Category Archives: Crisis management

Where Life, Death, Grief and Hospitality Connect

Originally published Meetings Focus

Where Life, Death, Grief and Hospitality Connect

Now or next week, at a meeting or event where we are to network and enjoy ourselves—or perhaps in your office—someone, maybe you, are or will be grieving.

Perhaps you have been asked, as I was, to help plan a life celebration for a co-worker or a friend or a family member.

Because sometimes, just as we are asked to help plan joyous events, we are asked—like Alison Bossert (interviewed here)—to help with end-of-life events.

Just like life cycles, thinking for Friday With Joan often goes in unplanned directions. This is part one of a two-part series of blog posts, about where hospitality and death intersect.

The second of two blog posts—planned for Friday, May 17, 2019, barring any unexpected life events—will address how our industry, and one school, is going to help prepare a new generation of industry professionals to work on the one life event that is inevitable: Death.

A Lack of Time to Grieve

For years, I’ve researched bereavement policies. It might be because the day after my father (z”l) died, I left on a site inspection trip with a client.

My company was new; my client was important; there was to be no service or sitting shiva for my father.  It made sense at the time.

Since then, my mom (z”l) and many family and friends died.

I’ve been an observer to, and comforter of, friends, family and colleagues as they managed through death and the rituals associated with those deaths. I’ve seen the time that wasn’t given for grieving including the stinginess of bereavement policies.

When three friends all unexpectedly died this spring, I felt as if I’d been repeatedly punched in the gut. Even though I’m self-employed and could, theoretically, take time off to grieve, I really couldn’t. Clients’ work, like one’s job, takes precedence too often.

Why Do We Hesitate on Planning for Death?

As I plan a life celebration for one of those friends, it’s an opportunity to look at life-cycle events and their impact on each of us as individuals and at our industry and what we can do to learn more and help others—as friends, family and professionals.

There are many people who could benefit from our expertise.

The upcoming May 17th blog will explore more life-cycle events, some new, that require thoughtful planning and execution. In fact, we might stop poo-pooing the term “party planner” since many life events are in fact celebratory parties!

We often do little planning for—In fact, are uncomfortable discussing—how we will be remembered, our legacy, how we will or will not provide a format for laughter and tears. In my family, even the word death usually carries “<spit spit>” to ward off negative spirits. Or the word is whispered because if it’s not said out loud, we can pretend it won’t happen.

I’ve always wondered why, if death is a part of life and inevitable, we don’t plan the event. We plan events around birthdays and weddings—and even divorces—but too few have or share plans for their deaths.

These articles may help us understand why we don’t talk about death and should:

Neither of my parents wanted any service or memorial.

The Ways in Which We Choose to Grieve

In order to grieve with others, I asked friends to sit shiva for an evening with me after my Dad died. Though most in attendance didn’t know my father, it was comforting and funny to tell stories about his life including his behaviors at tradeshows.

One of my favorite stories, before mobile phones, was when he used a fake phone on a cord in his pocket and a ringer to pretend to get calls in elevators and on the show floor!

For years my mother said she wanted to have, before she died, a Chinese dinner for 12 just for herself. She never did.

With friends’ help, we gathered and had a superb Chinese dinner for 12 and toasted my mother. All in attendance had met Mom some years before and could tell stories.

Later, in my hometown, family and friends gathered over lunch to remember Mom. It helped me and others grieve; laughter mixed with tears of loss allowed us to celebrate her life.

Celebration-of-Life Planning Is Quite Glamorous

When I read this Washington Post article about celebration-of-life planner Alison Bossert, it led to learning of a new program in hospitality, about which I’ll say more here on May 17.

After reading the Washington Post article, I reached out to Alison of Final Bow Productions and we connected for a discussion. I am grateful for our long conversation.

Her passion for and understanding of what we don’t do and need to do led me to wonder why those in our industry are not better trained for celebration-of-life events and why more aren’t engaged in helping others at one of the most difficult times of their lives.

Celebration-of-life or end-of-life events can have all the glamour many in the industry crave when they say they want to be in events.

You’ll see that from my notes about Alison and interview with her. So, let’s talk about it. Read the notes from the interview with Alison and her own words.

Read more about bereavement policies and the words of surviving family about how they are coping. Return to the Meetings Today Blog to read the upcoming May 17 post about a new program and what I think our industry needs to help us learn more. Life and events are far beyond weddings and conferences. Let’s broaden our thinking and training.

A Special Dedication

This newsletter and blog post are dedicated to three friends—Bev, Chris, and Meredith—all of whom died within 10 days of each other this spring.

And it is dedicated to BizBash’s David Adler whose father, Warren Adler, also died.

I am indebted to each of the friends and those who loved them for their input and to you, David, for the foresight to ask your father the questions too many of us have no answers to and wish we did for those who have left this life.

Safety and Inclusion Tips for Meetings in Troubling Times

The last few weeks have been especially difficult.

It’s not just client deadlines, illnesses of those I love, and the normal stress of a year coming to an end. It’s the horrific acts of hate in the United States and around the world.

You, before reading on, want to know what this has to do with our industry and your work?

Stay with me, please. I’ll show you.

It’s difficult to know where to begin with what has caused so many of us to grieve and to, as one colleague said, know how to direct sadness and rage.

I am so grateful to so many people who have reached out to me because I am Jewish in the belief that the terrorism at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh had caused me the most pain.

It was one of the many “final straws” in the last few weeks. It piled on to the items that follow and the many that preceded that, in my lifetime and long before, known because history taught us.

In these last weeks, we’ve experienced or heard more about:

The starvation in Yemen, reported as potentially the worst incidence of starvation in history.

The death of Jamal Khashoggi and the demand for knowledge of what happened echoed from many corners of the world, its implications weighing greatly on relationships among countries and on the need for a free press.

Pipe bombs targeting people because of their views. Though a suspect was in custody, one more pipe bomb was found. One can hope there are no more from him and that “copycat” acts will not follow. I fear they will.

Murdered—two African American grandparents, out shopping with their grandson in Kentucky because someone who had expressed hate on social media couldn’t get into a church to murder more. It might have been more like the 2015 massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., the victims for whom I still mourn.

The caravan of people—a caravan for safety in numbers, reminiscent of the scenes from “Fiddler on the Roof” of those escaping pogroms in Russia, escaping hate and violence in Central America leaving all they know and family and friends continued on to the United States where they hoped we might understand their needs and ours and accept their pleas for asylum.

The U.S. Government spoke of “erasing” people who are transgender, throwing many, including some of our friends and families, into panic and many of us into action because we must support those we love.

Matthew Shepard’s ashes were interred at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., a place that is far from his parents’ Wyoming home but safe from haters who, like those who killed him because of his sexual orientation, might cause harm to any memorial there to honor his life.

Then, on Saturday, October 27, 2018, the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, during Shabbat services, committed in the name of hatred of Jewish people and of HIAS, an organization that, since the 1800s, has helped refugees of all kinds settle in the United States where they hoped to be safe.

Quoted in The New York Times and other news sources, “The suspect in Pittsburgh posted a message on social media about the [Central American] caravan shortly before the massacre, accusing Jews of bringing in ‘invaders’ that were killing his people.”

Interestingly, the congregation at Tree of Life were preparing to read from the Torah that morning how Abraham and Sarah opened their tent and welcomed strangers, just as the Jewish community has done for millennia since and for which George Soros, a target of a pipe bomb, himself a Holocaust Survivor, has been criticized for funding (he hasn’t) the caravan. [Check snopes.com for more].

There’s much more and there is much that isn’t new news—African Americans and Latinos are being targeted for being. Literally. This story from Detroit about a man and his garden is indicative of hate and distrust of others.

Muslims and Sikhs have been targeted for years and ever-more after 9/11 and after the 2016 election when a “Muslim ban” has kept people from traveling to be with their families.

This Guardian article, from 2012, is as true today as it was then.

Maybe among your colleagues, friends and family none of these instances had any impact.

Not so for me or my family and friends. My Facebook pages were filled with memorials, notices of how to sit shiva to mourn and honor the Tree of Life victims.

What does this all have to do with the hospitality industry?

Safety and Inclusion Tips for Meetings and Events

I’ve written and spoken often that as a child I believed that—because my maternal grandfather (z”l), a Russian immigrant, resembled Nikita Khrushchev—I was sure if I, at 12, could only talk with Mr. Khrushchev, we could make world peace.

I was called a “Christ-killer” on the playground of the Ohio public school I attended. In my adult years, I heard “Jew you down,” a bigoted slur as horrific as using the “N” word, in too-many-to-name negotiations with hotel salespeople.

I’ve heard asked by others “why do ‘they’ (African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ and others) need their own organizations” in our industry with no understanding of what it’s like to not be accepted and included by the majority of the “mainstream” industry organizations.

I’ve repeatedly called out industry organizations and supplier partners who hold events over some of the holiest days in Judaism and other non-Christian religions believing it’s perfectly appropriate though they would never hold events on Easter or Christmas.

In the codes of ethics of many EIC member organizations for those that have them or sometimes in their mission statements if an ethics code does not exist, is language similar to that in MPI’s Principles of Professionalism: “Embrace and foster an inclusive business climate of respect for all peoples regardless of national origin, race, religion, sex, marital status, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental impairment.” [I’d prefer that the word “impairment” be changed; it is inappropriate].

Read more on the use of impairment, disability and handicap here.

Diversity and inclusion are again topics of interest in the hospitality industry and should be in the companies and organizations for whom you work and are your clients.

1. Consider the demographics of those who will participate in or exhibit at your meetings and what days may be important to them and those in their lives, and over what dates having a meeting may pose a religious or other similar conflict. (Read more here in a previous Friday With Joan article).

2. Advise clients, after consulting calendars, of holidays—religious, federal, local—that fall over those great dates with great rates you are offering. Ensure there is knowledge of the times being booked.

3. Be aware of laws that are being considered and the impact they may have on groups considering your destination. We’ve written about that here and here.

4. If you must have meetings over holidays that impact travel, meals, or entertainment, consider the impact on those who will attend and the accommodations you can make.

Or consider how to expose others to the practices of others. In our November 2018 Friday With Joan sidebar, Jordan Rudner provides a great idea for meetings often held in the Spring.

5. Choose images carefully to market meetings. Show the diversity you have and want to attract.

Inclusion Tips When Convening and Educating

I still believe “if we all could just talk or learn about each other—we could perhaps figure this out” is not necessarily realistic. A colleague with a different point of view of a candidate went to a rally to engage with those who didn’t believe as she did. She is not sure anyone’s mind was changed.

She at least attempted to understand the different points of view. I do believe education and exposure to people unlike us can help with well-facilitated conversations.

Here are some questions to consider when planning or hosting your next meeting or event.

  1. In what ways will you build your diverse audiences to ensure appropriate engagement?
  2. In selecting speakers and entertainers, in what ways will you influence a diverse representation of people and ideas to expose those who participate to people who may be unlike them in some ways and have information from which they can learn?
  3. In selecting cities or states for your meetings, how will you try to ensure that those attending your meeting feel and are safe from attacks by authorities?
  4. What are your organization’s values or the values they wish to convey and how are they expressed in what people see?
  5. Will you, when you hear a “joke” or comment made that objectifies women, slurs others, and is harmful or hurtful or hateful, speak up and express that it is inappropriate?

I promised a second part of our discussion on ethics and it will be posted either later this month, or the first of December 2018—the season of giving and receiving gifts—just in time for you to consider what you will give and accept from those with whom you do business.

This blog post you are reading right now does tie into ethics. The quote I use on one of my email signatures is indicative of ethics and inclusion: “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.” – Albert Schweitzer.

Thus, we’ll call this part 1A of my ongoing ethics posts with part 2 to come. For now, be kind, be safe, VOTE [heeding these words from before the 2016 U.S. election from industry leaders] and pay attention to what you can do to create a more accepting, peaceful world.

I add this NPR article Six Words ‘You’ve Got to Be Taught’ Intolerance about a song from “South Pacific” that expresses what we can do. If you’re not familiar with it, please read the article and then the lyrics.

In the additional article included with the November 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter you will read words from Jordan Rudner who works in Anchorage at Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis, helping victims of domestic violence and abuse, and from Sherrif Karamat, CEO of PCMA. Of the many wonderful posts of hope, these two, because of who wrote them and what they said, made the most impact on me to send.

There are so many more. If you’ve not seen them and want to, ask and I’ll post. If you have seen good words, please post in the comments. And be sure to take the poll and write to me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com with thoughts you might want posted anonymously.

I’m glad to post in the comments for you without your name and to hold your comments in complete confidence.

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the November 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 11.02.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Taking Steps to Keep Events Safe (podcast)

Direct link to article & podcast

Taking Steps to Keep Events Safe

Joan Eisenstodt

If you pay attention to the news, you can’t miss what should be warning signs: hurricanes, wildfires, mass shootings such as the one in Las Vegas, and other tragedies like the recent Branson Duck Boat incident.

But when was the last time you paid attention to the news to discern what lessons you can learn and apply at your events?

Today’s guest expert is Joan Eisenstodt, who guides us through the “what-if’s” of risk planning. Scroll down to listen as she provides tools to reframe this thought process by:

  • Determining what is truly a crisis vs a “paper cut”
  • Looking at the history of your event’s location (especially as it relates to natural disasters)
  • Storyboarding the various aspects of your event with strategies and procedures
  • Developing a communications plan, should the worst happen

Disclaimer: Neither Joan or I are attorneys, nor are we providing you with legal advice. We are simply making you aware of things to consider as you work with your legal advisors to create your own risk management plans.

Joan has also provided several additional resources for meeting planners, show organizers, exhibitors, and event venues:

Joan Eisenstodt has been in the meetings industry for more than 40 years, and has had her own business since 1981. An honored teacher at the university level and at industry conferences including EXHIBITORLive, she is passionate about safety, among other aspects of meetings and events. She also writes a monthly newsletter and blog for Meetings Today.

Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Originally published Meetings Today blog

Participant Safety Above All Else: On Water, Land or in the Air

Immediately upon hearing about the Branson, Missouri, duck boat catastrophe, in addition to feeling a profound sadness for the families, my risk management thinking went into high gear.

Tyler Davidson, content director with Meetings Today, and I agreed that something must be written to help us all grasp the responsibilities in what we review—for our individual leisure plans, and for the activities often enthusiastically suggested to us by a hotel concierge or convention services staff.

Not to mention additional recommendations from DMOs, DMCs, colleagues or salespeople.

An additional note: if any of the quotes transcribed within this blog post are in fact or concept incorrect, I take responsibility.

Mr. Loebl also suggested the following:

“The most useful resource I’ve found to determine a specific state’s boating requirements is the U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App. [See the website for a] description and links to download to your phone.”

Although mainly geared to recreational boating, the information is still useful.

“The website that belongs to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has a page with links to a [boating laws] reference guide for each state with a number of questions related to boating safety public laws,” Loebl continued. “There is also a breakdown by topic area.”

“Not every [boating law administrator] regulates commercial vessels on its state waters, so it is a mixed bag,” he added. “If more specific info is needed about a particular state, [it’s] probably best to go directly to that state [boating law administrator], which is easily done using the USCG mobile app.”

An additional note: if any of the quotes transcribed within this blog post are in fact or concept incorrect, I take responsibility.

Mr. Loebl also suggested the following:

“The most useful resource I’ve found to determine a specific state’s boating requirements is the U.S. Coast Guard Mobile App. [See the website for a] description and links to download to your phone.”

Although mainly geared to recreational boating, the information is still useful.

“The website that belongs to the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators (NASBLA) has a page with links to a [boating laws] reference guide for each state with a number of questions related to boating safety public laws,” Loebl continued. “There is also a breakdown by topic area.”

“Not every [boating law administrator] regulates commercial vessels on its state waters, so it is a mixed bag,” he added. “If more specific info is needed about a particular state, [it’s] probably best to go directly to that state [boating law administrator], which is easily done using the USCG mobile app.”

I’m also grateful to a duck boat franchise that provided answers to questions I had about safety and operations. Respecting its privacy, I am not including the contact’s name or the location of operations.

“I certainly understand the hesitation [about riding duck boats after the accident]. What happened in Branson was so unfortunate and has sent shockwaves throughout all of the duck companies nationwide.

“[In response to your query about the photos on the website] the reason you don’t see anyone wearing life jackets … is not because we don’t have them. At any time during the tour you are welcome to put one on. If you want to put one on, you can. The pictures on the website are from a photo shoot last year. And no one [among the passengers at that time] wanted to put their [life jacket] on.

“I cannot speak for what the Branson ducks did, but here’s what we do and what we have done for the past 15+ plus years [that I’ve been associated with this company, although it has been in business longer].

“Every morning, the captains come in at 7:00 a.m. The first thing they do is pull up the weather.

“In my opinion before Branson and after Branson, our master captains (all of them have a masters’ captain license) are better meteorologists than those you see on TV.

“Weather is what our captains deal with every day. There is ALWAYS a captain set aside to watch the weather. That’s all they do that day. No tours, just weather watching.

“They have two computers, one TV and four phones. They are obsessed with the weather.

“The other captains scheduled on that day then do two pre-trip inspections. One that is DOT required and one that is Coast Guard required. Any discrepancy, the duck doesn’t go out. Any issue, the duck doesn’t go out.

“We don’t go out when the wind is high. We don’t go out when the tide is high. We don’t go out when the tide is low. We don’t go out when there is lightning and thunder.

“And no captain works for more than 12 hours per DOT rules.”

Use the above responses, in addition to the checklist questions that accompany this blog post as a separate article, to ask about the duck boat or other like operations for a personal or group activity.

Given this information and what was said in interviews with the survivor, Tia Coleman (that the passengers didn’t have to wear life jackets), and from emails and posts on social media from friends and colleagues who have been on duck boats, and in looking at photos on websites of different cities’ duck boat operations … I am not confident that it is suggested that one wear life vests aboard all duck boats.

Pay attention to the follow-up articles and read what the investigator from the NTSB said about the storm that was predicted. Note the mention of another duck boat that went out about the same time and returned before the storm worsened.

And here’s a former NTSB Chair calling for a duck boat ban.

Read the list that Tyra Hilliard, who shares my passion about risk and contingency planning, and I compiled of questions to ask before taking part in any sort of boating or other water-based transportation activity. Think how these or like questions apply to any form of transportation or venues you book.

Consider that what happened in Branson could have happened to you or your family while on vacation or to those attending your meetings whether as a sponsored activity or as one recommended by you. If not recommended by you, maybe by your supplier partners with DMOs or hotels or DMCs.

In the initial Meetings Today article, we shared five key areas to consider when assessing transportation risk (with questions). Those are now expanded in the accompanying checklist presented in the Friday With Joan newsletter. Please add your safety precautions for any of these areas in the comments. We all are safer because of the experiences of others and by sharing information.

Be safe. If you are out on the water, wear a life vest or jacket. If you are on land and riding a bicycle or motorcycle, wear a helmet. If you are planning to be in or hire land vehicles—car (private or contracted) or bus—ask if they have a seat belt, then tell your participants to do what you do: wear seatbelts. When you are on a plane or a train, no matter how many trips you’ve taken, put down your reading materials and listen to the information about safety. In a hotel or other meeting facility? Count the steps from your guest room to the nearest evacuation area; look for evacuation and shelter-in-place areas.

Pay attention to all that will keep you and your participants safe.

As you inspect the car services and other companies with whom you contract, channel me! Each time I ask and want to contract safety issues, I’m told “no one has ever asked that before.” It is high time others did ask! In talking with industry attorneys, it was said that yes, those who hold designations such as CMP are likely to be held to a higher standard in the due diligence they perform in their recommendations.

CMP or not, make it safe for everyone.

I offer my continued condolences to those so horribly impacted by this tragedy—the families, their friends, the employees of the franchise and all others. How can we help but feel for them?

As I reflect on all the life-ending events suffered in our world and in our industry in particular, I ask as I have for years: How can we not put safety first in all we do as professionals on any side of this industry?

Editor’s Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Related Reading From the August 2018 Edition of Friday With Joan

Click here to view additional content in the 08.03.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Q&A: Sexual Harassment in the Meetings Industry

Originally posted Meetings Today and Friday’s with Joan

         

Jessica Pettitt, Speaker and Consultant                 Sherry Marts, CEO, S*Marts Consulting

“Sexual harassment” as a term was not coined until 1975, as documented by Lin Farley in this Op-Ed piece for The New York Times. It was years later that the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) added guidelines on sexual harassment.

For those of you who live in other parts of the world, I encourage you to comment on this article with more information (and links) about the protections against sexual harassment and other workplace bullying. Our goal is to ensure greater protection and knowledge for all that are in and related to our industry.

In selecting those to interview, I turned to Sherry Marts and Jessica Pettitt, both of whom have written extensively on issues of equality, inclusion and harassment. Their views are their own based on research and experience. They may not reflect all my views or those of the publisher of this blog and newsletter.

My gratitude for their time and sharing of experiences. If we’ve accidentally edited responses in a way that changes the meaning, forgive us and add please to the comments to correct our errors. In some cases, their words have been emphasized either in bold or italics or both by this author to call attention to certain concepts.

Q1. Those interviewed:

Sherry A. Marts (SM), Ph.D., CEO of S*Marts Consulting LLC, is a former association CEO with a wide-ranging background in biomedical research, regulatory affairs, nonprofit management, public education and research advocacy. She provides expert consulting and training services to nonprofits and academic institutions on diversity and inclusion, harassment and bullying, and interpersonal communication. She also offers executive and career coaching with an emphasis on career and leadership development for women.

Dr. Marts is a skilled workshop leader, facilitator, writer and speaker with a lively personality and a keen sense of humor. Her interest in the issue of harassment and bullying lies at the intersection of her professional life as a woman in science, and her previous experience as a women’s self-defense instructor.

Her most recent publications include:

Dr. Marts received her B.Sc. (Hons.) in Applied Biology from the University of Hertfordshire, and her Ph.D. in Physiology from Duke University.

You can connect with her at her website, www.smartsconsulting.com,

or via email at sherry@smartsconsulting.com.

Jessica Pettitt (JP), M.Ed., CSP™, pulls together her stand-up comedy years with 15-plus years of diversity trainings–about which she says on her website, “WARNING: Not your typical diversity trainer!”–in a wide range of organizations to serve groups to move from abstract fears to actionable habits that lead teams to want to work together. With a sense of belonging and understanding, colleagues take more risks with their ideation, converse precious resources through collaboration, and maintain real connections with clients over time.

You can read her full resume here, including the extensive list of publications, training and work she does. Jessica Pettitt can be contacted at jess@goodenoughnow.com, or text her about anything to 202.670.4262.

A personal note: I am grateful that Jess wrote Good Enough Now, about which you can read more about here and purchase copies of via the link provided on that page, if you so choose.

Q2. What is “sexual harassment?” What is non-sexual bullying or harassment? How are they alike and how do they differ? Why is it important to differentiate, especially since the current conversations are about sexual vs. general harassment?

SM: I hate the term “sexual harassment” and I don’t use it. I talk about gender-based harassment and bullying.

The term “sexual harassment” puts the focus on the content of the harassing behavior, rather than on the effects of that behavior. When you look at the effect of gender-based harassment on targets and bystanders you can clearly see that this is not about sex, sexuality or human intimacy–even when the harasser’s goal is some kind of sexual contact or activity. Harassment is all about power.

Whether we’re talking about gender-based harassment or harassment on the basis of any other personal characteristics (race, religion, age, ability, size, etc.), we’re talking about behavior that emerges from the difference in power between the harasser and the target. Harassment is all about who controls the space, and who is or is not safe in that space. Street harassment conveys the clear message that the target is not safe from unwelcome attention in public spaces simply because they are female, or transgender, or a person of color, or wearing a hijab, and so on. Workplace harassment conveys the message that the target is not safe and not welcome in that workplace, or in a particular role in that workplace.

Harassment is a form of bullying, one that focuses on a personal characteristic of the target. The bully’s message is “I can make your life hell and you can’t do anything about it.” The harasser’s message is “I can make your life hell and you can’t do anything about it. You don’t belong here, and I can get away with treating you this way because you are a ____.”

I have heard from many women whose initial harassment experiences fit the legal and HR definitions of sexual harassment, and whose harasser shifted tactics after the woman complained. The harasser then turned bully–belittling her in meetings, sending all-caps email rants that he cc’d to everyone in the department, excluding her from important meetings or conversations about her work, and so on. Her further complaints to HR were dismissed because this was no longer “sexual” harassment. That’s one of the problems with segregating harassment and bullying with sexual content from other forms of harassment and bullying.

JP: I didn’t know the words bullying or harassment until I had been on the speaking circuit for a decade or so and they were suddenly topic areas of speakers. Similarly, I didn’t know the word lesbian until graduate school. Interestingly, to me at least, I was personally impacted and/or targeted by bullies, harassers and homophobes, long before I had access to the language that described me and the experiences.

As a diversity and inclusion speaker, author and consultant, I have always gravitated to the incongruences of oppression and work daily to bring light to those silenced and marginalized, even if I don’t know the right words. Most recently, I have learned that airlines don’t have a policy to deal with unwanted and/or unsolicited touching while in flight. They claim no responsibility, have no response protocol, and no criminal action is taken to prevent the perpetrator from leaving the plane. I don’t know anything about this–and this is my newest area of mind-blowing WTF moments where I, too, don’t have the language.

I don’t know that I agree that it is important to separate out sexual vs. general harassment. This is about power and not a sexual fetish or conquest of sorts. The feeling of being entitled to someone else’s space, body or a specific response can be problematic, and that is if the other person feels this as a use of power over their sense of agency or in exchange for something that feels limiting. This is a subjective definition and why this area is tricky. Sometimes, the motivation can be solved through education and sometimes it can’t be.

I draw a parallel between “in group” and “out group” language to some degree. There are stories, words and actions that are permitted (rightly or wrongly) within sub groups or communities to which you belong that are not promised to be permitted in other settings. One must learn each setting and follow often unwritten rules about what is permitted, and over time, these rules may change. An individual can also write their own rules about what is and isn’t permitted, and these rules apply to their own behavior–not others necessarily. I should mention, I am not a lawyer, I was a ceramics major so take my legal advice with that in mind.

Lastly, it is never appropriate to say or do anything without someone’s consent and yet we do this all the time, and most of the time it even seems to work out okay. We are not entitled to feedback, education, training or a conversation with someone that we have offended or hurt. It is our responsibility to listen to those that do give us feedback and assume that we don’t know everything.

Imagine what would happen if we entered a conversation prepared to be wrong–this isn’t at all about overpowering the other, but actually listening and connecting with them if they want to.

Q3. Our readers are in hospitality–as meeting professionals (aka planners or designers of content and delivery), sales for AV companies, hotels, convention centers, cities, conference centers and related services, and others. A friend once said to me that at hospitality gatherings it “feels like Hollywood” with all the hugging and kissing. If that’s the culture,

  • How is it contributing to potential harassment and the ability to say no to even a general greeting from a business contact that could involve a hug or kiss?
  • How do we turn it around to change the culture of the industry? Do we need to and why? And are industry associations (MPI, PCMA, IAEE, ASAE, etc.) responsible to help do so?

SM: Whether or not this kind of social behavior contributes to harassment, it is behavior that needs to be reconsidered because it is troubling and can be exclusionary. There are myriad reasons why someone doesn’t want to be hugged or kissed. Maybe they have a cold and don’t want to spread it. Maybe they are on the autism spectrum and physical contact is excruciating for them. Maybe they have severe germ phobia. Maybe they come from a cultural background in which that kind of touch is restricted to family members and spouses.

Who knows how many members, attendees, employees, even business contacts have stayed away from events just to avoid the unpleasantness of putting up with, or trying to avoid, unwanted touch? [Author note: I’m reading the book The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People and learning so much about myself and others. What Sherry says plays into lessons in this book as well.]

[On-site meetings] staff can help by modeling behavior that discourages this kind of contact without permission or consent. They can be the ones who ask first: “May I give you a hug?” which doesn’t take long and is a perfectly polite and reasonable question.

“Please don’t hug me without asking” is a perfectly polite and reasonable response to being forced into a hug. If this truly has become part of the culture, then work that as the association has become aware that this is a barrier to all members feeling safe at the meeting, everyone should ask before hugging–something like a gentler version of the DC Metro [mass transit] campaign, “If it is unwanted, it’s harassment.”

I know lots of people who proclaim, “But I’m a hugger, I hug everyone!” I really doubt that all of these folks are incapable of resisting the urge to wrap their arms around someone in public. Always, always, always ask before your grab and then wait for a positive response before you move in. Don’t assume that because this is someone you’ve hugged before, they are okay with being hugged again.

Consent is active, not passive, and past consent does not imply current consent.

And yes, I am fully aware of cultural differences in how people greet each other. Japanese bowing etiquette is a great example. It is amazing how much information (respect, dominance, deference, fondness) can be exchanged in the process of simply bowing from the waist, and physical contact is not required.

The custom in some cultures of cheek-kissing is one that comes up in discussions about “to hug or not to hug,” and I have a couple of thoughts on that. The first is that if cheek kissing is NOT part of your culture, it is perfectly okay to decline to participate. You may have to let the cheek-kisser know that on first encounter, but there is no reason why you have to conform to their custom if that custom makes you uncomfortable.

The second is that, having experienced cheek-kissing rituals when doing business in Europe, I found them somewhat less invasive than some U.S. customs. They are certainly less invasive and less prone to “accidental” unwanted touching of body parts than hugs; they are even less invasive than the U.S. “handshake-elbow grab-pull in for a pat on the back” maneuver.

JP: I just spoke at a conference that was VERY huggy. When I say huggy, I mean deep long-lost friend hugs that genuinely seemed honest and loving with nothing but a “welcome to the community” intention. I am not a touchy, huggy person, and when at conferences, I know that the hugs will happen so I brace myself and enjoy being part of the community norm. I still get VERY uncomfortable when someone hugs me or approaches me from behind, and the depth, length and tightness of the hugs at the conference I just returned home from was a new level of discomfort. I simultaneously felt welcomed and emotionally drained until the last day of the conference, I was literally out of juice in a way I can’t really describe.

I don’t have direct answers or solutions. I also don’t want a world or meeting culture where people, specifically men, are terrified to emotionally connect, show respectful affection, etc. I don’t know that it is the meeting industry’s role to mediate what is an intention of a touch and the impact of that touch–I would like to think that our cultural norms can set these standards. I also would like to see people more confident that they have more to offer than a sexual object or are valued by society by how attractive or sexually active one is. This is a larger issue about respecting one another and ourselves differently and without connection to another person.

We all have work to do.

It is also true that someone can learn and behave differently than they did in the past. This can be both a positive progressive movement as well as a decline in rational choices and personal decisions. To make it even more complicated, though always about power, sexual harassment and bullying can be considered comedy, entertainment and harmless, and the next second it has gone too far.

At another conference I spoke at recently, a comedian introduced me following the [immediate past] Secretary of Education’s speech. [The person introducing me] talked about how young and attractive the Secretary of Education was while he was serving himself breakfast in the back of the room post-speech. He turned red and the audience laughed. The introducer continued and suddenly, it was too much. She kept going and as she walked off the stage she stated her phone number and said, “Most marriages don’t last–call me.”

This turned abhorrent. As I took the stage, and began my keynote, I named what had happened by saying, “With all that is going on in the world, that is an excellent example of sexual harassment and what not to do.” [During the] conference, [participants], men and women, thanked me for naming it as sexual harassment. It took almost nothing on my part to name it, and collectively, we in the industry could do this, too.

Q4. Much of what’s in the news is about sexual harassment by men toward women, except for the cover story in Time naming the #MeToo movement as “persons of the year” where men were included, and in the case of some celebrities and the spouse of a politician in Massachusetts. Is this what’s prevalent vs. same-gender harassment? Toward LGBTQ people? Toward transgender people?

SP: “Wait, what about me?!? I’m oppressed, too, you know!!” The age-old cry of those in power (i.e. white, straight, cis-gender men) whenever the rest of us object to being treated as less than human.

The vast majority of incidents in professional settings are men harassing women, and most often older men harassing younger women, or men higher in rank or power harassing women lower in rank or power. Yes, men do harass men, although it often takes the form of bullying rather than “sexual” harassment. And there is a lot of intersectional harassment and bullying–targets are selected and bullied because of their gender or gender identity AND their race, religion, appearance, age, etc.

Hair-splitting over who is more harassed than whom, and exactly what kind of harassment they experience, is a distraction from the real problem. The real problem is the steady and unrelenting abuse of the power dynamics in organization.

The goal of all this is pretty simple. Behave like an adult. Treat people like the human beings that they are. Don’t be an asshole.

JP: All harassment is about power. The harassment of trans folks, specifically transwomen of color, is significantly more likely to result in death or life long injury and disability. The indecipherable “femininity” of a person perceived to be a man, therefore assumed to be gay, and a person of color is a deadly combination of assumptions almost always resulting in acts of violence that are often supported by local, state and federal laws. LGBQ people, as long as they are white, upper class and conform to binary standards, they are less likely to be harassed or bullied, and yet are consistently starting in elementary school. Similarly, to show up as one’s full self, they (we) must come out to every person we come in contact with and every day of our lives. This alone can compound and feel like an act of violence, then add on bias or hate incidents where folks are targeted by others. Again, it is all about power. It is important to mention that a woman of color started the #MeToo campaign and was left off of the Time cover as well as the narrative of the hashtag that was eventually picked up by a straight white cis actress–then it got attention.

Q5. What do we all need to know and watch for? How do we, for ourselves and for our friends, colleagues, co-workers and families, help those who may be afraid to speak out for fear of retribution, including fear of job loss? What are the bullet points people can use to fend off unwanted touch, or more?

SM: Targets, and many witnesses, recognize bullying and harassment for what it is. If nothing else, that little gut clench when you hear a comment or see a behavior, so easily dismissed or overridden, is a sure sign that yes, that was unwelcome, unwanted, inappropriate and downright wrong.

It takes a lot of forethought and practice to speak up. The most effective responses follow a simple formula:

“You just did/said ____.

“I don’t like it.” Or “That violates our code of conduct.” Or “I don’t want to hear things like that.”

“Stop doing/saying _____.”

Say it with a straight face, neutral body language, no apology, no smiles, no being “nice” about it. Use volume and tone of voice to reflect the intensity of your upset over what they did or said.

If you want to intervene and you aren’t the target, don’t speak for the target; make it about you: “I find that extremely offensive.” “I don’t want to hear things like that at work.” “That violates our code of conduct.” “We don’t do that here.”

Self-defense classes usually include practicing this kind of response, which is generally effective and does not escalate the encounter. I recommend that anyone and everyone take a good empowerment self-defense class. (In the D.C. area, Defend Yourself http://defendyourself.org/ and Collective Action for Safe Spaces http://www.collectiveactiondc.org/ offer classes on harassment resistance and empowerment self-defense.)

[Author’s note: check if these organizations or in your location and, in the comments please, add names of other resources in other cities and countries of which you are aware].

JP: I suggest that trying to help and support others to do something may be frustrating as it varies person to person what is the right thing to do. The best thing to do is to take responsibility for yourself. Who and how we show up is our responsibility. When do you want to take power from someone else? If you answer “never” then you have work to do.

Stand up to those taking power away from others, especially if it really doesn’t cost you anything or feel like a risk. When you think something isn’t a big deal–this means there isn’t much of a risk for you. Say something. Notice who and how you are regarding power with and over others. Notice your own touch patterns as well as language you shift using with one person or group but not another and ask yourself why. If your own behaviors and language choices stand up to your own questioning process you can keep them or change them. Either way, if they survive your questioning processes, you can justify or explain them to others.

Q6. What have I not asked that you want to tell readers about sexual or other workplace and meeting harassment?

SM: Whether you’re the target or a bystander, effectively responding to harassment in the moment is a learned skill and takes practice. The more people learn and apply these skills, the faster we’ll see changes in behavior. That said, responding on an individual level does entail risks, from social sanctions (“Don’t talk to her, she’ll ream you out for harassment.”) to job loss and career derailment.

Harassment resistance and intervention by individuals is a start, but bigger changes are needed to eliminate this behavior in professional settings. Leaders in organizations, professions and workplaces have to make this a priority, and have to be willing to take rapid and effective action to eliminate harassers and bullies from every professional setting.

Until organizations and employers are willing to shoulder the risk of actually enforcing policies against harassment and bullying, cultures won’t change. As long as HR offices and Title IX offices are told their jobs are risk reduction and liability avoidance, complaints will continue to be investigated unto death and then dismissed as “unproven,” and this behavior will continue.

Until targets are listened to, believed, EFFECTIVELY protected from retaliation, and rewarded for their courage in coming forward, organizations will continue to lose talented, creative and productive people. As long as harassment and bullying are tolerated and even rewarded, harassers will harass and bullies will bully.

JP: Just know that harassment isn’t like the chicken pox. If you hear of someone’s experience(s), believe them and know that there are more experiences in their past and more to come in their future. This doesn’t happen just once and you are done. This is a lifelong experience. I think this has been the most shocking part for those new to this conversation.

I am a 43-year-old woman and I don’t know another woman that doesn’t experience sexualized violence, harassment and/or bullying throughout their lives. Let that sink in. It doesn’t have to be a problem for you to be a problem for others. Now, let’s do something about it.

Click here to view additional content in the 01.05.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

#MeToo in Meetings and Hospitality: What’s Next?

Originally posted Meetings Today Blog    Friday’s with Joan

#MeToo in Meetings and Hospitality: What's Next?

I remember receiving a call years ago from someone important in our industry threatening me and my business if I were to dare speak of something about which I knew nothing about until the call. This person was threatening me based on an incident about which it was believed I’d spoken.

I remember the appointment with a new doctor whose exam of me seemed “not right” and the looks on the nurses’ faces but I didn’t know what to expect, so I said nothing. And I remember so many other incidents as do you—as someone who experienced them or as someone who was the perpetrator.

The current wave of accusations of sexual and other harassment in the workplace and at meetings are not new. This research paper from 1998, titled Sexual Harassment Issues in the Hospitality Industry by David Gilbert, Yvonne Guerrier and Jonathan Guy, may very well verify what the informal poll numbers, and, separately Meetings Today—through the January 2018 Friday With Joan newsletter poll—will find.

Yet we begin the new year where we left the old: discussing harassment and bullying with the daily breaking stories including this one—Companies Hit by Sex Misconduct Target the Dreaded Holiday Party—published at the end of the last year, from Bloomberg, about the impact on holiday parties amid fear of allegations of harassment, stating that if alcohol were limited, it would cut down on harassment.

And then there’s some of you who may have even considered, while planning “holiday” gatherings, whether to play “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in light of the #MeToo era, as discussed in this recent Washington Post article.

While alcohol and song lyrics may contribute to thoughts of harassment, they do not cause it. Power is what spurs people to harass others. I asked, among those in hospitality social media groups, for their stories.

These are (edited for length and to eliminate identifiers) some of the stories I received.

From a meeting planner: WOW! As I read [other articles] it is so reminiscent of what our team went through. The entire staff complained to the Board about our supervisor’s verbal abuse.

We were sent to what might be called “team therapy.” At the end of the session, the facilitator announced who the person—in attendance!—who caused the harassment was and about whom the complaint was made. The verbal abuse grew much worse. Jobs at my level were hard to find so I kept working even when others left.

I was finally fired with no reason given.

From a meeting vendor: I had a boss sexually harass me in front of several people at a job retreat at which there had been lots of drinking all day and I was clad only in a swimsuit. I was asked to sign a paper saying I would not discuss the incident.

I don’t think it was really a sexual thing with him. Much like [many of the more famous people accused], it was a power play. Hookers can be hired for sexual desires, but power is real the driver. They can do what they want to their employees.

After he did what he did to me, a co-worker sitting next to me said. “Don’t be mad. It is like a dog humping your leg.” I will never forget that comment. Like he does this to everyone and he is the boss. Like what they said about Charlie Rose.

“That is Charlie being Charlie.”

The other owner of the company came to my office, and closed the door and [asked], “How much money do you want to make this go away?” I told him I didn’t want money.

This company [then went] through my emails to try to find something on me and fired me. I then got a lawyer who said it was a moot point (to try to argue [against] this).

From a (now) third-party contractor: My first experience [with harassment] happened when I was very young and starting out in the industry. I was physically attacked on an elevator at a major convention hotel in the city I represented. The attacker was a prominent person with an association that was considering our city for their meeting. What was so shocking is after it happened was that my boss at the time required me to continue working with this group. I was young and naïve; I did as I was told.

I eventually left that job and returned to the same organization years later. This was all before computer records. The paper files of the incident were gone.

No actions were taken against the attacker.

From a third party: A couple years ago I was sexually harassed and because I’m an independent contractor, I was told there was nothing I could do legally even though I told the company to whom I contracted about it. The client was a big one and important to the company [for the revenue it produced]. The complaint resulted in the client leaving the company and because there was no contract with the client, there was nothing that could be done to support me or to bring in the revenue from which I’d also benefit.

After a few days of discussing what happened with my family and friends, a decision was made to inform [the harasser’s] supervisors. There was never a response from them; he continues to work there. I still enjoy working independently but having more support would be nice.

From a meeting planner: I unfortunately have a story to tell. Mine is slightly different: my boss harassed me in front of colleagues for being a nursing mother.

We were on site at our annual meeting and the boss made various comments regarding me nursing my child while at the meeting. Because of this, I no longer felt I could trust this person and was uncomfortable in other situations. I explained it to this person and nothing changed. I told HR and nothing happened. So I quit.

This issue of bullying touches on hot topics: breastfeeding, working mothers, mom-shaming. I’ve been trying to figure out how else I can share my story and help support other working mothers because our industry is unique with the amount of travel we have to do.

From a corporate planner: In a new job in a small company, one of the bosses, while we were alone in the office, asked me into his office. He asked me to sit on his knee. He said if I didn’t, he’d fire me. I didn’t [sit on his knee] and he did [fire me].

I was still new and needed the job and no, I didn’t take further action and wish I had.

From a planner: I was in a large North American city about to begin a two-day conference. The night before the start of the conference, as was the company’s practice, there was a private dinner for speakers. When the dinner concluded, I went to my room, did some work, and got ready for bed. The phone in my room rang. I answered to hear one of the speakers say he wanted to give me his presentation so that it was off his plate before the morning presentations. He asked me to come to his room. Not thinking this was deceitful, I groaned to myself because I had to get dressed respectfully. I slipped into my usual conference “uniform”—a business suit I’d worn for dinner—even putting on pantyhose. I knocked on the speaker’s door. I was greeted by this person holding an open bottle of wine covering his genitals and wearing nothing except a smile on his face.

He invited me in.

As I turned to quickly get back away, he shouted “if you don’t come in and ‘come across,’ I’m not speaking tomorrow.” Obviously I left, yelling back that I was going to tell my boss. I got to my room, quite shaken and eventually fell into a restless sleep.

The next day, I wasn’t as full of self-confidence as I hoped I looked. Once my boss got there, I explained the situation.  He was obviously (imagine if he wasn’t?) on my side. We put a panel in place in case this speaker didn’t show. The speaker did show up but never apologized to me. He never spoke for the organization again.

If this were to happen today, I’d immediate advise security [of the incident that occurred] and ask them to keep an eye on my room. I’d complete an incident report for the hotel and for my employer.

I’d call a meeting very quickly with my boss and ensure security was around the event.

This marks the final story presented here sharing real examples of sexual harassment.

What constitutes harassment was a question on my mind when I traveled, in December, to visit a hospitalized family member. After “one of those days” of awful travel (via O’Hare International Airport, instead of my canceled non-stop flight), I arrived at the hospital, exhausted, during a snow storm, and walked slowly toward the entrance. The valet parking attendant offered a wheelchair. I readily agreed.

He put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed it, and said “You’ll be OK.” I was comforted and appreciative and only later thought “should I be? Is this a type of not asking if it were OK to touch me?” Really! In that setting, when I was in need of the comfort of touch, which is considered healing, I questioned it.

All because of the endless allegations of sexual harassment.

Despite statements from industry associations such as this one from MPI, shared by Meetings Today, and this article, from PCMA Convene, our industry has been remarkably quiet about these issues, until recently.

Update: Here’s another related article published by PCMA Convene.

And then there’s also this, from the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), a statement sent to me with permission to publish after I reached out to them on the issue: “The hotel and lodging industry has made the safety of both employees and guests a top priority. For this reason, our properties have in place safety standards, our employees receive comprehensive and ongoing trainings, and AHLA has partnered with nationally recognized non-profits and developed tailored trainings for the industry.

“As headlines over recent weeks have shown, no industry is immune to dealing with sexual harassment. Our industry has in place procedures and protocols for employees around reporting and prevention, and these are continuously reviewed and updated. As an industry, we will continue our work, day in and day out, with a focus on ensuring America’s hotels are secure places for all those who work and visit them.”

Sexual and other forms of harassment and bullying have been whispered about for as many years as I’ve been in this industry and from what I hear from those older than I, for much longer. More prevalent is sexual and other harassment in the broader hospitality industry of which meetings are a part.

It hadn’t escaped me when, in October, I interviewed Dr. Vivek H. Murthy—the immediate past U.S. Surgeon General—and wrote about the importance of creating welcoming environments at meetings to help curb the loneliness epidemic that clearly, those welcoming environments should be appropriate.

I think the stories I received from a variety of people are the tip of the iceberg. Like with politics, media, and entertainment, and with the publication of allegations against one DMO (aka CVB) CEO [for which we’ve not found updated information since this was published, outside of a refusal by participants of a closed door meeting to comment], one wonders if more allegations will come forth. Or will the fear of job loss, like what the women at Ford Motor Company experienced, keep people from speaking out?

What should happen next? Will your organization, if it hasn’t yet done so, create a code of enforceable conduct in the workplace and for meetings and conferences? Will you report or intervene when you see harassment happening to someone else?

If it happens to you, what will you do—especially if you know your job could be on the line and you can’t afford to lose it? Will there be a demand that such conduct will not be tolerated and if so, what would the consequences be? Will groups ask in their site and vendor selection RFPs about sexual harassment suits or allegations and their settlement and policies, and determine not to book meetings in potentially hostile environments? Will members, staff, or customers who act against policy be terminated?

I know that too few of us were aware of the lawsuit by employees of The Plaza in New York or the housekeeper at the resort in California, both of which were featured, with the women who spoke out, in Time magazine’s “Person of the Year 2017: The Silence Breakers” issue, even though we knew the actions of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and tut-tutted but there was no general outcry then as there is now for people who work in hotels or those of us who plan meeting or market and sell space and services.

Two colleagues, Ben Yalow and Sherry Marts, have offered examples of policies their organizations offer on handling bullying and harassment.

As I finished writing this blog, there are more important developments to note, in particular the @TIMESUPNOW movement because it says its aim is to help those who, like Ford’s line workers and hotel housekeepers, may not have the financial and other resources to support their reporting of abuses.

Read more on the Time’s Up movement in this article from NPR. This article from Harvard Business Review is about why harassment persists and how to stop it. This is about the impact on black women of harassment and reporting it.  And this from the Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary about the fear of job loss in reporting harassment is insightful.

Even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Roberts said courts will examine protections against sexual harassment. There is much to consider when one decides the next steps.

Allegations without actions will change nothing. Read what Sherry Marts and Jessica Pettitt have to say in the January 2018 Friday With Joan sidebar.

Share your story below or if you’d prefer, I promise confidentiality, and I will, if you write to me at FridaywithJoan@aol.com, change any identifiers and post here for others to learn. If your employer or clients have policies to combat harassment in the workplace and especially at meetings or events, please, if permitted, share the links.

We can change the culture if we speak up and act.

Editors’ Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Click here to view additional content in the 01.05.18 Friday With Joan newsletter.​

 

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

 Originally published Meetings Today Blog

Planning for Contingencies: Site Selection to Contracting

Never in my life has writing about contingencies and contracts been so difficult! So many recent events—earthquakes in Mexico, more hurricanes, and just this week, the Las Vegas mass shooting—have occurred since I began drafting this that the situation is almost incomprehensible.

It would be, for me, immoral, not to note the horrors of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Mexico first. Because of the loss of life in a dramatic way, in an “ordinary” (certainly for our industry) setting in Las Vegas, we are currently more focused there. We understandably want to help the loved ones of those who died and those who were injured, of those, including hotel staff, who witnessed the carnage.

Like many of you, I woke the morning of October 2 to the stunning—amazing, isn’t it, that another major act of mass gun violence could be “stunning”?—news of the lone attacker who shot, from the 32nd floor of a major Las Vegas convention hotel, into a concert killing (at last count) 58 and physically injuring or causing the injury of many hundreds. Sadly, it is expected those numbers will increase.

The psychological injuries to many more who were there, who loved those killed or injured, emergency responders, local residents, hotel and concert workers are far greater. Immense thanks to MGM and Mandalay Bay for offering counseling to their employees. Just as I thought about the airport personnel who, on 9/11, let through those who terrorized the world, I can only imagine the pain of front desk, bell and housekeeping staffs who had contact with the shooter and how they might question themselves.

And then there’s those at the concert venue who perhaps never made emergency announcements, such as where to best exit the venue in case of disaster or violence*, because “what could possibly happen?”

Which brings us full circle, back to the original intent of this blog and sidebar: contingency planning—how it begins with destination and site selection, RFPs and the questions asked, negotiations, contracts, and written contingency and emergency plans. These last weeks would test even the best of planners.

My friend and colleague, Tyra Hilliard, Esq., Ph.D., CMP, and I have talked and continue to talk incessantly about these issues. My friend and colleague, Kelly Bagnall, Esq., and I will, on this upcoming Meetings Today webinar, talk critical contract clauses on October 25 at 1 p.m. Eastern time. In an index of Meetings Today blog posts related to risk management and contingency planning, there are many useful items, many of which also make reference to contracts. In July of this year, I wrote about the challenges laws being considered and passed posed for groups when selecting destinations.

No matter how much Kelly, Tyra Hilliard and Josh Grimes (quoted in the sidebar), and others talk about the importance of contracting and planning in other ways for contingencies, we still see how few do.

Rick Werth taught contingency planning at the MPI Institute programs years ago. He taught then, and I still teach, “people first.” Assets can be recovered; people cannot.

Thus, I wondered, first, about those who work in the hotels, restaurants and attractions—initially after Harvey struck and then after each subsequent hurricane and the two earthquakes—who had lost everything, including documentation, clothing, shelter and transportation. How could they go back to work, even if the hotels opened, when they were living temporarily not knowing what comes next?

What about the people of Puerto Rico still waiting for water and power? How can we expect them, in crisis, to serve guests living in comfort?

What support and counseling will hotels provide to their workers who want—no, need—to work but have on their minds all they have to do? I’ve been unable to learn how hotel companies in Houston and surrounding areas, in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and elsewhere, have handled the physical and psychological needs of employees. It’s a question to ask in your RFP because if disaster strikes and your meeting continues, you’ll want to know. If you’re with a hotel or hotel company and reading this, contact me at FridayWithJoan@aol.com and tell me if you want it to be anonymous and I’ll post it.

If you want to discuss this issue openly, please respond in the comments below.

I know that we want, as Tyra notes in her comments in the sidebar of the newsletter, to book or hold meetings where disasters have struck so that the communities can get back on their feet, but what about the health and safety of those affected by disaster who staff, attend and exhibit at our meetings?

Ask questions internally, or if you are a consultant or other third party, of your clients, and ask more in your RFPs. Then if you practice what I say and do for clients, answers should be contracted to ensure the parties don’t wait until the last minute to deal with a crisis or potential crisis or even just to know what the policies and procedures are.

As Diane Ramos, CMP, and her association learned, once you are on-site getting ready for your event and a hurricane is approaching, knowing what steps you must take to keep people safe and the steps that are contractually—or legally—permitted, makes the next steps in contingency planning and action more in line with expectations.

What all should you consider in your contingency plan? What questions should you ask internally and in your RFPs? This is not an inclusive list, but it will hopefully give you some ideas on where to start.

1. Who attends your meetings? Who are your exhibitors? Your off-property service providers?

  • Of those, how many may be full or part time emergency responders? How many may be part of the National Guard or other national or international rescue team? Will they be called to respond to an emergency anywhere in the world and be unable to attend your meeting?
  • Do you work with journalists? Medical personnel? Utility workers? What will their role be in response to an emergency? If they were unable to attend your meeting, what would their inability to attend cost in attrition? Will you be able to negotiate forgiveness into your contract or forgiveness if your meeting continues? What about later on, if not in the contract? And what about forgiveness if you must fully stop your event for reasons of force majeure or because you do not think there is a reasonable way to cancel but attendance is lower due to emergency?

2. Is your company or association one directly or indirectly involved in response or infrastructure to a disaster or a crisis? If they are, what will the ability be for exhibitors and participants to attend?

3. Do participants come from areas where disaster may strike? If they decide to attend, what will you do to ensure they are able to return home quickly and safely, or shelter where the meeting is being held?

[In Las Vegas, some hotels are extending complimentary rooms for families of victims to retrieve their belongings; others are providing rooms at low cost for loved ones of those hospitalized. Several airlines, at least at first, had only waived change fees until a few days after the massacre. I hope that changed].

4. What are the conditions under which the health and safety of participants could be impacted, by say, a chemical spill? By mold from flooding? Will, like after 9/11, loved ones and companies not be willing to put others in harm’s way by attending the meeting? (Read in Diane Ramos’s comments here what they had to consider as Hurricane Irma made its way toward Florida and cancellations they began receiving).

5. What backup power is available at any venue you are using during the course of your event? How has it been tested? For how long can it last? What about water supplies? Food delivery and preparation?

6. Will the venue (especially a convention center as we have seen over and over beginning with Katrina) be a shelter for those displaced locally and for tourists and meeting-goers unable to stay in their hotels?

  • If the venue is an emergency shelter, how soon will it be available to your meeting if your meeting follows a disaster by two or three weeks—or longer—following a disaster?
  • If the venue must still be an emergency shelter following a major disaster, how will it accommodate your meeting and the needs of people who need shelter? Can it do so?

7. What infrastructure issues exist now in the destination? (Recommended: follow the reports from the American Society of Civil Engineers on U.S. infrastructure—which, right now, gets a grade of “D+”).

8. What will be the ability of the destination to respond to emergency infrastructure repair?

[Read more about the current situation in Puerto Rico, as reported by The Atlantic and The Hill, for one of the more tragic examples of the impact a disaster can have on infrastructure not unlike what New Orleans experienced after Hurricane Katrina with the loss of medical and emergency care facilities].

9. In what year was the facility you’re considering built? Is it up to, or beyond, code for any disaster?

10. Assuming there is one available, for what portion of a facility—and for how many days—is a generator serviceable? If the power is out for two, three or more days, what do you plan?

  • How has the generator been serviced? How has it been used in the past and the results?

The list is already getting long, so let’s wind things down with a final burst of questions for venues.

11. What is your backup water supply? For how many days and for how many people are you prepared?

12. If your venue is needed for a shelter, what happens to guests already in house?

13. What are the backup plans to provide food to anyone in the facility?

14. How do you support and protect your employees?

15. If you’ve been through a flood in the last year, what was the cleanup process to ensure mold was eliminated? How can you guarantee that it actually was?

16. If the venue is placed on lockdown or those inside must shelter in place for any reason, what will the procedures be for notification? Has the venue ever dealt with this sort of situation in the past?

17. Where are the closest medical facilities? What are their contingency plans in the event of disaster?

18. Will gasoline be available and in what quantities? Does your facility have its own supply?

19. What are the multiple methods for getting people to and from airports and medical facilities? What about the methods for your staff to get to and from work and home? What if there is no gasoline available or it is rationed? What backup plans are in place for employees in that instance?

  • When will airlines pull flights and personnel? How soon after a disaster will they realistically be able to fly emergency supplies in or people out of the area?

20. What will the change policies be at hotels, resorts, venues, airlines, etc., for people who must/need/want to depart early because a storm is predicted?**

**An exercise—a mini case study or tabletop exercise—I use to teach risk management begins “Two days from the main arrival for your meeting, storms are predicted.” It asks a few simple questions, beginning with “what are your assumptions?” For years, in each group, the assumptions have been that the storms are snow; are not in the area of the meeting; that there will be no problems moving forward. The reality in today’s world of mergers and acquisitions is that airlines are far more cautious with their equipment and crews, and will pull them before disaster strikes in order to avoid catastrophe.

The questions planners should be asking and that hotels and other venues should be prepared to answer are far greater in depth than most ask or consider when it comes to selecting destinations. And here’s the catch-22: in recent days, I’ve received numerous emails to book meetings in Puerto Rico just as I did for Houston because what can help an area recover better than business returning, they ask.

I concur—we need to help those in need get on their feet while we plan (in writing) for the worst. Once a hurricane is predicted, it may be too late to change plans or to move people out of harm’s way or to determine when force majeure kicks in for stopping a meeting or when force majeure can be applied to a meeting that continues but with fewer people because of a prediction of or an actual event.

Help the industry and our colleagues by adding your own questions and thoughts in the comments below. Tell us of your experiences—personal and professional—as you dealt with a crisis.

Only by sharing can we become stronger at contingency planning.

RIGHT NOW! Just as we always say “it couldn’t happen here”, it has—in multiple places in the U.S., Mexico and nearby islands, some U.S. territories, for natural disasters, and in a major convention city, a person-made crisis. If you have contracts in place, go back and ask questions and if appropriate, negotiate and write an addendum to your contracts that cover how contingencies and disasters will be handled. Write the contingency plan you’ve sworn you’d get around to but haven’t. And whether your meeting is in a “disaster prone” area, consider deeply that a disaster can strike anywhere.

Editors’ Note: The views expressed by contributing bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Meetings Today or its parent company.

Additionally, the information provided within the Meetings Today Blog is done so with the understanding that the writers are not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services or advice through the distribution of the content. If expert assistance is required, the services of a professional should be sought and contracted.

*My “forever” gratitude to Debbie Williams who, at the time we met and when I learned from her, worked for Microsoft. She, by example, showed me how to get on a stage in front of thousands and do her “flight attendant routine” of announcing emergency procedures and exits. Christie Hicks, once with Starwood and a past chair of the PCMA Foundation, your words to me as you exited and I entered the stage on the night I was honored by the PCMA Foundation for lifetime achievement as an educator, still stay with me and I swear, I’ll always do emergency announcements even if I’m being honored.

I hope others plan for and begin to do so at every event!

Click here to view additional content in the 10.06.17 Friday With Joan newsletter.

Is Alcohol Needed at Meetings & Events?

Originally published Meetings Today Blog
The stories from Russia about the lives lost to alcohol poisoning (from both vodka and less traditional “beverages”) are devastating but no more so than this article about the how heavy drinking for women has been “normalized” or even romanticized.

I’ve written before about this topic and will continue to talk and write about it because it is a health and a safety issue—for those who consume alcohol, those who are in their paths when they drive and all those who surround them.

It’s an issue of host responsibility and liability when one has a holiday* (office, friends and/or family) party or a meeting or event or invites others to events as suppliers in our industry do. It astounds me that we still consider an event not “festive” enough if alcohol is not served. Given the make up of our industry (believed to be mainly women) you’d think we’d be more careful about wanting to not poison people.

I drink now and then. In my immediate family, alcohol just wasn’t consumed so I never developed a “taste” for it and I’m fortunate to not be an alcoholic, active or in recovery, as so many friends and colleagues are. I’ve always said I’m not “anti” alcohol consumption but after reading the above noted story about women and consumption, I may change my mind.

These guides from MADD and FindLaw cover dram shop laws; another from the Global Gaming Business Magazine provides more information. It’s always best to talk with your organization’s or client’s attorney and those involved in risk management to learn more about you and your organization’s responsibilities for alcohol service.

Laws vary by country. If you’re conducting a meeting or business outside the United States, learn more about customs and laws to ensure safety and protection and appropriate behavior.

Whether it’s New Year’s Eve or an industry event, a family gathering or a meeting you’ve planned, plan responsibly for alcohol consumption and consider if you really need it at all.

*If you’re already looking ahead to next “holiday season,” please try to be inclusive of all: not everyone is permitted to attend parties; not everyone celebrates the same winter holidays; and if you’re decorating in red and green, considered traditional Christmas colors [Hanukkah’s are silver or white and blue; Kwanzaa’s are red, black and green], call it a “Christmas party” since the decor won’t fool anyone!

I wish a safe and healthy new year to each of you. Watch for the Jan. 6 Friday With Joan newsletter for hopes and predictions from me and others in our industry.

Insurance: How Covered Are You and Your Meetings?

Original published Meeting Today Blog 

Insurance: How Covered Are You and Your Meetings?

One of the best lessons I ever learned was from Jeff King, Esq., who, for years, was the attorney for the Convention Liaison (now Industry) Council. In a lawsuit over a client’s cancellation of a meeting—where the client and I, individually, and my company were all sued—we hired Jeff to defend our case. He said, “It doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong, you can still be sued.” –

Because of that, because of others’ research and work in this field, and because of what I observe, I have and will continue write and teach more about meeting and event risk and how to best manage it. No matter how much Tyra Hilliard, others and I teach and write and speak about it, it doesn’t seem that individuals and the industry understand that what we do is risky business*.

Given that there is still not sufficient planning around meeting and event risk, it astounds me when I hear people and groups question whether or not to insure aspects of their meetings and events. There is a belief that if contracts contain the necessary clauses (do yours?) there is no need to have insurance or that certainly whatever the venue has must cover you and your meeting. Here are three resources (the August 2016 edition of Friday With Joan, a free contracts webinar I recently led for Meetings Today, and another free contracts webinar hosted by Tyra Hilliard) that provide plenty of information to consider.

Also consider these “what ifs”:

  • An “Act of God” (force majeure) occurs just before your meeting commences causing any number of participants from arriving and the meeting goes on because you’re there, and key players and others have already arrived. You’ve given your F&B guarantees. You believe that force majeure will no doubt be in effect. It is my understanding that force majeure or “impossibility” clauses cover what happens if the entire meeting is stopped or if the occurrence—say a storm—is in the destination and not en route. What costs might you incur that might be covered if you had insurance?
  • Your main stage speaker is a no-show or (worse or better?!) does not deliver what people expect from what is said and your meeting registration information contains a clause where if people aren’t satisfied, they may ask for a refund of their registration fee. Now what?
  • Someone over-drinks before attending an event that’s part of your meeting and then drinks again—with the drink tickets you thought protected you because you only gave each person two—and injures themselves or others. Who and what is covered for any damages to people and property? In the event of a lawsuit?
  • You or a speaker, exhibitor or entertainer play music for which you didn’t secure music licensing agreements and you’re sued. How will you—either as an in-house planner or third party who made the arrangements—be covered for legal costs?
  • You’re a third party who helped a client select a site that they later cancel. If you work on commission, what now? If as a result of the cancellation, the client is sued as are you for what is believed your role—whether it was booking a site that was, for the meeting, under construction, or didn’t have AEDs and in your RFP you didn’t ask and someone is harmed, or … well, I’m guessing you can fill in the blanks.

Can you, in contracts or with insurance, cover and be protected from all contingencies? I doubt it. Things happen—like laws that are passed in states like North Carolina causing groups to cancel or move their meetings, or the hotel, at the last minute (which could be two weeks for some or the day before for others) changes your meeting space or there’s a strike at an airport causing extreme delays and people turn around and go home versus coming to the meeting or … you fill in the blank.

Yes, there are laws that cover some contingencies. And still, there are costs involved that without insurance may not be able to be restored.

I’m not an insurance expert or a lawyer. All I can do is advise clients and readers and students to learn more about how they, individually, are covered, and by whom in booking and/or executing a meeting or event, and that they investigate with their risk management and legal advisors what they need to cover.

My gratitude to Lou Novick of the Novick Group in Rockville, Md., an insurance broker who knows meetings, for adding his knowledge to the sidebar of this blog. Lastly, this bulletin from Narcotics Anonymous is a good primer on why having liability insurance, including for events, is a good idea.

P.S. Here’s a couple bonus resources that also may be worth your time:

*If you’re in the San Diego area, I’ll be leading a session on identifying risk and developing a contingency plan on Dec. 15 for the Calfornia Society of Association Executive’s (CALSAE’s) f2f meeting. I’ll be leading the discussion via livestream and you must be physically present at the event to participate. Learn more here.

Guest post: 5 Steps to Managing Meetings Risk

Originally published PCMA Convene 
Today’s guest post is by Corin Hirsch, associate editor of Convene.

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.”     crowd_pcma_ny

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.

3. Get 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.”