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EMA-Talk: are you ready to handle a crisis in your event?

EMA-Talk: are you ready to handle a crisis in your event?

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Your event opens its doors in half an hour, at Fira Barcelona... but there is a trailer burning in the parking lot behind your pavilion. Thousands of people have to enter within half an hour, but there is this fire, smoke that can be seen from afar, the adjacent street cut off (affecting traffic) and you do not know if the trailer burns by accident or if there is something possibly more dangerous (a terrorist attack that starts wrong?). What do you do? This is the summary of the briefing to which members of the EMA (Event Managers Association of Spain) tried to answer in this exciting session, very practical and participative. An example of how a training session can be concrete, involve the participants and deal with a truly fundamental issue for the professionalism of event managers.

This was the first EMA-Talk of 2018 (the EMA-Talks are formative and relational meetings between members of this association of corporate event managers), which took place at the Vincci Bit Hotel in Barcelona on April 25th, and at the Meliá Madrid Serrano Hotel on the 26th. For this occasion, EMA has joined forces with PCMA (Professional Convention Management Association) and its PCMA Knowledge program Exchange.

The speaker was Nick Willis, responsible for security EMEAR of CISCO Systems and responsible for the security of important events such as Cisco Live. A heavyweight in the world of corporate events security… but more than explaining all his science, he gave a talk of less than five minutes, and preferred to launch the briefing that we mentioned at the beginning of this article, and let participants work for small groups in a perfect format for effective learning.

If a serious problem of this kind happens, you will have to make decisions and define priorities. Do you cancel the event, do you delay it? How do you manage the queues that can be formed? There will be comments of panic, of anger or false rumors in social networks, what do you do? The sponsors have paid for an event whose planning is affected, what do you communicate to them? The attendees will have a thousand doubts, what do you tell them and how? Do you tell them not to come, or do you define a solution on site so they can wait until they can enter the room? If there are people inside the compound already, what do you do with them? You have to answer all this with the enormous pressure of having an event that starts within half an hour, so if these questions get you unprepared, you will lose valuable minutes and the problem can become very serious. You must have defined a plan before and know who has to be involved (the site and its security officer, the person responsible for the event and the security officer, the company’s management, the police, the firemen…).

The enormous merit of the session was to make aware of a series of factors that we summarize here:

– Crisis management is not necessarily about managing great dramas, but having to decide and react in case of a problem that affects the event. A terrorist attack is dramatic, a truck that burns can be… but you have to have problem management mechanisms, although the problem is “merely” your registration system breaking down just before the event… So do it: a thermonuclear attack is unlikely… but something that causes a crisis in your event is very, very possible.

– You can not start thinking when the problem comes, you have to know who to involve, how to find them and communicate with them, who has the power to make decisions. The good thing about this? While making a detailed crisis management plan is a complex task, defining the main components of a plan is actually quite easy. Just defining responsibilities and communication patterns will already improve a lot the situation if something happens.

– Scenarios are not the important thing: decision processes are. The possible situations of crisis are so many that you can’t just define scenarios for anything that can happen and have answers to all. It is not about defining the decision you will make, but who decides, who is responsible, who you will have to inform (sponsors, exhibitors, participants, team, police, etc.), who can inform and how…

– Communication is essential. Do you know how to find each important person (police, firemen, security manager of the venue, responsible for the event, company manager…)? Do you know how to communicate with all the attendees (the app is a possible solution)? The first ones are essential to make decisions, the second ones because they are affected and it is essential to communicate with them so that they do not panic, or to give them instructions.

– Beware of social networks. Especially important according to Nick, is to have good information and not be blinded by social network information or incorrect data. In a crisis, everyone talks and rumors can go quickly and condition the reactions of people or provoke anger.

The attendees to this session shared their opinions on this case and were able to finish the session with a checklist of tasks to be taken into account in cases of crisis during events, especially focused on the correct communication measures.

These sessions were led by Fernando Sánchez-Mayoral, vice president of EMA and Luca Favetta, Regional Business Director, EMEA of PCMA. Fernando reminded that “EMA tries to facilitate relations between event managers in a professional and relaxed environment. That is the main purpose of the EMA-Talks series. The collaboration with other associations such as PCMA gives us access to high quality content and helps our EMA-Talks to be sessions of high added value for our members”.

The next EMA-Talk will take place on July 10th and 11th in Madrid and Barcelona.

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