I live in Austin, TX and as of right now the 2020 SXSW Festival is still planning to happen. Live events are part of our world. People gather for any number of reasons, but throughout history people have convened. If your event is going forward in the face of Coronavirus, that is neither good or bad.  It is what it is. Many people who do not have a scientific background are calling for the cancellation of live gathering, just to be safe.  But there is more involved than staying home. Millions of people rely on their jobs, and people have no idea how many people work to support conference. I am not saying we should not take drastic action for public health, but we need to have the facts before we make decisions that will throw people into poverty. Last year 34,000 people in the United States died from the flu.  Events went forward.  But this virus is seemingly more communicable with a higher death rate. I have a few Coronavirus tips for conferences when the event goes on.

First, I am not a doctor. We need to pay attention the the real advice being given by healthcare providers and infectious disease experts. Misinformation is being spread across the world via social media.  The fake reports are spreading faster than the virus itself. It is an “Info-demic” and it can create problems. This makes it harder for everyone to be safe and will create financial hardships across industries.

Currently there is a lot of media hype and fear, and while I am have no scientific training, it is clear we are not yet in a full pandemic. I am personally trying not to panic.  I fly a lot and attend conferences weekly.  Most people recover from Coronavirus.  And we do not know what this virus will do, but SARS, Swine Flu, and other viruses got a lot of media attention and did not end up spreading to large levels. Until we have more information we need to try to support people who are suffering with the health and financial issues.

My Coronavirus tips for conferences are not unique. I think both meeting organizers and participants need to be aware of how the virus is spread, and take precautions to stay healthy and not spread the illness.  As a society we need to be smart.  Live events and conferences are a part of life, and we cannot and should not cancel everything. But we have to stay safe out there – AND NOT SPREAD FALSE FEARS.  I am trying to read as much as I can and sort out the facts from the hype.

Coronavirus Tips for Conferences

  1. Communicate with attendees.  Let people know the latest information from the government and WHO. The CDC has a lot of information on their website. Let your participants know what steps you are taking to keep people safe (add lots of hand sanatizer, put in a ‘no handshake” policy, discourage hugs and kisses, encourage social distance (sorry close-talkers), etc…).
  2. Monitor the meetings industry information. ASAE, PCMA, MPI and other meeting industry organizations are updating their websites daily with information. Rely on facts not hype and media attention.
  3. Work with venue to disinfect all surfaces a few times a day.  Include microphones.
  4. Create a hybrid option for people who cannot attend. Some companies are locking down travel for employees, so work with them to provide value. But if you do this, be sure to have a live broadcast host and a plan. Simply streaming content is not enough to create an experience
  5. Be respectful of people who are scared.

Coronavirus Tips For Conference Attendees

  1. Wash your hands and try not to touch your face (this is harder than you think).
  2. If you are sick, stay home.
  3. Keep your immune system strong: get plenty of sleep, drink less alcohol, eat right, exercise, meditate, take vitamin C, etc…

The Event Goes On

For the time being, we are not in full lock down and many of you will either attend live meetings or go out to public events (movies, sporting events, restaurants, etc…).  As organizers for events, follow all the advice on Coronavirus tips for conferences: Stay healthy, be smart, do not panic, avoid fake news (remember, news outlets and politicians often have agendas of their own, so get good at researching what is really happening), and communicate with everyone.


Thom Singer is a keynote speaker and professional master of ceremonies / EmCee. He works with meeting organizers to help create better experiences and helping people make meaningful connections and meet their potential.