Click here to read Meeting Disasters, Part I.
A poll taken during the MeetingsNet webinar, Everyday Meeting Disasters: Creative Work Arounds—and Smart Planning Strategies to Save Your Event indicated that travel disruption and medical emergencies were the most common disasters participating meeting planners had encountered. But keynote no-shows, being forced to move hotels, and even the death of an attendee were also events that planners have been faced with.
In the webinar, Betsy Bondurant, CMM, CTE, president of Bondurant Consulting and a 30-year meetings veteran, and Michal Skalski, an account manager at Creative Group who has planned events all over the world, shared the meeting disasters they have experienced and explained how they handled them and what planning changes those disasters prompted.
Bondurant describes how luck was a factor in dealing with a medical emergency and highlights the strategies that would have been helpful to have in place.
The Situation: A Medical Emergency
An attendee with low blood sugar fainted in the morning general session featuring the company CEO. It caused a stir in one section of the ballroom that spread throughout the entire audience.
Determine the extent of the emergency/ask if there is a doctor or nurse in the room. Luckily, a nurse sitting nearby deduced that the person had low blood sugar. We were able to revive the person with orange juice.
Alert the speaker. The CEO was onstage and couldn’t see or hear the commotion so it was awkward alerting him to the situation.
Treat and remove the patient from the room. The patient was revived with orange juice. Company policy is to have a wheelchair positioned in the back of the room and this was used to move the patient so he could be treated by an EMT.
Calm the audience and continue with the program. There was no messaging in place to explain the situation and the CEO continued with his presentation even though the audience was unsettled.
Contract with an onsite physician service for larger meetings. Don’t assume there will be a medical professional nearby, plan for it.
Develop a decision tree to determine if the session should continue. Use an “if this then that” format so that planners can answer a few simple questions and know whether to end the session or not.
Communicate the plan to the speakers. Ideally, Bondurant says planners would have discussed with the CEO what to do in the event of a “voice of god” announcement.
Have a plan with the executive producer and production company. You may need to use audio or visuals to calm and distract the audience from the situation.
Calm and refocus the audience or release to another activity. Discuss logistics with the hotel on what would happen if the audience needs to be released early to other activities. Management is typically willing to make an accommodation if there is a medical emergency.
Skalski reminded the webinar audience that it is important to have site-specific information for your team on the nearest hospital, emergency numbers and the location of medical personnel and equipment at the venue.
The Situation: An Overbooked Hotel
For a large meeting where about 80 percent of the 1,000 sales reps attending had to share rooms, the hotel incorrectly assigned most of the rooms that had two beds in them to another group. Creative Group found out a couple of days before the event even though those double rooms were in the contract. Around 70 attendees did not have rooms. Skalski says this situation is a one-in-a-million event because requiring attendees to share rooms is very rare.
Involve the national sales office. Very frequently they can contribute to fixing a situation.
Move anyone who was accidentally assigned a double room to a single room. This includes staff and vendors.
Pre-check-in as many rooms as possible. You will need to guarantee those double rooms.
Give displaced attendees lodging options. Skalski says Creative Group discovered that women were more likely to agree to share a king-sized bed than men. Men either paid a surcharge for a single room or slept in a cot in the shared room.
Negotiate with the hotel for displaced attendees to be compensated. They were offered a spa credit or room amenity.
Set up a help desk in the lobby. Displaced attendees need a place to seek help and talk to a human.
Negotiate a hotel credit to the master account. This will ease the situation for the client.
Select a meeting hotel with an adequate number of appropriate accommodations.
Review contract clauses. Check and recheck that all rooms are reserved. If a situation arises, this is your protection.
Negotiate a resolution. Stay calm and remember the hotel is your partner and you can assign blame after the event.
The Situation: Protestors Target a Meeting
PETA protestors decided to picket outside the annual shareholders meeting for a pharmaceutical company that conducts product testing on animals. There was concern that they may even try to infiltrate the event. Although this situation concerned protestors, Bondurant says strikes can create similar challenges.
Coordinate with corporate security, venue security, and local authorities. Find out what the protestors’ permit allows and how to limit attendee exposure to them.
Develop a confidential and secure credential process. Make sure name badges admit only people who are supposed to be there, include suppliers and vendors.
Create contingency plans. Do you eject interlopers and if so, how?
Share plans with logistics team, executives, the board of directors, and corporate communications. The people onstage need to be confident that they are safe.
Ensure corporate communications has press releases drafted based on potential outcomes. It’s important to protect the brand.
Conduct a debrief meeting with the entire team. Find out what went well as well as what went wrong.
Update emergency plans. Cover the gaps and findings revealed in the meeting.
Revise the decision tree as needed.
Share updated plan prior to the next meeting. You may not use the plan until the next annual shareholders meeting in another 11 months, so look at it again then and make sure it is responsive to current situations. It is a living document that must be kept fresh.
Click here to read Part I of Meeting Disaster and here to listen to the webinar on-demand.