How to Calm Anxieties About Returning to In-Person Events

Four tips for communicating safety protocols and assuaging attendee fears.


As the rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations ramps up, people are becoming more optimistic about the future of events. Northstar Meetings Group's latest PULSE Survey shows group-booking activity has nearly doubled and 81 percent of planners expect to hold their next in-person meeting sometime this year.

But Covid-19 anxiety still exists. As planners prepare to return to live events, they will likely encounter some attendees or vendors who have reservations about the experience. Following are a few ways event professionals can assuage these fears.

Understand Reentry Anxiety

As you start to host events and invite people to leave their homes, you'll experience trepidation in the form of reentry anxiety. This normal occurrence encompasses the stress that comes from stepping back into society after the prolonged quarantine and social distancing periods.
Lily Brown, director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania, says there are two types of people with reentry anxiety: Those who are worried about contracting Covid-19 and those who have fallen out of practice with their social skills.
The first person might take longer to leave home, while the latter might spend a shorter amount of time at events or limit how many activities they agree to. 

Meeting planners should acknowledge in their communications that it can be difficult to come back to larger events and it is OK to experience some concern around this. In your messaging, you might even point to the fact that everyone will be rusty at in-person networking after months of virtual communication.
Ultimately, you want to reassure your audience that we're all in the same boat. However, with the right safety precautions, your team will mitigate risks and make the meeting as safe as possible.

Be Transparent About New Procedures

Covid-19 shouldn't be the elephant in the room. Failing to address the pandemic can create higher anxiety levels and attendees might feel you aren't taking the situation seriously. As you plan your event, be sure to clearly communicate the safety procedures and cleaning protocols with everyone involved.
Remember that those who've been working from home and attending remote events might not realize how much the business world has stepped up its cleaning and sanitizing standards. For example, a recent survey by Servpro found that 83 percent of businesses have invested more resources for cleaning, 46 percent plan to deep clean for the pandemic's length and 63 percent clean/sanitize several times daily.

When it comes to calming anxieties, complete transparency is crucial. Highlight all the safety measures happening at your event and make sure these protocols are easy to access. Open communication is also important, so be sure to answer any questions attendees or vendors may have. A few options include:

  • Developing a FAQ page on your website.
  • Sharing the safety protocols in all pre-event email communications.
  • Including a Covid-19 safety print-out with your estimates or client contracts
  • Holding a Zoom Q&A before the event to review safety protocols with attendees and allow them to ask any questions they may have.
  • Providing ample signage at the event that reminds everyone of the safety protocols.

Incorporate All Stakeholders

Setting up new procedures is one thing, but it's quite another to make sure everyone follows them. Consider a recent Pew Research study, where 65 percent of people said they always wear a mask in stores/businesses, but only 44 percent said people in their community are following masking procedures. Clearly, there's a disconnect.
What's more, individuals have become increasingly aware of anti-maskers and care about how event organizers will handle these tricky situations, especially as states begin to lift mask mandates against CDC guidelines.

It's important to make sure your vendors, staff members, clients and partners are all on the same page about your new procedures. The first step is unified messaging. Ensure your event rules are clearly outlined and consistent across all channels (i.e., on your website, social media posts, event emails, packets, signage, etc.). It's also a good idea to have your attendees and vendors to sign a code of conduct prior to the event or during check-in that outlines their expected behavior. Additionally, you'll want to have extra staff members on hand at the meeting to enforce the safety protocols. If they see someone not distancing or masking properly, ask them to either friendly remind the person of the meeting protocols, or alert the security team. See more tips on enforcing mask mandates and other safety procedures at events here.

Offer Flexibility

If you notice low registration numbers or that a number of attendees are still concerned about safety, consider offering hybrid participation options. This flexibility might help guests feel like they can ease back into attending professional events.

For in-person components, you can also break up large groups or stagger attendance to help guests feel safe. This can increase the number of attendees without creating a sense of pressure for people to show up in-person. 
Again, make sure to advertise what you're doing. If a potential event attendee sees that you offer smaller in-person sessions with a virtual keynote address (typically the highest-attended session at an event), they might be more inclined to commit.
There is no singular solution to make people feel better about attending in-person events again. Everyone has different levels of comfort and some people are less willing to return to their pre-pandemic routines right now. 
By combining multiple communication strategies and safety protocols, you can appeal to a wider audience and reinforce the message that your event will be safe. Open communication and transparency are key to building trust with your audience and ultimately getting attendees back to live events.
Tracy Ring is a freelance writer and content marketer who works with organizations to curate engaging content. She loves to write about the intersection of mental health and workplace trends. Tracy brings a real-life perspective to her writing, with more than 10 years of experience in HR, project management, customer relations and admin roles. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter