snow

Photo credit: Kelly Shur

Last week, I went to Orlando to meet clients for a pre-event site visit. I knew that with airport and car rental hassles in two cities, flying would only save me an hour over driving, so I opted to drive. Then I decided to leave at 11:00 a.m. instead of early afternoon.

During my drive from Atlanta to Orlando on Tuesday, I learned how fortuitous those two decisions were.  A snow storm hit Atlanta more directly, earlier, and with more intensity than predicted. Schools and businesses closed early, and hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks and school busses simultaneously chocked roads in every direction.  Hundreds of flights were cancelled.

Later, as the magnitude of the weather disaster emerged, I wondered:  What if a major storm or other external crisis disrupted one of my big events?  What would I do?

The answer is what savvy meeting planners do routinely:  Contingency planning beforehand.  And crisis management as life’s curveballs break toward your chin.

Here are a few thoughts on what to do if a storm becomes an uninvited attendee at one of your events:

  • First and foremost is the safety of your guests.  This includes not only their stay at a conference hotel and facilities, but also their travel to and from the airport and throughout your event.  You must stay informed of the current conditions and the forecast.  Close coordination with the venue and their security and affected departments is a necessity.  Your guests will come to your team with questions, and they will expect an informed response.
  • Be flexible.  Changes to your program may be necessary to accommodate unexpected travel delays to a large portion of your group.  Evaluate how many of your guests may be impacted and adjust accordingly.  The morning and afternoon agendas may be switched to accommodate late arrivals.  The welcome reception may be delayed a night allowing everyone to participate.  Do not be afraid to consider these changes.  Your guests will appreciate your genuine care for their experience and well-being.
  • Show compassion.  Storms like we have seen this winter are the exception, and many will be adversely affected despite all attempts at resolution.  Foregoing cancel fees or providing refunds to stranded guests who were unable to attend may be the right thing to do.  You will receive immense appreciation and positive feedback in such instances.  Moreover, I have found that extending a little assistance and compassion is always returned in the long run.

By the way, kudos to International Poultry Expo, International Feed Expo, and International Meat Expo.  Their combined event, the International Production & Processing Expo, started  — you guessed it!  — Tuesday, January 28, in Atlanta.  According to press reports, the show coped well.  Weather conditions deterred some of the drive-in traffic, but most fly-in attendees were already in Atlanta when the storm hit. Show organizers rerouted shuttle busses and arranged videoconferencing for several weather-delayed speakers.

I would be interested to hear about your stories in dealing with these issues – especially concerning extending grace to those adversely impacted.

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