3 Tips for Managing Coronavirus Fear in the Meetings Industry

If you are afraid right now, that could be a good thing for your future as a meetings professional, according to Judi Holler, author of Fear is My Homeboy: How to Slay Doubt, Boss Up, and Succeed on Your Own Terms. Holler, who heralds from the world of improv acting, speaks at events around the country about how to shift your mindset to manage fear—or at least that’s what she did until mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic effectively shut down the travel and meeting circuit.

One of her last presentations was at Association of Women in Events’ Elevate! Conference at Caesars Palace in Last Vegas.

Smart Meetings caught up with her in her home office in Hudson, Ohio, this week to ask how event professionals can continue to move forward while sheltering in place. She had some frank—and very instructive—words.

Win or Learn

“There will always be fear, and there will always be change,” Holler says, her gold earrings swinging on the Zoom call. “We will never be able to outrun fear, but we can manage it.”

How? “The best way to manage discomfort in uncertainty is to lean into it,” she replies without hesitation. She suggests asking yourself, “How can I dance with this discomfort?”

The good news, she says, smiling into the laptop’s camera, is that even in this unprecedented time—when the unthinkable is our reality for who knows how long—meeting professionals will do one of two things. She held up two fingers. “You will either win or learn. But you will never lose,” she says.

That mindset, she continues, allows planners to focus on the future, rather than on the fear.

Winning could mean reimagining your event, spending more time with your kids, rethinking how you manage your life and business. A lot of people are learning about virtual events and what really matters in the bigger scheme of the world—people themselves, not the technology, not the “where” but the “who.”

Holler is launching a podcast and doing webinars. She recalled how it went for her almost 3,000 Twitter followers on Wednesday. “So, I woke up that morning and got dressed like I was going onstage to give a keynote. It was fun. It made me feel good. I’ll probably do it again. Small victories.”

Holler has three suggestions for people feeling overwhelmed by the loss of normalcy right now.

1. Go small to go big

“Take baby steps to create momentum,” she says.

Focus on one hour, one day at a time. Ask, “What can I do today that will help my organization and the people who work for me? You can handle that.”

Holler is learning that she can do improv without a live audience, something she never thought possible before. She committed to trying it, then took the next step of actually showing up. She now thinks there may be more to come. “It has been fun to prove myself wrong,” she says.

In sum, go small to go big—”baby steps” became a refrain in the conversation.

2. Experiment

“Now is the time to do things that make you feel uncomfortable,” she says. “We have been given this gift of time, let’s see it for that.”

Holler notes that for people who always say they are “crazy busy,” this could be the ideal time to try new tools and resources (e.g., the launch of her podcast and webinar). That trade show you have done the same way for the last 15 years? This might be the perfect time to brainstorm how to breathe new life into it.

“Yes,” she says. “Take a day to breathe.” She describes going through the five stages of grieving all in one day and suggests allowing yourself some grace, but stresses the importance of not wasting this crisis. Fear loves to move into a vacuum.

“Take this time to learn and experiment,” she implores. “Become a student.”

3. Watch your inputs

“Seriously audit the information you consume,” Holler advises. There is a balance between being informed and being scared out of your mind. She watches her social media and news intake even in normal times to make sure she doesn’t obsess, and that is even more important now. “I have had to have frank conversations with people I love and set boundaries for the stories they are sending,” she says.

“We don’t have a script,” Holler concludes. “The only thing guaranteed is right now, so start living in the moment. Stop chasing superficial trappings of success.

“You can control yourself and your actions. That knowledge gives us the courage to take chances and do what we always wanted to try—and do it now. Light the good candles, drink the good wine, do what you always put off and do it now. Live in the fire!”