Our special series, ExpertConnexions continues. As we face new challenges from Coronavirus, our team at mConnexions is highlighting services available to help our community.

In this virtual chat, Ashlee Willis, Founder, Director, CEO at Michigan Premier Events talks about what to do next with your company event that has been postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19.

Ashlee Willis works with private, non-profit and corporate clients. She plans a wide array of events and will talk about what to do next with your company event that has been postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19.

Transcript:

Julie: Continuation of this series called expert connexions. I am Julie Holton, I am the founder and principal strategist of mConnexions marketing agency. We are an agency that works with a variety of clients of all sizes, all of whom are feeling the impact right now of coronavirus and COVID-19. Because of this we have launched this special series called expert connexions, so that we can help put our client, our community members in touch with the information and resources that they’re looking for right now. So we are so glad you’re joining us. We’ve had thousands of people joining us since the series started on Sunday. We see you, we hear you, we are all in this together, even though the technical glitches we’ve experienced. So far we’ve talked to a professional biohazard cleaning expert from PuroClean of mid-Michigan, a health and wellness expert about our own personal health and well-being, the business organizational expert from our own team at mConnexions about working from home, Yesterday we talked to a community activist about what’s being done in Lansing, how businesses are teaming up to help those especially those who need food right now. Today we want to talk about businesses. Events and conferences being canceled or postponed and so joining me live today to talk about all of this is Ashlee Willis, the founder director and CEO at Michigan premier event. Ashlee I know you’ve been really busy so thank you so much for joining us today.

Ashlee: Absolutely thanks for having me.

Julie: Absolutely so I want to just take a quick moment. Those of you who are joining us give us a thumbs up so we know you can hear us. Hopefully none of us drop off this live today. We’re dealing with the technical you know working from home and you can see Ashlee is there in her home, I’m here in mine. Give us a thumbs up, let us know you can hear us and during the conversation any questions or comments you have we will be talking with you throughout this virtual chat. So Ashlee I know you’ve been really busy. You work with private, nonprofit, and corporate clients. You work on a wide variety of events both large and small, so tell us first I’m sure you’ve just your phone’s been ringing as events have been changing and a lot of uncertainty about how long this will last and what’s to come. So why don’t you first just walk us through what’s been happening in your world and what you’ve been telling your clients.

Ashlee: So thanks Julie for having me, There’s a lot of people at springtime are getting to be spring and people are wanting to have a lot of their March events coming up, April events coming up, May events coming up and with the seal the coronavirus happening, I know a lot of clients right now are just kind of in that panic mode of do I continue on with my meetings, do I continue on with my conference that’s coming up, do I continue on with you know the events that are coming up and right now with everybody you know having to be inside you know I’m giving them the best advice and that’s you know taking precautionary measures. You know when we’re having these events we have to think about not just our event as a whole, but the attendees. We have to think about the venues, we have to think about the vendors, who are all involved and we have to make sure that everybody you know is taking precautionary measures. So one of the best things I’m proposing to on clients and those who are clients are reaching out for advice is to postpone your event. This just really allows you to move forward with the event because everyone’s looking forward to that events meeting or conference but postponing really right now is the best bet to do because it allows you to take some time to strategize before that event comes up as we are getting through this time right now.

Julie: Absolutely and that’s what we’re hearing too. Ashlee I’m so glad you said that. Postponing instead of cancelling. I know a lot of nonprofits a lot a lot of nonprofit depend on these events for their main source of funding. A lot of associations and so certainly this has been a very tough time. Making these decisions has been extremely taxing on everyone. I think we can all kind of take a beat and postpone and then re-evaluate it as time goes on. That’s gonna be the best decision in the long run. Especially even for the venues. I mean there are so many so many businesses that are impacted by this. Of course the nonprofits and the companies that had these events on the books. Of course many of us were looking forward to attending these events so there’s that business side as well as the personal side but then we have all of the all of the venues all of vendors as you said and they’re having to make those tough decisions too about weighing safety versus commitment to their clients and that’s gotta be really hard. Can you talk about that Ashlee about kind of the behind the scenes look at what’s going into making those decisions?

Ashlee: Absolutely it really all starts out to where you’re hosting the event. Where is your event taking place and talking to the venues? I know venues right now are at a time where they’re really structuring internally with their staff, their faculty about the precautionary measures they’re taking to making sure their place that people are hosting events at that are one, that are safe clean being deep cleaning right now because I know a lot of venues right now have closed down just for this sake of this coronavirus that’s going on. So it really starts out with the venues and having those conversations now with the venues so that way you guys you know as the collaboration with venues that making sure that moving forward we’re postponing the event or you know having the event at a different time. Everybody is kind of all in agreeance because really it comes down to the contracts that are being involved too with different vendors. Looking over those contracts and seeing what was in the contracts and really both parties really know what’s going on and you know really taking advantage right now of having those conversations.

Julie: Absolutely so Ashlee we have a question here from Terry who is asking can’t people do things like this in this Facebook live to keep things going? Yes, Harry we love that idea. I know our team at mConnexions is working with clients and others in the community to help coordinate some of these virtual meetings. Virtual Conferences, very early on we saw a lot of the tech conferences. Adobe, Facebook and others so, first of all, I think we may see that as time goes on so that we keep people connected. Ashlee are you seeing any trends like that of things going virtual?

Ashlee: Absolutely especially with meetings right now a lot of people are taking advantage of the web conferences and the conference calls and also with events if you’re having a small event you know with attendees utilize the virtual platforms that are out there right now. There’s a lot of them out there right now that people could really utilize and just keep that momentum of their event program conference or meeting going. This is the time really to utilize it.

Ashlee: Absolutely um I know our team has been kind of joking well like let’s hope the Wi-Fi doesn’t go out because that’s how we work anyway but absolutely I think — As you’re are switching from a different platform or a platform it’s really important to make sure you kind of you know contact your attendees and everybody all the stakeholders that are involved and just let them know that transition, you know now it’s going to be a virtual and people will understand that and right now people will probably take advantage of and enjoy that engagement with us all you know being confined in our homes. Absolutely get a break from the kids, get a break from the spouses, and just feel connected to the community we’re social people right? I know it’s been helpful I know for me personally we’ve been this morning our mConnexions call we talked about creating a virtual happy hour and virtual coffee break and so things like that and certainly we can we can take that to scale for a large events and help to still connect people. So your team I know is working on that Ashlee, our team can help. Stephanie says Wi-Fi issues lol we know WI-FI issues all too well from prior to this. Certainly we don’t want to make light of what’s happening but as humans we tend to do that and so we’re calling those issues you know your computer got a coronavirus. The little things you can to do keep moving. This is the time to take advantage of businesses that can assist with this. There’s a lot of video videographers that are reaching out. They can help with these type of meetings. I know your company can help out with meetings. So this is really the time to utilize the businesses out there that could really help fulfill those events, programs, and meetings for companies. This is the time when we’re at have to come together take all of our resources and strategize how our business community can really make an impact you know helping each other out.

Julie: Absolutely and Ashlee I know you and I have both been taking note of all of the businesses that are offering pro bono services right now. I mean certainly and this is something that is not expected but it’s greatly appreciated. So there are a lot of virtual webinars right now on how to use virtual meetings, how to set up a call or Google meet. I know that UnoDeuce Multimedia is offering special rates right now for those that need to communicate through videos to their constituents or to even their internal staff. Video messaging is a great way to be able to raise awareness of what you’re going through and relate it back to your audience. So kudos to all of these businesses that are stepping up in and I know Ashlee you’ve been taking a lot of calls and helping people that are not necessarily clients but certainly community members and so thank you for all that you’re doing to give back as well. mm-hmm Absolutely, anything that can help sustain businesses I mean that’s where we all have to come together and work as a team. All right so Dave has a pretty technical question. Dave wants to know how does doing a conference work? What platforms are people using for small conferences like 300 people? Is it a main broadcaster host that can switch speakers based on the agenda? Dave I can tell you it definitely depends on – there are a lot of factors. It depends on your audience, it depends on the technical skill of your team and whether your able to hire a company to come in and do this. Certainly a lot of moving parts and pieces there. Yes, there are broadcast platforms that can accommodate this that allow people to tune in for a conference and switch between speakers or just tune in once and then it’s kind of a set and they’re ready to go. So certainly these options are available. Ashlee I’ll let you jump in if there’s anything you want to add to this.

Ashlee: Yeah the first thing that you really need to do is figure out what does your team really need to have a successful meeting. What do you have an agenda, do you have documents? There’s a lot of platforms out there that will allow you to utilize these items that you need to have for your meeting. So the first step really is understanding what does it take for you to have a successful meeting. You know if it’s with three people maybe it’s just a conference call if you’re having 10 or more there’s platforms out there that could utilize a lot of attendees and then will also allow you to utilize online documents. So as you’re talking as a host you can utilize your online documents and you can successfully talk to your team as if you were actually in a conference room. so that’s really the first step and then making sure as you’re looking through these different platforms there’s a lot of free ones that you can use and a lot of the platforms are actually taking of advantage and saying hey this is a free trial or extending that free trial because they know right now businesses are needing to use these types of services.

Julie: Absolutely and you know we also want to bring it back to basics too. I mean send out a memo send out an email to your staff letting them know what you know enter a meeting on mute. How to you know some of those basics that maybe you haven’t been using every day but will help you to greatly reduce some of that stress and frustration of even being able to navigate these platforms. And these platforms to allow you to have fun because right now there’s a frustration point of course with you know having these meetings but these web conferences allow you to really have fun and be engaged with your team here and making the meetings a lot fun.

Julie: Absolutely, absolutely. Especially I mean I know it’s only it’s not even noon yet here on the East Coast but I am looking forward to a virtual happy hour already, I’m sure we can all use a break of some sort throughout the day. Dave has another question how can we leverage the platform’s being digital to improve the value prop versus in person? Dave I think the first answer to that is the fact that right now you know we laugh, we you know you talk about the stress and anxiety but the reality is that right now we have to be safe and we have to follow these guidelines and instructions because something very serious is happening you know outside our doors and so it’s very important for us to be self-isolating at home with our families. Making those trips out of the home very minimal at this point. Of course, the governor of Michigan, for example, has already signed an executive order limiting the size of gatherings to lower than 50. We’ve seen restaurants and bars close. Things like that, safety measures that are going into place across the country and we’ve seen other countries that have that have actually imposed full quarantines where people are not allowed to leave their homes except for very certain reasons. So yes of course and in the backdrop of all of this which is actually the point of all of this is something very serious happening that we need to be aware of. So the first value prop the value proposition is Davis asking is that we’re all staying safe. We’re all staying healthy, we’re stopping you know we’re flattening the curve, we’re stopping the spread of this disease and are doing the part that we need to do and so I think first and foremost getting that messaging out that you are doing your part as an individual as a corporation, as a nonprofit that you’re keeping the communities safe, you’re working to keep for your staff and your constituents safe. So first and foremost you know while all of this is still happening that’s gonna be the biggest value that you’re bringing to your audience and Ashlee I’ll let you jump in because I know there’s a lot of other things you know as businesses or nonprofits organizations are moving towards the digital conferences and events there’s a lot of value that they can still provide to their members.

Ashlee: Yeah absolutely. one of the things is utilizing your social media. Being that communication piece to your attendees. Letting them know that you are either gonna postpone the event or have the event in digital. Giving them that type of information and being really engaged with your audience is really one of the most important things. Your audience is really going to be you know considerate of what’s going on and they’re thinking to themselves is what are you going to do with this event? Am I going to be safe if you have the event? What are the precautions there and so just staying in communication with your attendees is one of the most important things and how you’re putting your communication out there and another thing to think about too is what does your event look like after this happens? After this you know kind of goes down. You know still taking those precautionary measures still having when you have an in-person event. Those are the kind of things to strategize too as this hope you know will simmer down hopefully quickly and we can start having you know events person-to-person but those are the things in the meantime to is to strategize because things are going to be looking different now and people are going to have a different perspective of things and we want to make sure that once we can have our events you know going fully person to person we have strategies in place to making sure attendees know that they’re gonna be safe. Maybe we can start now having sanitation stations actually at events now. We can have signs that say you know it’s important to wash your hands, it’s important to when you sneeze and cough cover your mouth. You know having those kind of things now is something that we need to really be strategizing as we’re moving our events forward you know four, six months later from here.

Julie: Absolutely, really great tips there Ashlee. Is there anything else you want to add anything else that is important in your world that you really think people should know about right now or consider as they’re making some of these decisions?

Ashlee: Absolutely at a financial component I know people are really going to be you know they’re gonna start panicking a little bit you know when it comes to the financial component to events because I know with events this could be a revenue source for your company for your organization and right now is a great time to really strategize what a back-up plan could be if attendees were to refund during your postpone. Having a back-up plan and strategizing that internally with your team is really important to do now so that way when things do come up we you know you are prepared for that and just looking over you know with the vendors and the contracts really this is the time to be communicating with them and strategizing a plan for your events your postponing rescheduling you know six to four-six months or whenever you’re postponing it. Those are the things that need to be happening now that could be really critical to your event later on as you reschedule that, but the most important thing is stay engaged with your attendees, stay engaged with your vendors, your venues. Those are the most important things as long as you’re communicating and have a full understanding of what could happen next those are the key things to really be focusing on and also have that conversation with your venues as if you once you rescheduled if you have to postpone again. Those are some questions you really want to talk to your venues about to because your venues they have an understanding they want to keep your business just like you want to have your business so those are the key components to do right now to really think about.

Julie: Absolutely, big ripple effect here with these events and certainly as you’re strategizing or as you’re making these decisions I would recommend reaching out to Ashlee and her team at Michigan premier events because Ashlee this has been very helpful and I know you’ve got a lot going on as so thank you for lending your expertise here. Ashlee, what’s the best way for people to reach you if they want if they have more questions or if they want to connect with you?

Ashlee: Yeah reach me through email at info@Michiganpremierevents.com you can also go to the website at Michiganpremierevents.com. Also we are working on creating some really cool PDF’s for businesses and organizations to utilize and have during their meetings and then also we’re going to have some really cool tips for companies to use for you know as they’re strategizing putting together or you know postponing and rescheduling their events. So a lot of educational components for everyone.

Julie: Awesome, I look forward to sharing those out through mConnexions and certainly jump over and like Michigan premier events on Facebook so you can stay in the know on that and get that information when it comes out. Ashlee thank you so much. We have more experts we’re gonna be talking to like Ashlee as the week goes on. Coming up this afternoon in just an hour and a half at one o’clock Eastern, Shari pash who is a business development consultant she’s offering a free webinar next week so already taking some of these tips that Ashlee’s been talking about and putting them to play. A free webinar about how to continue making these networking connections now that events have been cancelled, so how do we do that virtually? So she’s going to join us this afternoon, very timely to hear from her and have her talk about all of this. So Ashlee thank you so much and we will see you all back here this afternoon at one o’clock.

Ashlee: Thank you.