‘There’s no Obstacle Too Big’ to Derail Association’s Annual Event

In the first in a series on how event professionals deal with uncertainty, the head of the Insurance Accounting and Systems Association reflects on what she learned from her experience navigating a double whammy — a COVID surge and hurricane — happening at the same time as her annual in-person conference.

Author: Jennifer N. Dienst       

IASA 2019

In 2021, the IASA Xchange conference, scheduled to take place in person in New Orleans, faced both a COVID-19 surge and Hurricane Ida, resulting in a move to an all-digital event. (Courtesy IASA)

The last time Convene checked in with Kerry Crockett, MBA, CAE, CMP Fellow, DES, the CEO of the Insurance Accounting and Systems Association (IASA), she was in the midst of finalizing plans for her annual event in a rapidly shifting environment. It was August 2021 and Crockett and her team were just weeks away from the kickoff of their annual conference, IASA XchangeTM in New Orleans, when they decided to switch to a vaccination-only policy due to a rapid surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant. Some of the hundreds of in-person registrants started canceling as a result, but then the requirement became more than an association policy — the mayor of New Orleans announced a new citywide mandate requiring proof of vaccination or proof of a negative PCR test at all public spaces.

When Convene spoke with Crockett last summer, COVID was the only ever-evolving external factor she was closely monitoring. Then, just a short time after our interview and just days before the event, Crockett found herself up against a more formidable challenge — category-four Hurricane Ida.

We recently checked back in with Crockett to see how she handled a major weather event that ended up superseding the COVID crisis and what she learned in the process.

“We arrived on Thursday, made the call to cancel Friday morning, and we were on a plane home by Friday afternoon,” Crockett recalled. She “spent the time at the airport and during the flight, as well as all day until midnight Saturday working to convert most of the in-person sessions to virtual.” The efforts paid off. The virtual meeting — a version of which had been planned all along to complement the in-person event — went off without a hitch.

Crockett is no stranger to quick decisions and big leaps of faith. She worked for years as an occupational therapist, until a one-off stint working registration at the United States & Canadian Academy of Pathology’s (USCAP) conference changed her career path. She said she fell in love with the industry, and a year later, she stepped into the executive director role, planning meetings for its 10,000-plus members. “Throughout my life and throughout my career, that’s really what my mentality has been — you have to take that chance and you have to go for it, or you’re going to miss out on a lot of great opportunities,” she said. “And had I said no to this, I would’ve missed out on an entire career.”

Crockett shared with Convene how she navigates uncertainty as the leader of an association that represents a sector of the risk-management profession.

What we’re doing here is not life or death. If we can solve some of these issues and nobody else outside of us knows what’s going on and they only see a great event — we’ve won.”

Kerry Crockett, CEO of the Insurance Accounting and Systems Association

Looking back to IASA’s 2021 conference — I’m sure that was a wild ride, filled with uncertainty. Did you come away with any wisdom from that experience?

I think the thing that I and my team came away with was that feeling of resiliency and feeling like there’s no obstacle too big that we can’t handle. The fact that we were able to turn that around in two days, working from the plane and the airport … it gave me a boost of confidence in our team, knowing we could do that.

Something I say to my team all the time, is, what we’re doing here is not life or death. If we can solve some of these issues and nobody else outside of us knows what’s going on and they only see a great event — we’ve won.

If the pandemic taught us anything, it’s that nothing in life is guaranteed. Everything that we counted on every day as staples in our lives — whether it’s people (I lost my father-in-law to COVID), whether [it’s] an event, or the cost of things — went out the window.

Did that experience result in changes to the way you approach your events — for example, contingency planning?

We’re talking now more about contingency plans. We’ve got cancellation insurance and that’s been a standard throughout, but it’s about … if things do happen on site … whether it’s a medical emergency or a bomb threat, making sure that we have something in place to carry us through.

In future years, I will be making sure that we take a better look at what’s happening in a location or the timing of the year around the location before we decide if this is going to be smart for us to book. There’s risk everywhere, but there are some things that we can do to make sure that we’re not walking face-first into something that could smack us pretty good.

Have the past two years helped you deal with uncertainty? Are you getting more comfortable with it?

The big thing that I’ve learned is if someone is depending on you, you just have to manage their expectations the best that you can. That means open and honest and frequent dialogue around whatever the uncertainty is because if I’m feeling something is uncertain … I know that my team or the board or other stakeholders [are feeling it] 10 times more.

Jennifer N. Dienst is senior editor at Convene.

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