ordered all bars to close and restaurants to shift to take-out only for 15-day period
  • Restaurants shall not allow any employee to report to work who is demonstrating signs of any form of sickness.
  • Gyms, movie theaters, or amusement type businesses shall cease operations.
  • At a substantial level of community transmission, it is recommended to cancel mass gatherings of any size. (Source: CDC.gov)
  • The White House’s “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” advises no group gatherings of 10 or more people. (Source: Whitehouse.gov)

Decide whether to cancel or postpone your event 

Event planning in the time of COVID-19 is a bit like wading through dark waters. We don’t know when we’ll find our footing and reach the shore, but we can do our best to mitigate risks by planning accordingly during uncertain moments. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. Know that everyone is going through this collective confusion together, so take a deep breath and give yourself some grace. Our first question on the table: should you cancel or postpone? Here are a few things to consider: 

Event Timing:

If your event is during March and April, you’re going to have to pivot into a more flexible plan—and many of you may have already.  to keep everyone safe your event is a timely celebration (i.e. a holiday event), you may feel the need to cancel or take the event online. For events without the need of a static timeline, postponing the celebration will help your guests feel safe and alleviate your pressure as a vendor. 

If your event is in the late summer or fall, there’s a chance you can keep your event scheduled. As with any affair, it’s always recommended to have a contingency plan in case the situation changes. There’s no way to predict the future, and there’s no harm in being prepared!

Who wants to attend a party or plan a party with a veil of stress hanging over their heads? As the event organizer, it’s up to you to set the tone and ensure guests of the measures you’re taking to follow health guidelines. 

Venue and Vendors:

The events industry is still catching up with the coronavirus. With recommendations from local governments to pause non-essential interactions and work from home, event vendors and venues are all feeling the stress of the situation. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your venue to see about rescheduling your event. Chances are that they’ll also be taking the time to protect their employees and rethink their strategy until the virus is in the clear. 

Event Ticketing:

COVID-19 is causing economic strain felt around the world. If your event is a ticketed event, guests may be apprehensive about spending money to attend. Marketing ticketing sales will be difficult during this time. If you plan on moving ahead, consider donating a percentage of sales to an organization helping with coronavirus aid, like the Houston Food Bank.  

Your Guest List:

While the recommended crowd size for gathering during the coronavirus varies across government agencies and municipalities, President Donald Trump recommended gatherings be limited to 10 people or less to stay “ahead of the curve” over the next few weeks. Unless you’re hosting an intimate party, chances are your event exceeds this preventative measure. 

It’s also important to be mindful of your guest list. Are your guests above 60 years old, pregnant, or potentially immunosuppressed?  If the answer is yes, you will want to postpone until a time that’s safer for everyone. 

Consider making your event virtual 

Okay, okay… we know canceling an event does not come easy. After spending time and resources on planning, we empathize with how much heart goes into a special celebration. If your event is the type that cannot be postponed, it’s time to usher in the gift of the digital age. From Zoom birthday parties to classes, Gen Z is adapting to the #stayhomechallenge using video. Why follow suit and host your fundraiser, conference or event online, too? 

The Thrive Conference, an in-person event planned to take place in Houston on April 18-19, is one example of a brand that’s gone completely digital. The conference recently announced it will have the same sponsors and speakers but will be available for free online to evade travel risks and exposure to COVID-19. Businesses can learn from their example and adapt by using streaming services and video apps to connect with their attendees while social distancing. 

Communicate clearly with guests through email and social media 

No matter what your path forward is for your event, it’s important to keep your guests in the loop on changes being made. Rather than feed into the panic, reach out with an empathetic and thoughtful message to ease worries during this time. With so much changing every day, direct and timely messaging will set you apart from others.

For Postponed Events:

Guests will need to rearrange travel plans and revise their schedule, so it’s best to reach out to them immediately. If you don’t have a new date planned for your event, let your guests know that the show will go on eventually and they’ll be informed as soon as a new date is selected. “Assure them that you understand if they’re unable to attend for any reason and give an updated date for them to RSVP by,” Paperless Post recommends. 

For Canceled Events:

You’ve made the tough decision for the safety of your guests and vendors. It’s time to break the news in an empathetic way. Highlight the care and thought you put into coming to the determination to cancel. If your event is a fundraiser, this is an ideal time to create an online movement or fundraising page to inspire guests to participate from afar. If there are other future events on the horizon, share a calendar to look forward to.

For Virtual Events:

f you’re taking your event virtual, that’s great news for your guest. While they are practicing social distancing, they will surely appreciate some time to socialize online. Send instructions for an easy way to connect to the festivities and let guests know the safety measures that led you to that decision. They’ll appreciate you and the community you’re building for taking their safety into consideration. 

For Continuing Events:

If you’re moving forward with an event planned later in the summer or fall, the coronavirus may still be an issue we’re concerned over. Be sure to keep tabs on the CDC’s recommendation throughout the weeks leading to your event. It’s important to take all precautions to clean the area, provide sanitization options for guests like hand sanitizer stations, and enforce distancing between guests. To let your guests know you’re taking every measure to ensure their safety, you’ll want to inform them of these measures in advance. 

Remind your guests to please stay home if they are feeling any COVID-19 symptoms or have been traveling internationally within the two weeks prior to your event. Be understanding if your guests wish to cancel as a measure of protecting themselves and the people around them. 

Have party favors for your big event? Consider sending these to your guest list and clients as a pick-me-up 

You know what four-letter word everyone loves? S-W-A-G. If your event is canceled or switching to a virtual platform, don’t let your party favors go to waste. Local businesses are already feeling the impact of coronavirus, and now is the best time to support them and make a difference. Consider ordering event goodies from your favorite local businesses to help your guests smile and fuel your local economy during a time of need. 

One of our personal favorites is Lady Bird Houston‘s quarantine cookies. The adorable sweets are plastered with reminders like “Wash Your Hands” and “Don’t Touch Your Face,” making them the perfect social distancing treat. “I know these are difficult times, but it will all be Ok. I would tell fellow bakers to bake on and be flexible with clients and their scheduling/rescheduling needs. On the upside, it has given me more time to come up with new ideas and experiment with designs,” says Lady Bird Houston owner, Elizabeth.

Here are a few more of our favorite local party favors in the Houston-area: 

Use social media as a way to keep your guests informed about updates and celebrate your milestone virtually

Postponing a celebration or conference? Encourage guests to subscribe to your newsletter and follow your social media as you roll out updates about timeline changes. Keeping your guests informed will help them have a piece of consistency in this unpredictable time. 

Use Zoom to check in with your team to ensure everyone is on the same page

If you’re a vendor, this is a great time to organize your business internally and get through that stack of admin work you’ve been putting off! While your team may not be able to come to work, it’s important to keep them informed on the business and check in on their wellbeing. Team video conference calls or happy hours are a great way to find a sense of normalcy in the unknown. Schedule a daily or weekly check-in with your staff to keep structure within your company. 

Use this time to get organized and plan ahead

While the coronavirus is causing the world stress and heartache, it’s also providing a space for reflection and time. With this newfound time, what can you do for your business? Hold a Skype brainstorm with your team, jot down constructive ideas to try later in the year, or plan your social media content calendar. This time isn’t lost, but a way to shift your energy into a new aspect of your company. 

Learn from this experience by updating your contracts and creating a disaster plan for your business

We can’t control the current moment we are in, but we can control how we respond to it in the future. Prepare for post-virus life by rescheduling your events, getting organized, and putting a disaster plan in place. Use the lessons you’ve learned over the last few weeks to create a plan for similar disruptions in business and update your vendor contracts to include how you will respond to a future potential crisis. 

Take care of your mental health

People find themselves in the events industry because they love planning. To-do lists are our jam. We have a notebook filled with off-the-wall ideas. We dream of galas and guestlists. We love to be in control and create a stellar experience in the process. We get it, and we get you. In an industry where certainty is calculated and all of our t’s are crossed, finding yourself in a gray area can be anxiety-inducing. 

What we know about our colleagues in the event industry is that you’re hard-working and resilient. Even when a cloud of doubt rains on your parade, your versatility shines through. Some things are out of our control, including a global pandemic. All we can do is take care of ourselves and the ones we love. Make sure to use this time to check-in with yourself, protect your mental health, and trust yourself to rise above. We’re all in this together.