Virtual and Hybrid Event Showcase at Skyrise

a hybrid event attendee listens to a sommelier from a distant tableA virtual and hybrid event attendee listens to a wine sommelier explain wine pairings at a small hybrid event. Additional attendees view remotely and are connected to the event on a big screen. Photo: Tom Cook Photo

 

Virtual and hybrid events have been on the upswing since the 2008 recession, but 2020 pushed them to the forefront. As EJP Events fielded many requests to move events online this year, we employed our existing knowledge and pulled in technical production teams, as well as software platforms like Whova, Eventsquid, and vFairs, in order to create compelling virtual and hybrid event offerings.

a table set for a virtual wine dinnerThis table is set for a virtual at home wine experience, complete with charcuterie box, bottles of wine, notebook, and the computer with which to participate in the event.

 

The challenge, however, was how to relay our vision to new clients. As much as we love to dial in every detail and think critically about the attendee experience (have you ever thought how many physical items an attendee will need to gather in order to be on camera at a virtual wine dinner? We have!), it’s hard to convey that to someone who has never done this before. And it’s not like we could go into our existing clients’ living rooms and take photos of them attending our events during a pandemic, let alone the privacy issues!

 

video camera recording a hybrid event
Livestreaming and video-recording of events has become de rigeur due to the pandemic-created virtual and hybrid event requirements starting in 2020. Photo: Tom Cook

So we put on our creative agency hats, and put together a content shoot (or styled shoot as it’s known in the weddings world). Emee and Katherine spent many hours in the fall brainstorming over Zoom, which best practices would make a virtual event shine; as well as what needs to be done to make your small hybrid event not only fun and memorable, but over-the-top in safety. We even experienced the now-common pandemic phenomenon of having everything scheduled and ready to go for our shoot event, only to have Multnomah County go into a four-week freeze and have to re-schedule the entire event and all its vendors.

We’re happy to note that because of this team and their experience and professionalism, it reinforced our faith in the event process and things went off without a hitch. (Unless you count that Emee forgot her on-camera outfit and had to send someone back for that.) And we now have this wonderful content to share with you, that I hope tells the story of how EJP Events would envision a safe, engaging, delightful, and productive virtual or hybrid event where everything is dialed in, from the food and drink, to the individual sanitized microphones on each attendee. Check it out in the gallery below. Our main ideas are:

  • Tell people what to do. Pre-COVID, people didn’t need a lot of instruction at a networking event or a happy hour. During COVID, however, structure and format is needed. Open networking leads to too-close gathering. Offer each attendee their own seat, table, or area and provide a program of activities. 
  • Speaking of program, make sure to explain the program to everyone through multiple channels: Pre-event communications, on-site signage and directionals, live staff offering directions and guidance, and audible instructions through the use of announcements.
  • If people are attending remotely as well as in-person (a “hybrid event”), ensure that the home viewer is not left out of the action by creating an online, digital broadcast that is just as interesting as the in-person experience. Make sure audio is good, not just of the speaker but of the in-person attendees, to give home viewers the feeling of “being there”. Offer opportunities for the home viewer to be “seen” at the in-person event and interact with the in-person guests. It’s a two-way street!

There are so many more details I could share, so I hope you’ll follow up with us if you have questions. For those of you who believe we’ll be back to normal and there’s no reason to keep perfecting virtual and hybrid events, here are a few headlines and quotes from news around the world:

Virtual Events, Other “COVID Trends” Likely to Continue to Mid-2021, Meetings and Events Director Says

Health expert predicts concerts, sporting events won’t return until ‘fall 2021 at the earliest“;

“Once my family and I are vaccinated, I would change behaviors, except I can’t imagine being in a crowd or attending any crowded events until at least 80 percent of the population is vaccinated.”Julie Bettinger, associate professor, University of British Columbia

David Nash, M.D., who serves as dean emeritus at Jefferson College of Population Health, anticipates that large in-person events could return with enhanced safety measures “deep into 2021 — the last quarter.”

Location: Skyrise / Remote.ly
Catering: Charcuterie Me
Photography: Tom Cook Photo
Planning: EJP Events
Florist: Mix Mod
Dessert: Missionary Chocolates
Rentals: The Party Place
Wine: Domaine Roy + fils
Signage: The Fresh Hues
Plates: Dtocs
Stylist: What’s On Kate’s Plate

How to Help Rural Oregon During the Wildfires of 2020

Wedding planning photo of a wedding couple in front of an A-frame structure in the forest
A couple celebrates at Eagle Fern Park, Clackamas County, in 2018. This area is under Level 3 evacuation as of September 13, 2020. Photo: Jenna Noelle Photography

We are heartbroken as our rural neighbors and community in Clackamas, Marion, Jackson and Klamath counties — and many more other counties in Oregon — battle wildfires and recover from destruction and tragedy. Lives have been lost and livelihoods impacted, and the fires are not out yet. Many are wondering what they can do to help rural Oregon.

As we mentioned in our previous post, taking a moment to give if you can, can be one way to stem the feeling of helplessness that many of us feel. The live events industry was already deeply affected by the COVID pandemic, and having to deal with wildfires on top of everything else can feel overwhelming.

On the giving side, we’ve put together a list of resources that we feel provide a good representation of how to help those affected by the wildfires in Oregon.

We’re grateful for the many people who have checked on us from afar. EJP Events’s home base in Portland, Oregon, while safe from wildfires currently, has been affected with power outages and hazardous air quality. Our staff continues to work from home offices in Multnomah and Clark County. If you need assistance with an event that has been affected by COVID-19 or the Oregon wildfires, please contact us – we’re happy to help.

Why It’s More Important Than Ever Before to Buy from Local and BIPOC-Owned Businesses.

The upswell of the Black Lives Matter movement has created a conversation around supporting Black owned businesses. Some of my non-Black colleagues seem confused by this. “Isn’t this reverse racism? I’m not racist, I don’t see color!” is a common trope heard during times like this.

A tall Black woman makeup artist applies lip color to a Black mother of the bride.
Photo: Craig Strong

While an event planning blog is not the best platform to address how those types of statements actually promote white supremacy*, one thing I am qualified to address is how to make your event better. One way to do this is to make your event or wedding a force for good. Here’s my opinion on how buying more often from BIPOC- (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and locally-owned businesses can do this, starting by contrasting with the following examples of common practices among large, global corporations:

  1. Starbucks forbidding employees to wear any clothing or jewelry supporting Black Lives Matter (later rescinded)
  2. Cambodian worker who makes Kate Spade and Michael Kors handbags was jailed for speaking up about coronavirus fears on Facebook.
  3. Racial profiling at Anthropologie stores (Sister co of wedding dress boutique BHLDN and owned by Urban Outfitters) In addition, Urban Outfitters has a long problematic history of stealing from independent artists, and for its own designs being shockingly offensive to pretty much anyone.
  4. Corporations profit from prison labor; meanwhile, Black and POC are convicted and incarcerated disproportionately to the population as a whole.

Yikes, right? While not every corporation may be guilty of these types of wrongdoings, it’s more common than not. By choosing a local and/or BIPOC-owned event business, you lessen the risk of sending your hard-earned event dollars to organizations that perpetuate racism, profit from prison labor, deplete the environment, and steal intellectual and artistic property.

In addition, when you avoid mass-produced event and wedding items, you’re more likely to:

  • integrate artisanship and hand-crafted know-how into your event
  • avoid cookie-cutter designs and boring flavors
  • reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding overseas shipping.

If you’re looking for even more reasons to Buy Black this year, check out this article from Green America: 6 Reasons to Buy from Black-Owned Businesses.

It’s important to reduce negative impacts of consumption, both environmental and social. This extends to events. Most of us know that in this big, big world of 7 billion people, we won’t solve every problem in a few months. I myself am just beginning a long process of educating myself, divesting from old processes, and doing my small part. I present this idea of normalizing buying local, and buying BIPOC, as often as you can, and especially with large purchases such as wedding- and event-related costs, as one way to raise awareness, reduce your risk of harm, and make your event better.

* I recommend Alishia McCullough’s 7 Circles of Whiteness article, which is much better at explaining this phenomenon.

The Great and Greater Pause, and What It Means for Event Planning

In addition to the COVID-19 upheaval in the world, summer 2020 heralds a historic uprising against racism and inequity, part of a greater struggle for civil rights that has been going on for hundreds of years. While many of us knew that Black Lives Matter (at a minimum — what Black lives are is priceless and beloved), still many more had been silent about this fact in the face of ever-growing disparity and injustice. No one can be silent any more. Although the feelings of unrest and change may feel concerning, in many ways, this time has us at EJP Events feeling more hopeful, creative, and fired up.

bride dancing with her father on wedding day
Photo: Jessica Shepard

Events are about hospitality and coming together. Weddings are about love. When deep injustices affect our communities of color, it feels impossible and inhospitable to go on doing the work of event planning without first doing whatever we can do to address these threats to life and the ones we love.

When event industry folk talk about wanting to “go back to normal”, what normal were they talking about? The world where it was normal for police to commit extrajudicial executions on city streets? The world where our federal government has defunded public health task forces, and our health insurance system, leaving us vulnerable for a pandemic to cut down 160,000+ of our people and counting? No, we don’t want to go back to normal. We at EJP Events believe Black Lives Matter and that means actively adding our voice to the movement for justice.

At EJP Events, during the week of June 1 – 7 we muted our social media and made it a priority to amplify Black voices. After this, we continued self-directed education, reading, and introspection. We wanted to make sure we explicitly state practices in our event business that we follow, but may not have been vocal about in the past.


Our Anti-Racism Pledge:

We recognize that the lack of diversity in the events and weddings business hurts Black-owned event businesses and Black people in general. As a business owner who identifies as Asian-American and a woman of color, I see how being “white-adjacent” and how the “Model Minority” myth plays into systemic racism and harms our Black colleagues. It’s time to commit to doing our part to right these wrongs. Therefore, we pledge to be actively anti-racist in our communication materials, our business processes, and our hiring practices. The following are four specific practices and policies we use to highlight and uplift the Black community, especially the Black LGBTQIA+ community, and to be inclusive in events and weddings:

• We use welcoming and inclusive language in our internal communications as well as in the communications we help write for event clients. We pledge to educate others when we see non-welcoming and non-inclusive language, especially in marketing materials and event registration forms.

• We recommend venue and vendor choices to our clients that are welcoming to Black and Indigenous hosts and attendees as well as those of all ethnicities, and remove venue and vendor choices from our recommendations who practice racial profiling or other discriminatory practices.

• We hire from an ethnically diverse roster of vendors that includes Black event professionals. We pledge that the number of Black event professionals we hire will be proportionally representative or more, of the racial background of the community we live in.

• We center positive and joyous Black and BIPOC representation in our website, marketing materials, and social media. The number of images we feature will be at a minimum, proportionally representative or more, of the population of the community we live in.

These practices are implemented effective immediately, and we promise to review our practices on a quarterly basis, with our first all-company review due in December 2020, to ensure that our public actions in the event and wedding planning world align with our values. We ask that you call us in and hold us accountable by emailing us at accountability@ejpevents.com if you have feedback or notice ways we can be doing better.

We acknowledge that we didn’t come up with these ideas on our own, and do not position ourselves as experts in this field. Racial justice expertise is an area we defer to Black leaders, to whom we pledge to expand our knowledge of, and continue to listen to. Equity and justice work is the labor of a lifetime. As humans, we acknowledge our own mistakes and imperfections in this process; we ask for, and continually give grace to others, in this journey. We’ll be updating, refining, and adding to our pledge as our understanding and processes continue to evolve.

We are grateful to the individuals and communities who have welcomed us into their networks in order to continually learn and grow. Also, many thanks to these events businesses who are leading the way and have inspired us in this discussion: All the Days, Cocktails and Details, EllyB Events, and Andrew Roby Events.


Additionally, to further underscore our commitment to being inclusive hospitality professionals, we:

• Undertake disability justice training, and apply these lenses to event design. This can manifest in a recommendation of specific event setups to accommodate different types of physical and mental/emotional event accessibility needs.

• We educate our clients to offer translation and other accommodations to make their events more inclusive.


This time can feel overwhelming. If you are a Black event professional, likely this time has felt like an additional blow to your sense of safety. Non-Black and White people are wondering, how can I help? While we’d never say we have all, or even any answers, for anything that’s going on, at the moment it feels right to share the following three focus points:

1. Take care of yourself!
Community Care Resources for Black / BIPOC Event Professionals and others:

The Loveland Foundation

The Nap Ministry

Self-Care for Event Planners

Mindfulness and Self-Care for Event Planners

Free Guided Meditations from Yale School of Medicine

How Small Business Owners Can Take Care of Their Mental Health

2. Ways to Be Generous and Share of Yourself and Your Resources.

Many of us feel overwhelmed by both the pandemic, and at the same time, know it’s necessary to show up for Black lives. I have found that giving and being generous assists me in being thankful and feeling gratitude. Gratitude can lead to better mental health and may alleviate the feelings of depression that come from working through challenging historic times. If you are able, here are some places to give (some Black/BIPOC-focused, some event industry-focused):

There are many places to give and participate; I’ve highlighted these as I’m an event planner based in the Pacific Northwest and these links are particularly relevant to me. You may find other organizations that are relevant to your situation or location.

3. Why you should want to work with diverse vendors, and how to find them:

Liene Stevens of Think Splendid says it incisively in her blog post about lack of diversity in wedding media.

1 in 5 millennial marriages, the majority wedding consumer today, are interracial. Yet wedding publications do not reflect the reality of current weddings, even with the real weddings they choose to publish.

I would add, that not including faces and stories from the nearly 42% of Americans who are not White, in wedding and event media, is a cultural erasure. Avoiding the full picture of the many cultures of the global event experience can lead to increased stereotypes, implicit bias, and to a decline in event quality and creativity. When all you’re seeing is the same whitewashed and filtered Instagram wedding and event feeds, all of similar, non-diverse people, you’re missing out on things that your attendees expect from you, like creative and varied design choices, visuals, menus and tactile experiences.

Erasure can even lead to violence – for example, if you don’t see Black men as hotel guests in your cultural experience, you could be wind up making wrongful and dangerous assumptions like that one manager who called the police on one of his own guests.

How do you find diverse businesses to work with? Perhaps, like us, you’ve been on your own journey working on event diversity, inclusion, and justice work for several years, and you have a roster of contacts. If you don’t, you might want to make a list. But watch out! I have mixed feelings about creating new lists of BIPOC-owned businesses. In some ways, it’s great to have a list to refer to at your fingertips. In other ways, it can feel like a “roundup” or tokenism. BIPOC-owned businesses don’t want handouts or to be the lone non-White face in the name of diversity. These businesses have unique voices and stand on their own merits, and that alone is the reason you should be working with diverse businesses – because their contribution will make your event better.

My take? If you have a non-Black business or organization, do your research first. There are already a lot of lists out there! Consider partnering with or reaching out to Black-owned businesses to collaborate on a resource, before striking out making lists on your own, which runs the risk of looking like saviorism or Columbusing. It’s a nuanced issue, and in all cases, the wants and needs of the business owners themselves should be considered first, as well as the motivation behind the list. If a directory is created in order to promote and support BIPOC business, great. However, if an entity by “creating a list” winds up drawing attention to themselves, positioning themselves as a gatekeeper to information, and centering their non-BIPOC business in the current conversation, then that can be problematic. Whether or not that’s the intention is immaterial – it’s the action and effect on the business and how the BIPOC business owner experiences the interaction, that counts.

That being said, it’s easy to find Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color-owned businesses to work with and to enjoy. We put together a resource to help you get started. Don’t be shy, follow and support! You may be surprised at how the vision for your event becomes that much more creative and inspired.

Microweddings, Petite Parties, and the Next Normal for Events (for now)

On May 8, the “Reopening Oregon” Framework, and similar guidelines throughout the Western States Pact were released, outlining a phased timeline for when the public could return to holding events and mass gatherings.
Based on this framework, event professionals and event clients all over the Pacific Northwest now understand that large gatherings are forbidden through the end of September 2020, and only microweddings and small parties within one’s own household will be permitted. This came as a surprise to many, since when the outbreak in the US became known at the end of February 2020, the prevailing belief was that the epidemic would subside within six months, allowing events to begin again at the end of the summer.
A microwedding, or a small wedding with only a few guests.
photo: Altura Studio

This is not the case, and many weddings, festivals, events, and conferences have been postponed and are following protocols similar to the one I outlined in this blog post “What to do if your event is affected by COVID-19 regulations“.

Because of this, you’d think that all events and weddings have come to an absolute stop. But is this true? Not if you consider the many folks who are re-tooling their 2020 celebrations to comply with a 10-25 (depending on the area) person guest count and physical distancing guidelines. Add careful hygiene and sanitation measures, and we are starting to see what the next normal of events will look like for the next 6-12 months; at least until more testing, contact tracing, and treatments/vaccines are expected.

What are some things that will look different in this new world of microweddings and petite parties?

1. Physical distancing will change the way we set up rooms. Much larger venues for weddings of 10-50 guests will need to be booked than previously thought. A venue once thought to be “too big” for 50 guests will now be the norm. Room setups will incorporate physical distancing guidelines.

 

2. Food service will be different. Buffets and family style will not return until new cases are on the decline and a vaccine is available. Group meals will be plated, or be a creative twist on “boxed”: think beautiful packaging, linen napkins, and gorgeous flatware in a customized bag for each guest.

3. As travel is reduced, local and regional celebrations, meetings, and events will move to the forefront. Unfortunately, car driving will increase until mass transit becomes safe again; we hope this isn’t a permanent trend since the climate effects are sure to be negative.

Will bento become the newest catering trend due to COVID-19? Photo by Kouji Tsuru on Unsplash

What things will stay the same? The elements that are not as affected by physical distancing or sanitation are getting as much attention as they would at pre-COVID-19 elopements or microweddings:

1. Wedding clothing – whether it’s just the two of you, or a few combined households of 10-25, everyone still wants to look their best. Formalwear services like Generation Tux are offering increased sanitation practices and home try-on.

2. Photography and videography have become even more important, as many guests may not be able to travel. Sharing the day through photos and video, and also livestreaming, is more important than ever before.

3. Flowers – nature does not stop for a pandemic, and flower farmers are still hard at work. Buying local is a must; people are not flying in bouquets from other countries.

4. Cake and a celebratory toast: Involving dozens of vendors in customizing a celebration isn’t currently feasible, so we see microweddings returning to archetypes like these.

5. Elopement and small-event packages that include planning and services offered in an easy-to-book bundle will be more important as ever, as busy families won’t have time to sort out all the details of what’s allowed, where they can go, and what activities are permitted and how to do them. Expert planners who stay up-to-date on changing regulations and availabilities will be highly sought after.

This is Part 1 in a 2-part post about the Next Normal of Events. Stay tuned for our post about new developments in meeting, convention, and trade show setups; and trends to watch for in food service and even coffee bars.

Note: This article contains information about holding microweddings or small parties during COVID-19, the novel coronavirus pandemic during spring of 2020. Guidance is changing quickly, and you should check with local and state health authorities, local governments’ Executive Orders, and your own contracted wedding professionals, before making any important decisions about your wedding. We’ll try to keep this post updated with items marked “UPDATE:” when possible.

What to do if your event is affected by COVID-19 regulations

what to do if covid-19 affects your event

What to do if your event is affected by COVID-19 is on all our minds. This is a rapidly developing situation. For the most up-to-date information, check resources like the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) regularly. This post will be updated as new information becomes available.

It has never been easy to plan an event, but to do so during the pandemic era of COVID-19 comes with unprecedented difficulty. As of today, April 14th 2020, all 50 states of the U.S. and many parts of the world are under some form of Stay at Home order. Here in EJP Events’s home base of Portland, Oregon, we’re beginning Week 5 of social distancing and “Stay Home/Save Lives“. Travel, both locally and internationally, is severely curtailed if not outright banned. Our hearts go out to the many people affected: whether due to COVID-19-related illness, or to business and financial effects.

Most events for April, May, and June have already been rescheduled or cancelled. Event planners are taking cues from major world and regional gatherings and festivals such as the Olympics, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Coachella, etc. which have all cancelled or postponed.

What does this mean for a couple planning a wedding, or an association planning a conference in late summer through end of 2020? First things first: please take care of yourself and your family, friends and coworkers. Do what is safe and healthy. The science tells us: COVID-19 is extremely contagious, can possibly be carried while asymptomatic for up to 14 days, and is potentially life-threatening for many. So follow your local health authority guidelines and right now: stay home and stay safe. Take care of your mental health too. The emotions around planning an event can be overwhelming enough without a global pandemic. It’s important to acknowledge the many feelings that can arise and be kind to yourself and others involved in this situation. Check out these resources from the CDC on coping.

OK, so thankfully you’re safe and healthy at home, but you have an event on the future horizon. Now what? While no one has a crystal ball, here are some thought processes we recommend as you plan what to do if your event is affected by COVID-19 and your event date approaches:

We agree with, and really love this chart made by the folks over at Filosophi Events in Vancouver BC. In general, you should have a Plan B for any event occurring in 2020; and you should set a “go/no-go” date on which you decide whether or not to invoke your Plan B. For most people, this “go/no-go” date will be about 60 days or 2 months before the event.

In order to create your Plan B, you’ll need to communicate with your venue and vendors about what options you have, find alternate dates, and find out if everyone is available on the possible alternate date. This is also a good time to review your contracts, especially any clauses about Impossibility or Force Majeure. Ideally, your contract should cover you in the event it becomes “illegal or impossible” to hold your event. There should be a way to seek relief from this impossibility (such as a reschedule) through this clause in your contract. Please contact your legal advisor or attorney for further advice on this.

Canceling outright (termination of contract) should be a last resort, as typically it will incur the most financial loss. A recent survey showed that 96% of couples are not canceling their weddings. It’s better to postpone than cancel. Should any of your event partners, whether vendor or venue, not be available for your Plan B, you’ll need to work out how to release them from their contract with you, and what, if any, financial repercussions there will be.

If your event is not a wedding, but a corporate event or conference, however, you may need to set your go/no-go date earlier than 60 days, since it’s not just the actual event itself that is affected, but your business partners’ ability to plan for and market the event as well. For example, if you aren’t able to sell trade show booths or registrations because your business partners aren’t sure if your event will even be allowed, it becomes impossible and commercially impracticable to hold your event, which may trigger a need to postpone.

Ultimately, the most important things are for you and your attendees to be safe; and for the purpose and spirit of your event to be upheld. Love is not canceled. Education is not canceled. With these things in mind, and with the positivity and teamwork of your vendor team, a solution will be found.

If you are looking for assistance with this process of what to do if your event is affected by COVID-19, please contact us. We’re currently offering complimentary phone and online consultations to assist any new and existing clients with COVID-19 questions. We are here to help.