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This article was contributed by Joel Comm and originally appeared on Inc.
When the pandemic shut down concerts and live performances, people everywhere mourned the loss. So did event planners, whose businesses took a major hit. A year later, the world is slowly returning to a place where wide-scale events can happen again. However, a not entirely unexpected problem has arisen: Many consumers aren’t comfortable gathering with strangers anymore.
More adults and teens are getting inoculated against coronavirus every week, yet people are still reluctant to hang out with folks they don’t know. CNBC reports this hesitation may continue for a while, which prompts a big question: How should events industry professionals respond?
It’s an important consideration for event planners, who naturally want to get their businesses back in the black. A November 2020 Allied Market Research report indicates that globally, events are tracking to hit $2.3 billion in five years. That’s a serious incentive.
Still, the issue of how to help people feel safe at organized events remains. This is where innovative thinking can help. Event organizers ready to chip away at pandemic-related crowd reluctance can woo audiences again by adopting a few new strategies.
Give preference to outdoor events
Most people aren’t as worried about crowds outside as they are in enclosed spaces. That makes this the perfect time to consider new places to host traditionally outdoor musical festivals and performances, and dream up ways to move formerly indoor events outside.
The move to open air makes even more sense when you consider that, according to the Hearby Report 2020/21 on the state of live music, 10% of music venues have permanently closed in response to COVID-19 lockdowns. That means there are fewer indoor spaces available to host events anyway.
Event planners have the opportunity to get creative when it comes to picking fresh-air spaces for their offerings. Though outdoor arenas and parks have routinely been used as entertainment sites, other hidden gems could woo consumers. These could include anything from botanical gardens and beaches to deserts and private farms.
Leverage VR and AR tech for online events
Zoom fatigue is a real and documented phenomenon. Nevertheless, event organizers don’t have to ditch the notion of livestreaming performances. In fact, they have good reason to embrace online options.
According to Trends Exchange, virtual events should break the $770 billion mark by 2030. Still, not all online events are created equal. One way to differentiate virtual-based concerts, conferences, and live entertainment is through the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
Owners of gaming headsets like the Oculus, for example, could enjoy a near-live experience while watching an online show. With a proper mesh of coding and technical support, venues could design unique interfaces between audiences and performers. Making use of the latest VR or AR solutions could transform any event from a hip-hop show to a Broadway tour.
Clearly these events would attract a specific audience. Yet it’s a strategy worth exploring by event planners whose target ticket buyers are likely to have access to headsets. Plus, innovative entertainment offerings like these make terrific fodder for press releases and social posts.
Introduce hybrid events that meet everyone’s needs
Of course, not everyone faces crowd anxiety. Younger consumers may show eagerness to return to pre-pandemic gatherings. To satisfy the needs of all their audience members, planners in the events industry could offer hybrid ticket choices.
That’s the track the True/False Film Fest recently took when the annual documentary film festival made its 2021 return. Organizers moved inflatable movie screens outdoors for in-person viewers and offered a “teleported” version of the fest, complete with streaming rights to selected films and well-chosen swag, to doc fans who preferred to stay home.
Certainly, planning an event that’s both live and livestreamed poses challenges. Everyone deserves to walk away feeling like their money was well spent — including individuals who watched from their couch. Nevertheless, it’s not impossible to satisfy the entertainment itch of all stakeholders. The trick is to manage expectations up front and then deliver a stellar product that generates buzz.
Here’s the best news of all: Events are always going to be appreciated. Event planners simply need to expand their portfolio of offerings by designing experiences that leave attendees and performers begging for more — and feeling good from purchase to standing ovation.