Common-sense Guide to Coronavirus for Conferences and Events

COVID-19 has landed.


Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor expert on the Novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) but rather a concerned husband, father and small business owner who loves his country and its people.

Firstly, I’d like to express my sincere sympathies to those experiencing personal loss during this tragedy, containment of the Coronavirus should be our absolute top priority.

Like many of you reading this, my conversations, social media feed, emails SMS’s and WhatsApp’s are being dominated by the Coronavirus, and so for the most part so they should be.

This has become an emotional issue as well as a pandemic. We need to be responsible in our actions and do our best to be rational, act only on the facts and not contribute to rumours or fake news.

I decided to collect my thoughts in terms of;

  1. Coronavirus in the context of South Africa
  2. Appropriate responses for event planners
  3. What we should be doing
  4. Helpful resources
  5. Positive opportunity

(If you are not in events you can just click on the above links to navigate to that section.)

1. What this means to us in the context of South Africa

Coronavirus will disproportionately affect African countries due to our mostly underdeveloped healthcare systems, lack of infrastructure and border controls.

South Africa has a significant population that live with already compromised immune systems, many of which are jobless, surviving on grants and/or low wage paying jobs. These are who I fear are most at risk, those that may not have access to suitable medical treatment and limited or no financial resources.

We need to be mindful of the current and evolving crisis. These are our most vulnerable, I feel it’s our responsibility to do our best to prevent the virus from reaching them.

I’ve published a list of helpful resources at the end of the article, feel free to share them.

I also have a fear of the mostly unavoidable economic impact this will have on us; I really hope this will not become a ‘survival of the richest’.

I’m not an economist but before the spread of the Coronavirus, expectations for South Africa’s GDP growth in 2020 were already low, between 0.9% and 0.3%, that’s dismal compared to most countries in the developing world.

What does this mean for us, specifically in the events industry?

2. Appropriate responses for event planners.

Event planners and organisers are no strangers to last-minute changes and crises, however these are normally issues such poor Wi-Fi, program changes, travel delays etc. I’m not sure many of us have faced a catastrophic event like the Coronavirus before.

In response to the Coronavirus threat, many companies are implementing strict health policies to minimize the risk at events. There are really only 4 response options:

a. Proceed with Caution
b. Postpone Event
c. Transforming to a Digital Event
d. Out-right Cancel

Considering how many resources go into planning an event, cancellation is never ideal, and with the proper strategies in place, it shouldn’t be needed. I’d implore our event owners not to cancel, this will be detrimental on so many levels to so many individuals and companies. Here are my thoughts on the above options.

a. Proceed with Caution

Nothing rivals an in-person meeting, especially if you are meeting for the first time and establishing or growing personal relationships, as long as it is safe to do so! (note the current restriction South Africa to a maximum of 100 persons at an event) I recommend following:

1. Have a readiness/ preparedness plan

The best place to create and maintain a preparedness plan is on a webpage of your event website and communicate this with your participants and event stakeholders.

Some suggested best practices when creating a readiness plan:

  • Coordinate with local health experts and officials.
  • Stay up to date with local emergency laws and requirements, in the case of South Africa no meeting of over 100 persons may take place in person (President Cyril Ramaphosa nation address 15 March 2020).
  • Keep in contact with your appointed venues and any changing restrictions they may impose
  • Determine steps for identifying and isolating participants with elevated risk
  • Plan to circulate literature around Coronavirus prevention before during and after your event.
  • Plan to have hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes on-hand along with visual literature on how to avoid contamination.

I found this helpful resource from the US Centre for disease control – Get Your Mass Gatherings or Large Community Events Ready

2. Maintain an Update Communication Log

Let your participants, sponsors and speakers know that you are taking Coronavirus seriously is by maintaining an update log. Date all update posts to demonstrate you are actively monitoring the situation and share the latest helpful information from local health experts and officials.

3. Be Proactive

Anticipate questions and provide answers for your participants, sponsors and speakers who are looking information about your event. Perhaps beat them to the search, plan on sending regular posts and updates to your social media pages and for significant changes email messages and use push notifications (if you’re using a mobile event app).

4. Establish your Event Health and Safety Rules

Create and communicate clear guidelines that your participants should follow at your event. Your participants who are attending your event may require reassurance. Be clear that only healthy participants should attend, if a participant is concerned about their health status, they should rather self-isolate and contact a health authority.

If your policy results in a participant being prohibited you should have a refund/transfer policy in place. On a legal note, consider asking your participants to sign disclaimer waivers when they register.

To state the obvious, if your events goes ahead you must ensure a sanitary environment:

  • Provide hand sanitizer at the registration entrance to the event.
  • Create sanitation stations stocked with hand sanitizer and disposable disinfectant wipes.
  • Wipe down microphones after each speaker.
  • Remind participants of hygiene best practices throughout the event, post signage and continue with social media, emails and push notifications if you are using a mobile event app.

Have a look at what SaaStr said on their website regarding safety at their events.

b. Postponing your Event

If you establish it is not safe to go ahead with your event and you have enough flexibility with your suppliers and participants the next best option is to postpone, not cancel! Our humanity relies on relationships and connection to each other.

Before taking this decision check if you are contractually covered, speak with your venue and suppliers to confirm. Postponing will have a financial impact; you will want to minimise this.

If this is your chosen action demonstrate that you have been monitoring the situation closely and frame the postponement announcement as being in the best interest of your participants, sponsors and suppliers. Reach out to participants as far in advance as possible to save travel costs from making the trip.

c. Transforming to a Digital Event

Whilst nothing’s better than in-person, if your only choice is to convert to a virtual event or not having one at all, I hope you are able to move it online. In circumstances where an event is going to be disrupted, you can avoid wasting weeks of planning by conducting your keynote presentations remotely. There are several powerful online conferencing tools available, some free and many companies are offering specials to assist during the Coronavirus crisis.

Our recommendation is consult an expert and be mindful of the environment your participants would connect to your conference from. Consider what technology they may or may not have available to them, from the strength and stability of their internet connection to the devices they will use to connect with these must factor in when selecting the platform you’d like to use.

Participate Technologies offers a powerful audience engagement platform that can be used to conduct events in person, purely online if necessary, or ideally, both.

d. Cancelling Your Event

This is the worst-case scenario; you have to cancel your event. After months and sometimes years of work, it can be a very difficult decision, but it might be the right choice. If this must happen, you’re not alone.

Making the decision to cancel an event will have a financial impact as well as an emotional one. I think in the event of cancellation you need to be truthful in your communication to your participants and stakeholders. It’s okay to be upset, many of your participants will be too, this should be reflected in your cancellation messaging.

Similar to that when postponing, review your contracts with suppliers and participants. Communicate as early as possible to avoid further costs and travel expenses. Have a clear and If possible generous refund or transfer policy in place. It is going to hurt everyone’s pockets.

Keep a level head.

We cannot deny the massive impact Coronavirus will have and the significant challenge the event industry is facing. Millions in revenue have already been lost and I have no doubt there will be millions more in the weeks and months to come.

There remains an indisputable power in live events to build and maintain relationships, most businesses require them to achieve many business outcomes. This is not the end, rather a temporary pause, hopefully a short one.

If you’d like to find out more about running hybrid and virtual events please get in touch with one of our experts, we’d love to help where we can.

I came across this website – Is it Cancelled Yet? It lists several popular world events and whether they are cancelled or not.

3. What should we be doing:


Panic is contagious; but so is leadership. It’s time to rise up as leaders.

We need to do our best not to emotionally react but rather rationally respond to this crisis. Unfortunately we are witnessing the viral spread of fear that is unnecessary and damaging to us emotionally and to our economies. This is going to test us and stress us out, we need to manage our fear and anxiety.

How we combat fear is by knowing the facts and being realistic about what we can actually control. We need to remain mindful and up to date about the facts and not participate in the panic by spreading rumours and fake news.

In your research and on your social media feeds be aware of many malware attacks using Coronavirus headlines to lure you to click their links. Cybercriminals are using it to upload malware!

We need to listen to the experts, as much as possible practice social distancing, avoid personal contact, wash our hands properly and regularly, and keep hydrated. (Doctors have said that by drinking water regularly you reduce the chance of the virus settling in your throat and your stomach acid will kill the virus)

We must educate those around us by sharing facts and tips on how to avoid contracting and spreading the virus.

4. Helpful Resources

About the Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Local resources:

Here is a message from a friend of mine Graeme Codrington which I found worth the watch:

International resources:

Tools for Online Engagement

Managing Anxiety

Here’s a resource for anxiety and your mental health in a global climate of uncertainty.

5. Positive Opportunity

Don’t let the crisis go to waste –

1. Family time: Now that you may be home how about making the most of the with the people you love, connect, play games have fun.

2. Self time: It’s not often we are afforded the luxury of time to focus on self. When last did you do a personal check? How is your health, relational, career and financial status? Maybe it’s an opportunity to set some goals.

3. Strategic business time: Are you running a legacy business model and missing opportunities to re-inventing your business? Is there an opportunity you can pursue post virus?

I hope this piece will prove useful and thought-provoking, and perhaps start helpful conversations while we collectively practice social distancing and push forward.

If you enjoyed reading this won’t you take a moment to share the article, thanks for reading!