Have You Checked in on Your Meeting Planner Friends Lately?

From time to time GovEvents will come across information we feel our members and audience would benefit from. Here's something we wanted to share:

 

Many people wonder why meeting planners are consistently rated in the top 5 most stressful jobs lists. It can definitely be argued that first responders, doctors, military personnel, nurses, etc. all have more difficult jobs, and as a planner myself, I wouldn't disagree with you. It is a stressful job for sure, but we are very aware that we are not in the business of saving lives. While planners are not likely to be putting out literal fires, they certainly have their own fires to put out throughout the entire planning process and onsite. Planners are meticulous and focused on the details. As the primary point of contact for countless vendors, they must be prepared to handle or delegate any situation that arises. The event may be a once-in-a-lifetime program or a primary revenue source for the organization, adding to the pressure to make everything perfect. It takes a great deal of organization, multi-tasking, time management, budget oversight, staff wrangling, vendor connections, and communication to pull off an event. All these tasks often occurring within a 30-minute period.

Consider for a moment the following scenario -

You are three weeks out from your annual conference. You've spent a year working on every detail. Selecting design elements to perfectly complement the event location, coordinating the faculty and the agenda, and overall event aesthetic. You've negotiated and established relationships with countless vendors and contractors. Made at least 3 trips to the venue to ensure the layout and flow would be perfect for your event to make the experience easy on attendees and keep them wanting to come back next year for more. Sure, the normal stressors pop up along the way - the venue notifies you that they double booked one of your primary breakout conference spaces, so you'll have to move to a different room. Never mind that your signs and program have already been designed, so you'll have to make changes on those items. This is all par for the course and what makes planning exciting. Being ready for the unexpected, creative and critical thinking when the inevitable problems occur. We power through and come out triumphant.

But last week we were faced with a new problem. One that many risk and crisis management plans were not prepared for. The coronavirus. Many events were suddenly faced with the question: To cancel or not to cancel? With corporate travel bans in place across the country, organizations were suddenly crunching numbers to determine if it made financial sense to cancel conferences vs moving forward and face the unknown with a potentially high percentage of cancellations, which would ultimately impact the bottom line. Discussions at all levels were held to determine contingency plans - can we hold a partial conference? Should we go virtual? How do we handle registration fees? What about our sponsors and exhibitors? What is the responsible decision to keep staff and attendees safe? All the while planners forged ahead with a brave face and hidden feelings of devastation at the idea that their program could be scrapped.

You see, for a meeting planner, an event is our canvas, our Everest, our place to shine. Whether large or small, meeting planners are in the industry because we love the work that we do. We create an event that is customized to the industry it is designed for with the sole purpose of making people feel welcome, appreciated, and educated. All while simultaneously dealing with real-time problems that come with creating such an event that most attendees never know are happening - cancellations, power issues, food allergies, technology malfunctions, speaker flight delays, onsite presentation changes - the list goes on!

To be faced with cancellation, mere weeks from an event, is deflating to say the least. With the frustrations of these decisions facing me last week, someone jokingly told me, give it time, eventually you'll be working for the paycheck and counting down till retirement. That may be true for some, but planning is a passion for many, and most don't continue in the career if they don't truly love it. Being faced with the current uncertainty of live events, and fear for our careers, is unsettling.

Planners who have been given the directive to move forward with their event fear the bottom could drop out any minute with wider spread panic leading to a cancellation after more work has been done. Or worse, all registrants end up ill after attending the event. No planner or leadership team wants to put their attendees in "harms way", but they also don't want to cancel an event. In many cases, we are responsible for the primary revenue source of an association or organization, and we bear the weight of the expense involved in cancellation fees, lost profits, and concern about paying salaries.

Even as we continue with the mental turmoil involved in the decision-making process, eating our feelings one Oreo at a time, industry experts are pushing out article after article about the importance of live events, the economic impact they have, fast facts on COVID-19 and how this is an epidemic of fear. I'd like to share with everyone - WE KNOW THAT. And it contributes to our sadness and grieving at our lost meeting. Believe me, no one is entering discussions wanting to cancel their program. But we are faced with few options when many of our speakers, sponsors, and attendees are facing non-essential travel bans. Let's get the message out to the leadership of those companies. Meetings mean business.

Seem dramatic? Imagine a builder spending a year on the perfect house for it to be destroyed by fire two weeks before it's completion. Or a dancer who practiced painstakingly for that lead role only to have the performance cancelled the night before opening. A football player expected to be season MVP and is injured on the last play of the game that will take them to the Super Bowl. Or a photographer who captures a once in a lifetime moment to find her memory card was corrupted. That's what it feels like right now for a meeting planner.

It is a tough and uncertain time. Planners are losing jobs due to the lost revenue from cancelled events and there is no end in sight. Every day we are faced with additional stories of the spread of COVID-19, another conference being noted in the news as a "patient zero" for infecting many others, conflicting information, and uncertainty over what will happen in the future and how long this will last.

If you haven't already, check in on your meeting planner friends. Whether they've cancelled an event or have chosen to move forward with one, chances are they are in new territory and could use a bit of support.

**The content of this article is based on my opinion and conversations with other planners on how they are dealing with the new state of our industry.

 

View the full article by Mandy Dean, CMP, HMMC, Meeting Planner at Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/have-you-checked-your-meeting-planner-friends-lately-dean-cmp-hmcc/?fbclid=IwAR00thx2vuTRZetLrQcn8m5v9CBoDc5Mt5T7ibOs8Xdf1pVK0sdodIwIR3E

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