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From Crisis to Opportunity: Why You Need an Event Strategy Now More Than Ever

The hiatus caused by the pandemic represents an opportunity to finally develop an event strategy that will help you navigate the current crisis and better prepare for the next.

Coronavirus and Meetings
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The pandemic crisis has had a devastating impact on the meetings industry. No one has escaped unscathed and the repercussions will likely last for years.

When written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters. One represents danger; the other represents opportunity.

When faced with a crisis, you have three options: Do nothing, make incremental change or embrace exponential change.

Logic dictates that the greater the crisis, the greater the disruption to public safety, economic activity or social norms (aka the greater the need for change). That, however, is not how our industry has responded in times of crisis.

Here are some recent examples:

  • There have been a number of epidemics and pandemics in our lifetime, the most recent in 2009 (H1N1).
  • The Great Recession of 2008 is an example of tremendous economic upheaval.
  • The outright fear and ambivalence toward online events paralyzed the industry for years and has contributed to a new crisis of our own making that’s caught us flat-footed. The desperate rush to put content online only compounds the problem.

In these cases and others, what was the industry response? What plans were put in place since 2009 to prepare for the pandemic that’s unfolding today? What plans were put in place since 2008 to prepare for the next economic crisis, like the one that’s upon us now? Why are our events struggling to enter the digital world that other industries so willingly embraced over a decade ago?

The fact is that very few plans resulted from these earlier crises. Why? Because we’ve always been more of a reactive industry than a proactive one. There are plenty of other examples besides the last pandemic or the last economic meltdown that prove that.

But more importantly, you can’t plan your way out of a crisis. An event plan works well if you’re pretty much doing the same thing over and over again. But times of crisis call for a more strategic approach.

Strategy is about looking toward the future. Strategy assumes you’ve assessed your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, and developed strategies along with specific plans that align with these. 

Strategy precedes planning because it informs and guides the details of your plan, and can better position you for recovery. It is a framework for making decisions that outlines how a business will succeed and the best way to get from here to there. Now more than ever, in a time of real crisis, the value of strategy is far greater than the value of planning.

This crisis represents an opportunity to finally develop an event strategy that will help you navigate the current crisis and better prepare for the next, provided you act now and act boldly.

Your event strategy has to address the exponential change taking place today and the exponential consequences for the future. It should address your current weaknesses and strengths, and prepare for potential opportunities and threats. It must be proactive, detailed and forward-thinking. 

This is not a time to stick your head in the sand and wait for the crisis to pass, as many have done in the past. This is also not the time for incremental change, though many will try to get away with that. It won’t be enough.

Do you and your organization have what it takes to strategize your way out of this crisis? If not, you may not be around for the next one. There is no time to waste.

John Nawn is the co-founder and chief strategist for The Event Strategy Network, a diverse group of trusted advisors dedicated to unleashing the full business potential of events.