Handling Crisis Situations for your Meetings

A blizzard shuts down transportation routes across the nation, stranding attendees and exhibitors in distant cities as a convention is scheduled to begin.

A shuttle bus runs over and kills an attendee in front of a hotel.

A bomb threat empties a convention center in the midst of the busiest day of a major tradeshow.

These and other crises can wreak havoc on any type of meeting planned by an association or corporation. Even worse, meeting-related crises occur at a time when staff and volunteer leaders are already stretched to the limit with onsite responsibilities.

How does an organization respond?

“It’s a challenge,” says Al Rickard, CAE, president of Association Vision, a Washington, DC-area communications company. “Meeting crises call for a special type of crisis management and communication.”

Rickard offers this meeting-specific advice:

• Anticipate that a crisis may occur and designate a high-level executive to lead the response.  Develop a plan to delegate this person’s meeting-related duties to others if needed.

• Bring the crisis management plan with you in hard copy and electronic formats and make sure key staff and volunteer leaders have a copy. Review the plan briefly before leaving for the meeting.

Create a local media list for the city where the meeting will be held so you can quickly send them information if needed.  While you’re at it, update your trade press media list.  Have them loaded and ready to use on a moment’s notice.

• Create a master list of contact information for all onsite staff and top volunteer leaders, including cell phone numbers, emails, hotel information, and onsite schedules.

Locate the nearest emergency facilities to your meeting, including a hospital, fire station, and police station and have their contact information readily available.  Make sure contact information for key staff at the meeting facility and all official meeting hotels is also available.

• Develop a plan for quickly communicating with all attendees if necessary, even if they are not at the meeting facility. Twitter and Facebook can be very useful tools as long as attendees know to consult these sites to check for news and updates.  Broadcast emails can be used, and hotels can also place messages on room phones.

• Identify and brief a few staff who are not at the meeting on the crisis management plan and provide them with all critical information. They can be valuable assets in a crisis since they can work remotely away from the crisis scene.

• Take advantage of having your top leaders together in one place and meet as needed to develop response strategies. But make sure you designate a single spokesperson.

Rickard has also published 17 Commandments of Crisis Communication, and Association Vision is listed on ConventionPlanit.com.

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