During the COVID-19 outbreak, Bill Reed, FASAE, CMP, chief event strategy officer at the American Society of Hematology, has made the difficult decision to call off the organization’s Asia-Pacific meeting in Vietnam, originally scheduled for March 13–14, as a precautionary measure and is currently evaluating whether to make changes to an upcoming event in Brazil scheduled for April. Reed compiled five key lessons to help event organizers navigate the coronavirus crisis.
Take a thought leadership role. Don’t limit your thinking to the boundaries of events. CEOs appreciate a leader that helps them think and helps them see around corners. All corners — not just meetings-related corners. Avoid falling into the stereotype of being the master of the logistical tasks. Raise your hand quickly to be the facilitator of the response team — not the backseat passenger who gets assigned (or volunteers to handle) all the tasks! Imagine yourself as the orchestra’s conductor — not the stage manager. Assume you are C-level even if you are not….yet.
Be the most prepared leader in the room. Being prepared helps you also be the most calm and rational person in the room. In crisis situations, people will respond to you as the leader if you exhibit calm, preparedness, and authority. Dedicate off-hours time to read every article. Reach out to other smart leaders and CEOs to learn what they are doing or not doing so you can speak with authority and facts on the situation. This helps you to apply critical thinking skills and contribute without emotion.
Clear your head of contracts and economics because you have to focus on what you don’t know. Be the voice of your constituency that may not be at the table. Keeping their needs on the forefront will help the group make good decisions based upon external needs versus only internal priorities. Be the master of the various personas to consider. Put yourself in the place of exhibitor, sponsor, attendee (all types), and speaker. Remember they are people and businesspeople, too, so your approach needs to reflect it.
Take an active role in the communications development. Most organizations have an identified spokesperson for the media. Prepare yourself on the agreed-upon messages as if you are the backup spokesperson. In uncertain times like this, one never knows when an understudy gets the opportunity to be on stage. Become the obvious understudy just in case the lead becomes ill and is unavailable.
Empower your second-in-command. This is a great learning opportunity for your No. 2 person to step up and handle the typical meetings-related aspects so that you can avoid being mired down by the follow-up tasks that require “doing.” Delegate the things that need to get done, i.e., review of contracts and financial impact calculations. Task them to be the expert on how digital/hybrid solutions could factor into the plan — even if they need to take a crash course. Let them do the report outs to the larger group. This is a teachable moment, so don’t miss the opportunity to help them experience this so that they can add it to their portfolio. Be a coach, not the star quarterback — build their confidence.
PCMA has created a COVID-19 resources page to help event professionals find reliable information about the outbreak and to share events industry-related resources to ensure they are prepared.