How Associations Should Review Event Policies in Light of the Oscars Slap

For event planners, the slapping incident at the Oscars highlighted the necessity of having a thorough emergency response plan and code of conduct in place. A meeting expert offers tips on reviewing your current event policies with this type of act in mind.

Actor Will Smith slapping Chris Rock after the comedian made a joke about wife Jada Pinkett-Smith’s bald head—a result of alopecia, an autoimmune disorder—made headlines around the world. While most news outlets discussed the shock factor, event planners were reminded of the policies and procedures that need to be in place to ensure that meetings are a safe environment for everyone in attendance.

For example, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization that hosts the Oscars, was criticized for letting Smith stay and receive an award after the incident.

Desireé Knight, CMP, DES, CAE, senior director of education and meetings at the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association, said that what happened at the Oscars was a teaching moment for event planners.

“You can’t wait until the start of an event to discuss overall safety and questioning what should we do,” Knight said. “Organizers have to have these conversations before.”

The key lessons that association event professionals should take away involve planning for safety and ensuring the event has a code of conduct.

“We are responsible for the duty of care of everyone that attends an event we are hosting, and with that comes our due-diligence process,” Knight said. “There should be, at the bare minimum, an emergency response plan that clearly identifies steps that staff should take in a precarious situation where something happens like what happened at the Oscars.”

Emergency Response Plan

An association’s emergency response plan should be comprehensive, outlining what to do in disruptive situations, who to call, and who is in charge of enforcing the plan. The plan may have slight tweaks depending on the venue and its rules.

“It requires partnership with your venue and security team when you are developing your emergency plan,” Knight said. “It also requires a partnership with leadership and staff to ensure that everyone understands exactly what to do if an emergency happens.”

Having plans written in a document on your shared drive isn’t enough. Staff at all levels need to understand what might happen and what they should do.

“In some cases, an emergency plan can be as lengthy as 70 pages, and you want to be sure staff is comfortable with the process,” Knight said. “It’s best to do some scenario planning, where you create different scenarios that might happen. The Will Smith situation is truly a scenario that needs to be talked out at every association.”

Code of Conduct

Having a strong code of conduct for your events is also important. Knight said associations should review their codes to make sure they cover behavior that could tank their event.

“Your code of conduct should be written in a way that it would create a safe environment for everyone to be able to attend your event,” she said. “You should have an attorney look at it to make sure that it doesn’t create any violations, that there are no loopholes, [and] that it’s pretty clear as far as the language is concerned. It should be easy to read by members, attendees, and all stakeholders. In this day and age, you should not be holding a meeting if you don’t have a clear code of conduct.”

While some have suggested that Smith’s prominence and “beloved” status may have contributed to him not being removed from the Oscars, Knight notes that it’s important to hold everyone accountable to standards—no matter if they’re a board member or a donor.

“Even if an individual holds a leadership position in an association and is creating a hostile environment, you have to remove that person,” Knight said.

Having these policies in place and consistently reviewing them will allow organizations to ensure safety for all at their events.

“The most comprehensive assets for most associations are their meeting products, and especially their annual meeting,” Knight said. “Business event strategists, along with leadership, must do their due diligence in safeguarding this revenue stream by ensuring that the environment is safe for all attendees.”

Rasheeda Childress

By Rasheeda Childress

Rasheeda Childress is a former editor at Associations Now. MORE

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