Making Speakers an Extension of Your Crisis Management TeamFebruary 1, 2018

February 1, 2018

Making Speakers an Extension of Your Crisis Management Team

Gardner,Deborah-Speaker-110x140Deborah Gardner, CMP is a swimming champion, longtime hospitality veteran, ambassador to Meetings Mean Business, author and performance expert who presents to hundreds of companies and organizations worldwide. Better known as the PIT BULL IN A SKIRT by many Fortune 500 companies, Deborah helps to transform her audiences, personal and business, when servicing customers, selling, negotiating or leading. To reach her, visit

Imagine! You were working on your upcoming meeting or convention, and you wanted to do something really creative for the opening dinner event. After all, your attendees have seen and experienced almost everything. You and your team decided on a circus theme that had colorful tablecloths, cotton candy as the centerpiece, clowns walking around, an acrobat on the stage, a popcorn machine in one corner of the room and even a baby elephant for photo ops in the other corner with circus-themed music playing throughout the entire ballroom. The company stakeholders and your boss were there with everyone enjoying the festivities.

That is, until it was time to serve dessert. The wait staff was clearing trays full of dishware and glassware, when one server slipped and fell as he stepped from the ballroom carpet to the back-of-the-house tile floor. His tray with all the dishes and glasses came crashing down to the floor, spooking everyone on that side of the ballroom — including the baby elephant, whose wobbly rear legs gave way as he reared up, then fell over and died! Talk about the elephant in the room!

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Whew! I’m glad that wasn’t my meeting or conference. But, what if it was? What would you do? How do you help the attendees through this unexpected ordeal? Would you know how to handle a dead elephant situation?

Having a Risk Management Plan Is Not Enough

Planners have their hands full on many fronts, especially safety and security considerations, which rank at the top of everyone’s list nowadays. Whether it’s a terrorist attack, a fire, weather event or bizarre meeting mishap — like an elephant passing away — a crisis can happen any time, any day.

So, is having a risk management plan going to adequately manage these situations? NO! There is more work to be done from everyone.

Recently, MPI shared a study from the University of Southern Mississippi National Center for Spectator Sports Safety & Security (NCS4) that showed regardless of the disruption, whether it’s an active shooter, a fire alarm or some other crisis, the results are the same:

  • 10 percent of people will be very active and help others to an exit door.
  • 80 percent of people will sit in their seats until you say something.
  • And, 10 percent of people won’t move even when you tell them to, probably because they are loading their laptops.

What Would Your Speaker Do?

As the professional speaker who was hired to conduct the opening keynote program before that circus-themed dinner event, I reflected on this devastating situation. What if this incident happened while I was delivering my speech? What would I do or say to the attendees? After all, I’m most likely holding the microphone.

So, what does this mean to the future of meetings? Meeting and event professionals along with their organizations must have the conversation with all those involved to create a safe meeting environment.

While speakers are in the room or up on the stage, sometimes you or the crisis team may not be available. This is where speakers come in…to be part of the plan. Include them as an extended part of your team.

Here Are Three Ideas

1.  Share your risk management contingency plan. Are there any concerns at the meeting destination or venue? What should speakers know about the area that could be a potential risk? Let them know what to review upon arrival at the venue, onsite. Familiarize them with the venue assembly points, first-aid locations and exit doors in case they have to give emergency instructions from the stage. I witnessed firsthand an unfortunate situation while viewing a speaker friend’s program. Right in the middle of her speech, the fire alarm went off and she froze! Everyone froze! What took (a very long) few seconds, the meeting professional had to come from the back of the room to the stage in order to give the audience instructions. If there had been a fire and the NCS4 results hold true, many people could have been seriously injured or could have died.

2.  Provide your terminology list. It’s important for your speakers to know the safety and security language. Terms such as emergency action plan, neutralized, shelter in place, all clear or means of escape are important if a crisis happens. If a speaker doesn’t know a particular code or word, it can delay help during an emergency situation. Show them where your command center is as well. After all, there should be a designated area for every meeting — right?

A valuable skill that speakers can put into practice in an emergency is cardiopulmonary resuscitation, better known as CPR. A cardiopulmonary resuscitation certification is a lifesaving technique useful in many emergencies, including heart attacks. The view a speaker has from the stage can be very helpful. For example, if one of your attendees starts choking on a piece of bacon during a breakfast meal, what can your speaker do to help? A speaker who is CPR-certified can immediately jump into action. The best part is, anyone can receive their CPR with an online training course, which can be found at or Suggest that your speakers become CPR-certified.

3. Help speakers stay current on potential risks. Hurricanes and active shooters are not the only security threats these days. Potential threats we are seeing in the industry include drone privacy, destination marijuana laws and an even bigger concern — Human Sex Trafficking (HST). Since illlicit sexual behavior most commonly happens in hotels, internet trolls look for meetings or conferences that help distract from what they are doing.

And, when something like this happens, the last thing a meeting or event professional wants is to have their event associated with it in any way. So, what can your speakers do to help you report potential HST?

  • Be aware of your surroundings. If your speaker uses an elevator and sees girls or boys not acting quite normally, like giggling, not looking at cellphones, not talking, are dressed the same or maybe holding money or their wallets tightly, report it or call 911.
  • Use the TraffickCam app. This app (, allows your speakers to take pictures of their guest room for investigators to use help find victims of trafficking who are being advertised online by comparing the guest room backdrop. At this time, the developer’s database contains more than 254,000 hotel rooms in every major metropolitan area of the U.S.

Safety and security is an ever more serious issue in the meetings industry, and as such, the roles of meeting and event professionals have changed. And now, speakers’ roles have to change as well. Today’s speakers must be equipped to not only impact the lives of audiences but to save them as well. Failing to include speakers in crisis planning is a lost opportunity that easily can be managed when leveraging relationships. In times of crisis, the worst thing in the world would be to have a speaker go silent from the stage when lifesaving words and actions would have made all the difference. C&IT

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