How Seat Selection Empowered In-Person Attendees to Find Their Safe Place

December 3, 2020

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The events industry has learned many things during the past 10 months of a global pandemic. Among them: resiliency, adaptability and more than we ever imagined about how to properly wash our hands (currently rethinking the whole handshake greeting). But perhaps the greatest takeaway of all has been the power of collaboration. If there ever was a time to partner together to move the industry onward and upward through the challenges of COVID-19, it’s now.

That’s exactly what Stova set out to prove in our partnership with Marriott International on a very important event last month.

On Nov. 9, the global hotel brand aimed to showcase its pandemic protocols and hybrid meeting capabilities to event professionals through an event called Connect with Confidence. Held at The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner, near Marriott’s headquarters, the hybrid event drew about 45 in-person attendees as well as 200 guests who tuned in online from afar. Here’s how the partnership worked and how Stova’s special seat selection tool helped to promote a better, safer experience at Connect with Confidence.

The Inception of Seat Selection

Whether it’s at a movie theater, in a college classroom or floor level at a Beyonce concert, everyone enjoys the experience of being able to select their own seat. That notion – combined with safety concerns around the very cautious reopening of in-person events and gatherings – was the impetus for Stova’s seat selection function that was implemented for the first time at Connect with Confidence.

A few weeks before the event, Stova launched a microsite that we used to deliver updated content as soon as it was available. When we surveyed event planners ahead of time, we confirmed what we’d already believed to be true: That the more they knew regarding procedures that would take place during an event, the safer they’d feel getting back to in-person gatherings and bringing attendees in, too. Hence, this microsite outlined in detail what to expect from a safety perspective as well as the event agenda. In this year and beyond, we’ve learned, there’s really no such thing as over-communication.

All attendees, whether in-person or virtual, were invited into the hybrid experience; however, what they saw depended on what type of attendee they were. In coordination with Marriott, we introduced what we called the Sanctuary Seat Selection. We hoped it would be the very definition of the word “sanctuary” – a place of refuge or safety – for each face-to-face guest.

How Sanctuary Seat Selection Worked

When attendees logged into the microsite, they were presented with a visual depiction of how the ballroom would be set the day of the event. Through verbiage on the site, we communicated that we understood everyone’s definition of safe is different, and therefore, we would allow each person to select their own seat.

The technology worked similar to a seat selection you’d see on a platform such as Ticketmaster. Attendees had a certain amount of time to click an available seat (noted in blue dots) and make their selection, while seats that had already been chosen (indicated in gray dots) were blocked out.

It was interesting to hear how event registrants approached the seat selection process. What we heard a lot of was, “I want to be as close to the door as possible.” Perhaps those who said that had anticipated the doors would be open, allowing for greater airflow – a factor in their perceived safe environment. On the other hand, some attendees were adamant about being up front and center, where they felt they’d be able to best consume content and feel safe.

Overall, the goal was to put the onus on the customers to select what felt safe for them. Though virtual guests wouldn’t need a physical seat, we wanted to give them a similar experience of choice. Through their onboarding, we posed questions such as: If you were to sit in the ballroom, what would be your preferred view? Do you have a preference to sit left or right? Do you like to view the content straight-on? Then, we enabled each virtual attendee to actually select their view of the content. This seat selection, whether physical or virtual, was a major step toward making the hybrid event feel inclusive and engaging toward both kinds of attendees.

The Verdict: Sanctuary Seat Selection, Yay or Nay?

From an attendee perspective, the entire experience – which included a half-day agenda – was very buttoned up. When guests entered the property, mask and temperature checks were performed before they were allowed to proceed through to the event zones. There was only one way in and one way out of the ballroom, and event organizers maintained optimal traffic flow, keeping people at least 6 feet apart as they moved through the doors into their designated zones. Because they had seat assignments, each guest knew exactly where to go once they were in the ballroom, following the traffic flow indicator tape on the floor. Once they arrived at their seat, individual tables had been sanitized and set with everything they needed for the day.

Post-event, we heard resounding praise of how logistics were handled throughout the process, which started with that seemingly small seat selection online. On-site attendees felt empowered by the ability to control how the event went for them, stemming from where they sat, and virtual guests extolled how much they enjoyed being able to dictate the views of their own show.

It’s become clear that while the freedom of choice has always been an element that event professionals have had to consider, personal safety now necessitates it. And the best part? It adds a fun factor, too. No matter how you decide to manage large groups once you return to live or hybrid events, the team at Stova can help.

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