Imagine: Your conference is thriving. Rooms are packed and vendors are happy. Things are going swimmingly well and then it happens. You get the call that one of your attendees had a heart attack and has died.
Imagine again: You’ve taken a chance on a new event venue that sits beautifully on a river. Your vendors seem to love the locale and the packed expo hall. But overnight, the weather turned ugly and a torrential downpour caused the expo hall to flood. And in a matter of minutes, products and displays become waterlogged.
Both these scenarios are very real nightmares for event planners. Crises happen, and there’s nothing you can do – except plan ahead.
So ask yourself: How ready is your association to handle a crisis? If something happens at your next event, do you have communication channels defined? Do you have an emergency management plan?
In a session titled “Emergency Action Plans: Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best,” participants swapped stories and advice for emergency management. After the event, Destination Michigan compiled scenarios and recommendations from the idea exchange.
The report includes 10 scenarios: participant death, flooding, ice storms, fire alarm, hospitalized CSM, tornado warning, intoxicated board member, concealed weapon, power outage and unruly protestors.
Let’s take weather, especially ice storms, considering the awful winter we Michiganders experienced. We all remember Icepocalypse and the damage it caused.
It’s best to keep an eye on the forecast and cancel ahead if you can, participants reported. And it’s important to communicate the cancellation via telephone calls, emails and text messages the night before. If you decide to hold the event, make sure to have a plan for no-shows and latecomers. If you cancel, there will be a cancellation fee, and one option for the venue is to apply 50 percent of the cancellation fee to future events – if you reschedule.
Admittedly, social events are participant favorites. Often, there’s a mixer or a reception during a conference, which means there will be lots of alcohol. And sometimes, people overindulge. But what if one of your leaders, i.e. a board member, has a bit too much to drink and becomes unruly?
As an event planner, you should find out with whom the person came to the event and alert him or her. Ask if he or she can help remove the person respectfully and quietly. However you do it, it’s important to get the intoxicated person out of the room, even if it means calling security. At the same time, you should strive to maintain the dignity and reputation of the person, so diffuse the situation delicately and swiftly.
In this scenario, the venue should immediately contact the event planner and stop serving the guest. After informing security, the venue should make sure the intoxicated person has a safe ride home or offer him or her a hotel room.
And the list of scary situations goes on and on. So I encourage you to read Destination Michigan’s peer recommendations for the 10 scenarios.
As a trained crisis communicator, I echo all the recommendations but I’d like to remind venues and event planners that communication is key. It’s better to over communicate than hide behind fear, and it’s easier to communicate when there’s a plan in place. Plans should include talking points, messaging, target audiences, a list of stakeholders and other key elements (which I’d be happy to share if you contact me.)
But even if you don’t have a plan, act quickly, think clearly and communicate. Say something, even if it’s just acknowledging the situation and expressing concern.
What other scenarios have you encountered in the meetings industry? If you’d be willing to share your plan, please email me at Kristen@eventgarde.com.