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If you’re stuck in a jam, today’s talk on event crisis communication is for you! And even if you aren’t, the title says it all – better safe than sorry. Because event planners always have a million things on their minds, thinking about what could go wrong isn’t top of mind. However, we never really know what can happen. Things that are out of our control can easily spiral into disastrous consequences. This is why knowing about event crisis communication is an absolute must.

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On this week’s Whiteboard Wednesday, we have an expert on the matter. Our amazing host Alex Plaxen is here to walk you through how to implement an event crisis communication plan! So, if you were ever unsure of how exactly you should do this and why this is the perfect video for you. Put your seatbelts on, we’re talking crisis communication!

event crisis communication

Better Safe Than Sorry: How To Implement An Event Crisis Communication Plan – Video Transcription

Hello, and welcome to another Whiteboard Wednesday. My name is Alex Plaxen from Little Bird Told Media. And I am excited to talk to you today about how to create a crisis communications plan and implement it. So the first thing we need to do is start with what’s at risk because the reality is most of us don’t have a crisis communications plan and the reason why is because we don’t know what could potentially happen if we don’t. So there are three big things that can happen if you don’t have a plan.

What Could Go Wrong Without An Event Crisis Communication Plan?


The first is misinformation. If you do not have a plan and you are not communicating when there is a crisis, the risk of misinformation goes up astronomically. You’re going to have attendees looking for information and when they can’t find it from you, who is the authority and the source, they’re going to keep looking, because they want that insight, they want that information about what’s happening, how to proceed, what should they be doing next? Should they be concerned? So if you don’t give that to them, they’re going to look elsewhere. And that’s where misinformation gets spread.

Attendee Distress

The second is attendee distress. When they can’t get that information, there have been studies that are done that have proven that when you don’t get that information or when you get misinformation, it can actually lead to long-term distress for the person. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my attendees to be suffering from long-term distress.

Brand Damage

The third, and probably the one that your CEO and your CFO care the most about, is damage to your brand, and your CMO, your marketing person, is not going to be happy if you’re not handling your crisis appropriately. And the reality is everyone needs to be trained. Everyone needs to be part of the process because this is a big thing. This is dollars, right? If you damage your brand, a lot of us, our events are really important to our organization, especially the bottom line. So if you damage your brand, that can ruin your event and the reality is you could lose your job. So if you want to keep your job, you need to have a crisis communications plan. Even if you’re not the one who’s going to implement it, you need to be part of the process, because the reality is no one knows your event better than you.

The Steps To Create An Event Crisis Communication Plan

So what are the three steps to creating a plan? It’s actually fairly easy. The reality is we just don’t do it or haven’t done it. So the three steps are first, audit your vulnerabilities. That’s the foundation of your plan. If you don’t do that first, any creation of a plan is not going to be as effective as it could be, because you don’t know what could potentially go wrong, so you’re not planning for it. Auditing your vulnerabilities is the foundation. The second step is creating a plan, and that’s going to be your house, right? You’re going to create your plan based on your foundation, based on the things that you find out during your audit vulnerability. And the third is the key, knowing your plan. If you don’t have a key to your house, then you can’t live there, right?

The Vulnerability Audit

So you’ve got audit your vulnerability as the foundation, creating a plan as the house, and knowing your plan as the key. I do not want to see your plans sitting in a binder back at the office while you’re onsite at your event. It needs to be readily accessible. And it needs to be able to be sent to anyone who needs to see it, and it needs to be a living document. It needs to change. So knowing your plan is really, really important, and it’s a step that unfortunately we often forget, even though it’s the most important.

So auditing your vulnerabilities is the one that I get the most questions about, so we’re going to do a deeper dive into that. The first step of auditing your vulnerabilities is getting your crisis communications team together. This can be hard. You’re going to have to do some convincing to get everyone in the same room. But it’s really important because you need all these different perspectives when you’re doing your vulnerability audit because different people are going to view different risks. So who’s on your team? You’ve got your CEO or the head of your organization, your top PR exec, so that could be whoever’s in charge of marketing, PR, etc. Legal counsel, this is really important. If you don’t have legal counsel in-house for your organization, make sure that you’re contracting with someone who will help you through this process, because you want to protect yourselves when you’re creating your plan. And lastly, any department heads of your organization, and the reason you want all these people in this room is because when you’re brainstorming the potential crisis that could go wrong, you know your event better than everyone else, but everyone else is going to have different points of views about what could potentially go wrong. So it’s really important to get this team together.


And then the next step is brainstorming crises. So as you’re brainstorming crises, it’s really important to consider all potential risks. We’re talking natural crises, technological, malevolence, so someone who’s intentionally trying to do harm to your event or your organization, you’ve got workplace violence, confrontations. Unfortunately right now when there’s violence and a fight breaks out, the first thing we do is not call the police. We take out our phones and us record video and then it ends up on social media. So you don’t want that. And that’s a potential risk, right? Other crises are sudden crises, something that’s unexpected, so potentially an active shooter situation would be a sudden crisis. You also have a crisis due to rumors, so someone who’s trying to spread false information, and then you’ve also got a smoldering crisis, which is the hardest one to pinpoint as it’s happening because it builds over time. It may start small and eventually get bigger and bigger.

The Matrix

Once you’ve brainstormed your crisis, and start in those categories that will help you brainstorm your crisis, you’re going to then take that list and do a risk assessment matrix. Now, this is really, really easy, but it’s important that you have that whole team there because different people are going to, again, have different perspectives. Your risk assessment matrix is the consequence. So what could go wrong if it does happen and the probability, how likely is this crisis to happen? And you’ve got three areas there for a consequence, is it minor, moderate, or major? For probability, is it unlikely to happen, moderately likely to happen, or highly likely to happen?

So for example, let’s take an active shooter. Hopefully, the likelihood of that happening at your event is low, so unlikely. However, if it were to happen, it would have major consequences. So unlikely with major consequences is medium risk. You may not have to plan directly for that, but at least you know that it has a medium risk. Now, if you’re getting threats of a potential shooter at your event, the likelihood is going to go up. So all of a sudden if it’s highly likely to happen and a major consequence, then it’s going to be an extreme. It’s really important as you get new information to go back to this step and reevaluate potential crises and plan for them.

Another one could be a technological failure. So a mic going out as a keynote’s on stage, moderately likely to happen, right? Things happen. But if it happens, it’s a minor consequence. Again, that would be medium. If you have extremes or high risks, you do want to plan specifically for those. Anything that is medium or low, you shouldn’t have to spend too much time planning because what you’re going to do when it happens is going to be very similar.

Let’s Do It!

The next step, so those are the three steps of auditing your vulnerability. The next step is creating your plan. When you create a plan, you’re going to have four levels. You’re going to have level one crisis, level two, level three, and level four. Anything that’s level four is really, really bad, right? And if you have something that’s extreme, most likely if it were to happen, it would be a level four crisis. So for those incidents, and they’re going to be few and far between, you’re going to want to have a specific plan just for that event or crisis if it happens. However, if they fall into low or medium, they’re probably, if they were to happen, they would probably be a level one or a level two crisis, in which case your response and your plan can be very similar.


So you’re going to want to spend a lot of time figuring out what signs would tell you it’s a level one crisis. Did an attendee tweet about the crisis? Are you hearing it through the rumor mill? Are attendees talking? Do you know that something happened? Did someone report it to you or to staff? That would be level one. Now, level two, maybe it’s a bit more severe, right? Maybe you are very aware of it. Lots of people are talking about it. Maybe everyone at your event is talking about it. So that would be level two verging into level three. Level three is where you’re all of sudden getting media attention, local media attention, typically. All of a sudden your attendees are getting asked about the crisis, about what happened. They’re getting asked their thoughts. Now, level four, typically that’s going to get national media attention. If that were to happen, you’re going to hear about it all across the country.

So there’s little things and little signs that would let you know when you’ve reached a certain level of crisis. You have to have that in your plan so that anyone who knows your plan can immediately decipher are we at level one, level two, level three, or level four? And then they can follow the plan accordingly from there. So at each of those levels, you want to ask yourself the five Ws. What is the crisis? So what’s happening? And then who is your target audience? Who are you trying to communicate with? This is very important. Are you trying to communicate with your attendees? And are you trying to communicate with their families and their friends? Are you trying to communicate to your sponsors and your exhibitors? This is very important about who your target audience is because when you’re crafting your message, you’re going to want to craft your message to target those people.

How To Communicate

Where are you going to communicate? This is important. Are you communicating through push notifications on your app? Are you communicating through social media, email, your website? Is it public? Are you trying to keep it more private? So where are you going to communicate is important. And then when and how often will you communicate? It’s important that you let people know how often you plan to update them. So if you push out a quick holding statement, which is a generic statement that buys you some time, you know, it’s we are aware that something’s happening. We are working through our crisis plan, and we will get back to you with more information within the next 15 minutes. That’s a holding statement. It buys you time, so at least people aren’t looking for information elsewhere, but it’s important to let them know how often you plan to communicate.

And then even if you don’t have more information in say 15 minutes, it’s important that you let them know that you’re still aware, you’re still providing them with updates as they come in, and you’re going to tell them exactly when you plan to communicate next. Or if the issue has resolved, then end it and say for more information, you can reach out to us through our staff shirts, et cetera. Find a staff member and ask them questions. So it doesn’t have to necessarily be online.


And lastly, and this is probably the most important question you’re going to ask, is why would you communicate? If you can’t answer that question of why you would communicate, you probably shouldn’t be communicating right? Knowing when not to say anything at all is one of the hardest parts of crisis communications. I’m going to say that again, knowing when not to say something is the hardest part of crisis communications. But if you ask yourself this question, why would you communicate, that will help you get to that place of do we respond or not? Which takes us to the three Rs, reason, reaction, and response. So each of these three Rs are the steps of the communication process.

The R’s In An Event Crisis Communication Plan

So the first is gathering information to find out what is the reason for this crisis and how are we going to craft our message? So that’s your reason. After your reason and you have all that information, then you can react. That’s when you can start sharing communications. So how are you going to react? If one person is tweeting about something, maybe you want to react through a direct message. If multiple attendees are talking about the incident, then maybe you want to do it more publicly. But your reaction time, that’s that first communication. The third R, which is the response, is monitoring the feedback. How are attendees responding? Are they satisfied? Do they want more information? Or is it kind of, okay, well, thanks for letting us know? That will help you towards the next step of do we continue to respond to this? Do we continue to put out communications about this crisis? So if you go through the three Rs, reason, reaction, response, that will help you craft your messaging.

Event Crisis Communication Plan: Conclusions

So to summarize, what’s at risk, misinformation, attendee distress, damage to your brand. If that doesn’t convince you that you need a crisis communications plan for your event, then I don’t know what will. And then the three steps to actually creating a plan are auditing your vulnerabilities, which is your foundation, creating a plan, which is your house, and knowing your plan, which is the key. Auditing your vulnerabilities, you’re going to get the crisis communications team together. Then you’re going to brainstorm crises. Put them through the risk assessment matrix. Then, as you’re developing your plan, you’ll have four different levels, level one, level two, level three, level four. Those are the types of crises. You’ll let your staff know we’re at a level one crisis, we’re at a level two, etc. And then as you’re crafting your messages, you’re going to ask yourself the five Ws, who, what, where, when, why, and how. And then lastly, the three Rs, reason, reaction, response. This will help you through the process if you can remember those three things.

So that is how you implement a crisis communications plan. This has been this week’s episode of Whiteboard Wednesday. And I want to know from you, do you have a crisis communications plan? Does your team know your plan? Let us know in the comments below, and don’t forget to give us a thumbs up and subscribe for more Whiteboard Wednesdays and more videos from Endless.


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Alex Plaxen

Author Alex Plaxen

Founder of Little Bird Told Media, Alex is an award winning international speaker and digital communication strategist for events and conferences. When he's not scrolling through Instagram, you can find Alex at a Washington Capitals game rocking the red, at the movies, or playing board games with his twin brother.

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