First – I am not a doctor….so I cannot report on the medical side of the threat of corona virus. I can only talk about networking events and the situation they may face in this worldwide threat.
Second – I am concerned about all aspects of this virus and how it will impact the economy. Many people will be impacted from this virus, and in the meetings industry employs many people who we forget about (hotel workers, bartenders, taxi and Uber drivers, wait staff, etc…). If meetings get canceled, many will feel the economic pain.
Third – Live events are important for business, and the meetings industry is a bigger part of the world economy than people realize. And yet, live events bring people together (which is usually good), and human contact will be how this virus is spread. Meetings will still happen, so we need to be safe.
I have been speaking about the power of business relationships and networking at conferences for over a decade. My message is all about how we succeed more when we have a real network (not just virtual likes, links, shares, and follows). Humans are social by nature and most people need some level of human interactions to thrive. There were some who predicted ten years ago that the number of live meetings would stop because of social media, digital streaming, mobile tech, etc… But the meetings industry has grown to record levels in the past few years. People do business with people they know, like, and trust. This is not about likes, links, shares, and follows. It is about real human connection.
But human interaction is how many viruses are spread. Thus we need to think about what to do about live events in the thread of the Corona Virus (or other health scares that will come in the future).
Do we cancel all live events and make everyone stay home? This is neither realistic or prudent at this time. There is not enough known yet about the virus, and while the death rate is as high as 2%, the outbreak is not fully understood yet. Caution is super smart, but reacting too much could shut down the global economy and have long lasting negative results. Government leaders, those who host and plan meetings, and the participants all need to make smart choices.
Should people wear masks? Wearing surgical masks is common in Asia during the flu season. While I have heard some medical personnel say that wearing a mask wont necessarily keep you from catching a virus, but it will slow infected people from spreading the virus. Hand washing is the thing they keep talking about, as we often get a virus on our hand, and then touch our eyes, mouth, nose, etc… I have taken to washing my hands with warm soap and water often. I flew on a plane and immediately went to the restroom after we landed (not to pee, but to wash my hands). Adding a few extra hand washings to your day is a smart idea (I have heard that soap and water is even better than alcohol gel – but if all you have is hand sanitizer, that is good too I think).
Let’s not shake hands. While I do not really talk about the power of a strong handshake in my networking sessions, we all know that is an important part of a first impression. I think in the current situation with the threat of this virus, while at networking events we should skip the handshake and maybe step back from each other a few more inches. Sorry to you “Close Talkers” who invade space and get in tight, now is the time to back off a little.
Monitor your own health. If you are not feeling well, stay home. This should be the standard anyway. Many who feel sick will pop a DayQuill and muscle through, but it is not fair to others (even in the regular cold and flu season). The downsize is that reports show people can be contagious with Corona Virus even before they show any symptoms, but now is the time to be aware of your body and take actions to not infect others.
Think about what you touch. Buffet line serving spoons, white board markers, glassware and pitchers, salt shakers, hand rails on stairs, doors, elevator buttons, etc… We touch many things at networking events that have been touched by dozens or hundreds of other people. Be aware. Maybe have a handkerchief of something to avoid your fingers directly touching areas where many others have left germs. (will this bring back the handkerchief market?).
Airplanes are a problem. I fly a lot, and while I rarely get sick, when I do it is often days after sitting near someone who was coughing and sneezing. The air is trapped and recirculated, and we touch arm rests, seat belts, tray tables, etc… Even if a sick person is not on your flight, the person on the last flight (in your seat) could have had some kind of bug that lingers after they depart the plane. Wipe down your area with a disinfectant as soon as you board. It might help. I am now traveling with a packet of wipes.
Stay healthy. What you eat and drink directly impacts your immune system. Think about eating more healthy foods, cutting back on drinking alcohol, sleep 8 hours, and getting some regular exercise. All these things can help boost your natural defense to disease. Being unhealthy raises your chances of getting sick if exposed to a virus.
Monitor the problem. The CDC and WHO are daily updating their websites with information of the Corona Virus. Additionally the ASAE, MPI, PCMA and other meetings industry associations are sharing the latest info in regards to meetings.
Plan B for Meeting Planners. If your even is being held in an area where there are real concerns about the Corona Virus, or if your attendees are flying in from parts of the world where there is a hot spot, you have to be thinking about what to do. I chatted today with a client who may offer a virtual option for their event, and while I will be on site for my keynote, they asked me if I would EmCee the live broadcast for any participants who cannot make it to the conference. I have a Zoom account, and we are going to use that to help people stay connected to the conference.
The world of meetings is important, and live gatherings will continue. People will gather in places with others (or where others have been). We cannot hide. Bubbles will not exist. We need not be scared of all human interaction, but we do need to be aware of the ways infectious disease is spread and take charge of limiting the risk of giving or getting a virus.
I am attending and speaking at several events in the next two months. As a speaker and master of ceremonies it is my job to set the tone for betting networking and human engagement, and I have to be aware of the Corona Virus (and any other threats to the well being of people). If you have some other ideas of ways people can stay safe when out in public, please let me know. I am looking for input from people smarter than me!!
Thom Singer is a keynote speaker and corporate master of ceremonies. As a speaker or EmCee he combines a robust mix of actionable content with a high-energy delivery style. He is the author of twelve books on the power of business relationships, networking, presentations skills, legal marketing, and entrepreneurship. He is also the host of the popular “Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do Podcast”. Thom inspires audiences to move beyond the superficial connections of “likes”, “links”, “shares “ and “follows” in our social media crazy world and re-embrace the long-term and mutually beneficial relationships that lead to more business.