COVID-19 is unprecedented, but the event industry has faced
—and overcome—other crises with resilience and persistence.
September 11. Hurricane Katrina. The Great Recession. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill. COVID-19. As a hospitality industry veteran based in New Orleans, Jeff O’Hara has become an “accidental expert” in leading businesses through times of catastrophe. The president of destination management company PRA New Orleans, O’Hara is author of Have Fun, Fight Back, and Keep the Party Going: Lessons from a New Orleans Entrepreneur’s Journey to the Inc. 5000 (Greenleaf, December 2018).
In early April, O’Hara teamed up with leadership expert Thom Singer, keynote speaker at IFAI Expo 2019, for a “virtual talk show” webinar for IFAI members on resilience and persistence.
“Resilience is important for all of us who are in business, no matter what our role is, no matter how big our company,” Singer says. “We’re going to need that entrepreneurial muscle to come out, because once we get past the virus, we’re then going to have to fight our way out of this economic situation.”
How do you develop resilience? Here are six tips O’Hara and Singer discussed with webinar participants.
1. Learn to compartmentalize.
One of the biggest frustrations for business owners during a crisis like COVID-19 is that the events that are threatening their business are out of their control and have no relation to how well the business is run. “Rather than trying to solve all of the world’s problems today, try to compartmentalize so that you can make progress toward the thing that you can impact today,” O’Hara says. “That makes you feel like you are doing something as opposed to worrying about all the other things you can’t solve.”
2. Be prepared to experience stages of crisis realization. Entrepreneurs are inherently optimistic, O’Hara says, but that optimism means that they might not react as quickly as others to a crisis that developed like COVID-19 did. Instead, they tend to believe everything will work out. (On the plus side, they are less likely to panic and make bad decisions, he says.)
3. Be confident that you will find a solution. Uncertainty is to be expected, especially as a crisis quickly unfolds. “You don’t have all the answers, but you have to have confidence in yourself that you will find the answers,” O’Hara says. “The first way for me to sort of drive through the uncertainty is knowing that even though I don’t have the answers in front of me, I’m confident that I’ll find one that will get us through this. It’s not just for yourself, it’s for all your stakeholders as well. Your supply chain—they’ve got to feel comfortable that you are still going to be there buying their products and paying for their products three months, six months down the road.”
4. Fight fear. O’Hara says that fear is the sister of uncertainty. “Here’s the reality of it. You are either going to fail or you are not. It’s one of two outcomes. Either way, worrying about it doesn’t solve it. The outcome is going to be the same,” he says. “Having that fear stops you from taking the risks you need to take to get through the situation.”
5. Stay in frequent communication with your stakeholders. Singer noted that while we are physically distancing, we need to be socially tightening—communicating with employees, customers and supply chain vendors. Even commenting on and sharing the social media posts of others helps. “People will remember who helped share their information rather than people who just said, ‘look at me,’” Singer says.
O’Hara shared a story about getting on the road and visiting customers during the Great Recession. “We said, ‘Look, we know you don’t have any business right now, we just wanted to come in and say hello and share some time with you.’ They appreciated the company, and we were able to capitalize on that. When the market started coming back, we were a couple of years ahead of our competition. Look around for advantages like that.”
6. Take advantage of downtime to make your business stronger. What can you do now that you don’t have time to do when your business is operating at full throttle? O’Hara says his company is spending this time upgrading its marketing, presentations and proposal formats and taking advantage of educational opportunities.
Singer has committed to “talking to one smart person every day” to share ideas. “Most of these people are acquaintances or friends. And I’m asking them what’s going on, what do they see? I’ve tried to share ideas, if they’re seeking input. But my last question to everybody is, What do you think I should do?”
7. Develop your “resilience badge.” “It’s individual for everybody,” O’Hara says. “For me, it’s knowing that I’m going to have a solution, no matter what that solution is. It’s being persistent enough to get there. It’s making sure that the people around you believe in you from the time before the crisis and now. It’s how you communicate with your stakeholders. It really shows people that they can believe in you, and if people believe in you, good things will happen.
“You also have to have a fair amount of chutzpah. You’ve got to be able to look at some bad situations and say, ‘I’m not backing down from this. Failure is not an option. We’re going to have to find a way to get through this.’ That just comes from within, and that’s what drives me. Knowing that I can stand up to anything.”