Risk Management

5 Steps to Managing Meetings Risk

Joan Eisenstodt helps planners imagine the worst — and shares five steps to making sure they are ready to handle it.

risk_article“What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened at your meeting?”
Joan L. Eisenstodt posed this question last Friday afternoon to 90 planners and vendors gathered for her post-luncheon presentation, “Risk Management: 5 Things You Can Do Right Now,” at PCMA’s New York Area Chapter “Best In Class” luncheon event at Manhattan’s Convene meeting space (no relation to the magazine).
At my table, one planner lamented a hotel-wide power outage, and another recalled the time that two meeting attendees were mugged. From elsewhere in the room, we heard about a meeting that was sequestered during Los Angeles’ Rodney King riots, a client who fell down the stairs during a site visit, and a presenter who committed suicide.
Eisenstodt — the principal of her D.C.-based consulting and training company, Eisenstodt Associates LLC, and a seasoned meeting professional — took the stories in stride, underlining the central point of her lively, interactive presentation: At meetings, as in life, something always happens. And you’d better be ready. 
“This is an ‘I-scare-you-to-death,” session, and I’m aware of that,” said Eisenstodt, who touched on the deadly Oregon shooting that had occurred the prior day. “I learned years ago that when people come into a facility, they think they’re safe. And they’re not.” 
 Eisenstodt offered concrete steps to mediate risk and bolster safety, some of them developed with Tyra Hilliard, Ph.D., JD, CMP. In addition to the basics  — such as knowing where exit doors and AEDs are at all times — here are Eisenstodt’s five steps, paraphrased by Convene.
1. Outline meeting goals and objectives from the beginning. Eisenstodt urged planners to include contingency planning from the beginning of their planning process, and it should include risk-assessment analysis that springs from coordination with destination staff, venues, vendors, and government. 
2. Do careful destination and site selection inspections. Eisenstodt also asked planners what they consider when putting together their risk-management plans: One mentioned airports, another disease, and another, civil unrest. (With regards to the latter, “The State Department is an amazing resource,” Eisenstodt said, as is the Department of Homeland Security.) When it comes to site selection, she urged planners to also consider infrastructure, labor, laws, and crime — as well as key elements such as proximity and staffing levels at nearby health facilities and the impact of other groups that might be present. 
Joan Eisenstodt
Joan L. Eisenstodt

3. Gct the contracts right. Planners should make sure their contracts cover all the risk-management bases: Define terms, contingencies, and business relationships, as well as clearly communicate rights and responsibilities for everyone involved. 

4. Have a written crisis and communication plan. “You have to know how you’ll respond in every single crisis,” Eisenstadt said. “It cannot be in your head.” Who will respond to what, and in what order?
5. Review and follow up. When it comes to meetings and conferences, “It’s not over when it’s over,” Eisenstodt said. Review all that happened during the meeting, and then revise site-selection and inspection checklists — as well as contingency plans — for the next event.
Eisenstodt also urged planners to tell their attendees to take their badges off once they leave a meeting venue — as well as leave one side of meeting tote bags unbranded, in case they are carried outside of the venue. By the end of the session, the planner next to me confessed, “I’m totally freaked out.” “Good,” Eisenstodt said when she heard this; she knows that planners, just like people, sometimes don’t cover all the bases “until something happens.”

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch is a writer who specializes in food and drink.