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Keeping the Social in Social Distanced Outdoor Events - Liz Taylor

  • Liz Taylor
  • 9th June 2020

Whilst finding our way back to the workplace and working within the ‘new normal’ that the media is shouting about, one thing is clear. The business landscape is going to look very different in the short-term.  No more so than when it comes to planning corporate events. Like most things, we’re waiting for the official go-ahead for larger events to be back on the agenda. But it’s likely that when the nod is given, we will have to step outside for such occasions, as we’re doing on a smaller scale right now.  That doesn’t mean the end of corporate events.  No.  Quite the opposite in fact.  It opens-up a new world of challenges and possibility. My imagination is fire-up and the TLC team is ready to go. Are you?

What it does mean is that more planning and focus on the health and safety details of an event will have to take top priority. For example, conferences, staff recognition events or small private dinners will move to outdoor spaces where possible, allowing for better social distancing of guests.  With 36 years' of experience to call upon, I can tell you that the planning of a corporate event outside is much like planning any event.  We just need to recognise the unique challenges of the environment and the new level of logistics. Keeping the social in social distanced outdoor events is possible.  Think venue. Catering. Entertainment.  Three key areas that demand the most detailed organisation, and a creative way of thinking.  

Come Rain or Shine


At the CHS summer BBQ in Headingley last summer, I gave a speech on this very

topic. Not realising just how important a subject it would be just a year later. Even my crystal ball couldn’t have predicted the last couple of months!

And, of course, in that presentation my first consideration was the great British weather.

Some think that staging an event outdoors in the British summer is a risk, I don’t agree. It’s true, that there is nothing more unpredictable that the British weather.  But a well-planned event infused with innovative ideas and a weather-proof setting (plus a Plan B, C and D), these events can be a spectacular showcase.  So, the first rule is to embrace the British summertime in your outdoor event and take steps to mitigate the downpour.

JCP-Louis-Med Res-1045A gazebo or tepee will provide shelters combined with fresh air circulating. You could even stage a number of smaller ‘themed’ tents or yurts to help adhere to social distancing rules and add a sense of fun to the occasion.

Individual branded umbrellas, raincoats and even wellies will help your guests to stay dry.  Or why not create your own drive-in cinema?  These events are hugely popular at the moment and a real crowd-pleaser. Take it up a notch and create that ‘All American’ 60s vibe.  Hosts on roller skates serving burgers, shakes and apple pie. 

Set the Stage to Keep a Distance

Coronavirus has thrown up a whole new set of challenges for corporate events, especially those companies looking to team build and socialise. Here, the layout of your event, fused with technology, will be your secret weapon in keeping your team apart while bringing them together.

Cast aside banqueting tables and provide tables for smaller groups or ‘bubbles’.  Aim for larger spaces than you’d normally need to use, so you can safely distance your guests. Try using props such as old-school individual desks for a retro twist.  Make a theatrical feature of the spaced-out set-up. Lift the desk lids to find personalised gifts or ‘school packed lunches’ for each guest.

The technology we’ve been using to stay connected at home could come into play in a live setting. To encourage discussion between groups you could introduce iPads on the table so they can video call other guests, or go retro again, with an old-fashioned telephone! Remember those?

Entertain Me

A competitive element is always brilliant to get people mixing. A quiz. A scavenger hunt. Krypton factor style challenges. Escape room. Talent show. Murder mystery with live performers. All are options that can be reinvented to meet current Covid-19 guidelines.  Culminate with a live link-up of guests streamed to tables, and a virtual award ceremony.  

morrissancersEntertainment can still be at the heart of the event.  An outdoor concert of talented tribute artists to create a festival vibe. Al fresco circus performers. Or opt for the ‘village fete’ feel, with Morris dancers, May pole and a one-man band. Only the Brits could enjoy a one-man band!


Dining Al Fresco

snack-4200689_640Not only does outdoor catering create a relaxed atmosphere, it also gives you more options to ‘make a meal’ of the food being prepared and served. Tapas, for instance, can be upgraded to huge pans of paella cooked to order in front of guests.  If there’s plenty of outdoor space, give each guest their own personal picnic basket and blankets to lay out across the lawn.  Include a personalised miniature champagne bottle as favours.

The informal, fun aspect of outdoor events will see the continued growth in the variety of food trucks and culinary campers.  Fresh coffee, wood fired-pizza, burger sliders and ethnic favourites, are hugely popular.  The choice is mouth-watering, from VW camper gin bars, to traditional fish and chip vans, vintage bus wine emporiums to afternoon teas!  This year will see lots of wood-fired ovens serving pizzas late into the night, accompanied by craft beers and fireworks! 

Clear Communication

People know that events will be different for a while, but once the drink begins to flow it’s easy to forget social distancing rules. It is our job as organisers to allay any fears and reassure attendees that every precaution has been taken to ensure their safety. That means clear communication will be key and extra staffing to remind guests is a must.

Staggered arrival times. Pre-meeting safety packs sent out detailing the steps you’re taking to protect your team.  One-way systems.  Easily reachable sanitisation stations. Reinforced rules with signage and regular announcements on the day.  A package of ‘party or meet safe’ actions that offer reassurance and guidance.  Tell guests what you have in place and what you expect of them.

Meet Your Objectives

The final thing to consider (which perhaps should be the first thing to consider) is the reason you’re holding the event. Corporate events are not just about the party. There’s a purpose. Staff morale, team building, rewards and recognition. Summer parties are about delivering a message within the fun, theatre and drama.  And whilst it’s easy to get carried away with the enjoyable aspects of party planning, it’s really important to set objectives for a corporate event. Not only will this keep you on track, it should inform every decision you make, from entertainment to catering. 

The future has been reshaped by a virus.  But if there is one thing that I know about event organisers, it is that they are resourceful and creative.  As an industry, we need to invest those skills in developing outdoor events that can deliver corporate messages in style. Embrace the madness and go forward.

About Liz Taylor

20190808_CHS_BBQ__121Liz Taylor is a successful award-winning event manager (www.tlc-ltd.co.uk) and businesswoman, a media commentator, motivational speaker and consultant for hospitality brands (www.liz-taylor-consulting.co.uk). She plans events for a range of blue-chip corporate clients right across the UK and Europe, in addition to a large private and celebrity clientele. This includes the likes of Michelle Keegan and Mark Wright, Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford. Take That’s Gary Barlow and Howard Donald, football stars, actors, Prime Ministers, global business leaders….a royal guest or two.  Most recently, Liz has been sharing the benefit of her knowledge on a number of topics for the hospitality industry, including how to react to the current COVID-19 situation in terms of business planning, how the meeting and events landscape will look in 2021, and of course, what it is like to be a female pioneer in her industry. Never giving up. Overcoming life and business challenges. 

You can listen to Liz’s new podcast, Events That Made Me here: https://podfollow.com/etmm-liz-taylor

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