Sign up for our newswire newsletter


9 Key Steps for a Triumphant Return to In-Person Events 

Risk management dominos graphic.
Brenda Rivers.
Brenda Rivers

Never has the meeting and events industry been so challenged with constant change and uncertainty. It seems insurmountable to balance the creation of successful, engaging and motivating live events with the constantly evolving elements of risk—mutating strain of a global pandemic anyone?

But there is a way to walk that tightrope by utilizing these nine risk management best practices to keep your participants safe and protect your organization from liability.

[Free Brenda Rivers Webinar: Risk Management Must-Knows]

1. It’s Never Too Early to Start 

Carve out time in the RFP and site selection process to ask for documentation of suppliers’ commitment to keep people safe. Include a health and safety clause in your contracts that legally binds suppliers to disclose their non-confidential safety protocol and emergency practices and requires them to participate with your event team in a centralized crisis response plan.  

2. Use Real Data 

Conduct a formal event vulnerability study to determine a list of likely and unlikely threats based on demographics and location. Whether assessing weather patterns based on historical data or medical issues based on age and vulnerabilities, making decisions based on real data vs. what we think might happen is the key to being able to plan for and reduce risk.  

3. Build Relationships and Partnerships 

Who would you call first if there’s a crisis? Consider all potential disruptions, from sickness to hurricane, from political demonstration to active shooter. Engage early and often with your responders: security, AV, production, F&B, private security, EMT, urgent care, hospital, fire and police. Additionally, make a list of resources that will guide your decisions, including state and local public health, CVB, DMC, department of tourism, WHO, CDC and human resources.  

4. Include a Tool Kit for Pandemic Scenarios 

Pandemic preparedness intersects with readiness for any other threat to the safety and well-being of participants. Include policies and templates that have been pre-drafted with legal approval such as the following: attendee assumption of risk and waiver of liability; attestation of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test; authorization to disclose identity for contact tracing or medical treatment; and top five critical actions for a pandemic outbreak. 

[Read: More Brenda Rivers Risk Management Articles]

5. Polish and Rehearse Your Crisis Communication Strategy 

A thorough crisis plan will fall flat if you do not know how, when and with what channels you’ll use to communicate a threat. Have a list of who will compose messaging, how it will differ for internal and external audiences, and what you will say to the media. If you keep people calm and informed in the middle of panic and fear, you’ll elevate your brand. 

6. Look Back to Look Forward 

Build a “learning lookback” review process. Mitigating future risks depends on past lessons learned and opportunities for improvement. Document all disruptions and crises while they are happening and make recommendations in an after-action review. It will not take long before you are an expert in risk mitigation based on real experience! 

7. Compile All Information  

Assemble a comprehensive health and safety risk mitigation playbook to meet your duty of care to keep attendees as safe as reasonably possible, including the duty to research, inform, recommend and plan. This flexible, process-driven document contains the vulnerability study, learning lookback, resources, responders and crisis response and crisis communication plans.  

8. War Game Potential Crises 

Crisis simulations build muscle memory to behave appropriately when something bad happens. While you cannot predict how you will react when caught off-guard, role-playing scenarios of the threats from your vulnerability study will develop confidence in your ability to know what to do, who to call and how to keep attendees calm and safe until help arrives. This starts at the top, so include your decision makers in these games. 

9. Be Courageous 

It takes courage to stand up for change. Your biggest challenge might be getting the full support of key decision makers. It’s easy to fall back to the “old way” of ignoring potential risks because they probably won’t happen. Instead, involve your C-suite in crisis scenario exercises and invite local first responders to speak on the consequences of being unprepared. 

This industry shares a responsibility to bring back live events that are safe and secure. Use these nine tips to confidently design your next face-to-face meeting, build your health and safety playbook for all future events, and move forward in this uncertain world with confidence and awareness.

Read Next: Duty of Care Simplified: A Meeting Planner's Guide

Profile picture for user Brenda Rivers
About the author
Brenda Rivers | Founder, Andavo Meetings & Incentives and President of SAFE

As the founder of Andavo Meetings and Incentives and the president of SAFE LLC, Brenda Rivers believes the meeting industry has a heightened duty of care to ensure the safety of participants, safeguard the organizer’s financial integrity and protect against legal liability and reputation damage. Author of “The Safe Approach”, she is recognized for her unique and practical health and safety risk mitigation skills, based on her 25 years as a meeting professional experiencing all kinds of event disruptions and crises, plus her background in hospitality law.