Covid-19 and VO Atlanta

As with most large events happening around the world, VO Atlanta 2020 has been postponed due to Covid-19. This week we welcome special guest Gerald Griffith to discuss all things VO Atlanta and how this pandemic has impacted the conference and our lives. We may not be gathering in Atlanta this month, but we can certainly take advantage of free online learning opportunities while we practice social distancing, including offerings from VO Atlanta presenters. Stay safe and healthy during these tumultuous times and keep on rocking your business like a #VOBOSS.


Quick Concepts from Today’s Episode:

  1. VO Atlanta 2020 has been postponed due to Covid-19

  2. New dates have not been set yet. You should cancel your hotel reservations. A new block will be set up when new dates are set

  3. Most airlines are issuing travel credits and waiving change/cancel fees

  4. Covid-19 is a global event, and we all have to work together to stop the spread

  5. Large events around the country and globe are being cancelled and are discouraged, and even prohibited in certain areas

  6. It can take up to a year to plan an event this size. You start planning as soon as the previous conference is over

  7. You have to be flexible in event planning and adapt based on circumstances

  8. What is unique about doing an event in the voiceover industry, is that there are 900 individual business entities with their own challenges and experiences. It’s not one company who is coordinating an event with their employees

  9. It’s hard in this type of situation, because you want to answer everyone’s question individually, but you have to delegate to handle communication effectively.

  10. I have to look at how this event effects 800 to 900 people collectively

  11. If you have questions, visit the VO Atlanta website, and we have a chat box, where we can get back to you, or chat with you live if we’re around!

  12. We have to protect everyone who would have travelled to the event, both domestically, and internationally

  13. There is a penalty (well into six figures) that VO Atlanta is absorbing

  14. VO Atlanta, and other conferences are some people’s entire livelihood

  15. We do have cancellation insurance in place, but it doesn’t cover all contigencies. These policies have a lot of loopholes. This insurance specifically excludes communicable disease.

  16. Transfers are not covered under the insurance. The insurance does not allow for ticket transfers

  17. Your conference experience is about connecting you with the best in the business. We can still deliver these things! It may be different, but it doesn’t have to be less.

  18. VO Atlanta 2019 content is now available online for free, so we can contribute to the VO Community.

  19. This is all about re-envisioning VO Atlanta 2.0. I refuse to let this be the downfall of something, but instead it’s an opportunity to re-envision what it means to have a conference and come together as a community.

  20. A huge shout out to all of those people who have done nothing but show support!

  21. When the next hurdle comes and you have nothing left in the tank, sometimes you just have to laugh!

Referenced in this Episode

Direct links to things we brought up ++

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Recorded on ipDTL
Awesome editing by Carl Bahner


>> It’s time to take your business to the next level, the BOSS level! These are the premier business owner strategies and successes being utilized by the industry’s top talent today. Rock your business like a BOSS, a VO BOSS. Now let’s welcome your host Anne Ganguzza.

Anne: Hey everyone. Welcome to the VO BOSS podcast. I’m your host, Anne Ganguzza, and I’m here with my very special guest, founder and executive producer of VO Atlanta, Mr. Gerald Griffith. Hey Gerald! So nice of you –

Gerald: Hey Anne.

Anne: So nice of you to join me this early morning to bring our BOSSes an update on all things VO Atlanta and craziness that goes on in this world today. [laughs]

Gerald: I know, I know.

Anne: So you’ve had, well I think we all have, but you especially have had some incredibly tough decisions to make in the past few weeks regarding the VO Atlanta conference which I know there were so many of us looking forward to. And I wanted to just kind of talk with you a bit, to bring some perspective to our BOSS listeners because I happen to know my husband who works in trade shows and events, just a little bit about just how crazy this world can be. I thought maybe it would help bring some clarity and some peace to people who are really disappointed that they can’t get together at this annual, wonderful conference. So Gerald, tell us a little bit about [laughs] tell us about your journey in the last couple of weeks in regards to the event.

Gerald: Where do you start? It’s been – if you can imagine the emotional swings –

Anne: Oh goodness.

Gerald: – it’s probably there. Ultimately you get to a point with some of these things where laughter is all you’ve got left.

Anne: Isn’t that true?

Gerald: It’s so crazy that you literally just, you know, when the next things comes, you just laugh because it’s like you have no more, you have nothing left in the tank to apply seriousness to. You just have to go okay, whatever.

Anne: We’re in uncharted territory here. I think all of us together, this is a global event, and it’s unprecedented. We really just need to come together and be there for one another.

Gerald: Yeah.

Anne: That includes support for all of our, for everything that’s going on, I mean for frontline responders to, you know, event planners and managers and any place that has gatherings for large groups of people which of course now has been discouraged just about everywhere.

Gerald: I know, right? And I think that’s probably one of the most challenging aspects of this. I tend to be a forward leaning person. When something comes up, I tend to go, “how do I work around it? How do we re-envision it? How do we do those things?” But that’s typically based on the idea that whatever you’r e working around is in an environment where it’s a very clearly defined issue.

Anne: Right.

Gerald: But all of the other things around it are fairly static. So an example might be, let’s say if the hotel, the main hotel contacted me and said, “hey, we had a water main break in the building, and we have to shut everything down and it’s no longer available.” Okay. That would certainly be a major incident. However, it would also say, alright, we can work through this because there are other hotels next-door or down the street, and maybe we can bring in shuttle buses, and we modify things. And we, you know, do things to work around it. In this case it’s everything!

Anne: I don’t think anybody knows what the workaround is quite yet. [laughs]

Gerald: Exactly!

Anne: Except stay away [laughs] or stay home.

Gerald: Right. That’s the part I think that makes this so unusual, and it probably applies at nearly every level. At a certain age, you’ve probably been through certain things where you know, you work around it. Maybe it’s finances. Maybe it’s, you know, kids or family, or whatever the case is. And again you have the issue in front of you, but as long as you find a way to kind of manage that issue, you get to lean back on all of the other known factors. Right? It’s like hey, I’ve got this issue, but over here I can kind of find some peace. But with this one, it hits every single level, whether it’s the kids’ school, the place where my wife works, which is also in the hospitality industry, there’s the hotel, the other vendors that are involved in things, the attendees themselves, travel restrictions, it’s like, okay.

Anne: What I want to point out, just because I know my husband being in the event industry, the amount of work that’s required to plan an event like this, it’s no small feat. Now I know just because I did small events for VO Peeps for, you know, many years, how long it would take me to prepare for an event. But we’re talking about a major event. I think last year, you had, what, 700, 800 people?

Gerald: Eight. 800 something.

Anne: So to put on an event of that size and magnitude, guys, it really, really does take an extensive amount of work and planning, and it’s no small feat. I mean, it can take up to, gosh, you know, a good year, which makes sense. I know my husband, when he made plans for shows for the company he works for, I mean, literally, it starts a year in advance. And the planning and the booth design, and the, you know, just all of the logistics to get things in place. I mean, he’s hired for that particular purpose. I mean, that’s all he does. So I just want people to get a perspective on just how much work it involves to create event in the first place, let alone try to re-adjust the event, based on, you know, based on a crazy virus that happens to just surface.

Gerald: Yeah. There’s one thing I found myself kind of pointing out to the hotels and different people that I deal with, I think it’s very unique when it comes to doing an event in the voiceover industry, is that in a lot of relationships when it comes to events, there’s a one-to-one relationship. What I mean by that is, if I were an event planner for Microsoft, I’m dealing with putting together an event for Microsoft’s employees, which means that the company is paying for this event, and it’s a one-to-one. Right? I’m a Microsoft representative for the event that affects Microsoft employees, the company is paying for their travel, and everything like that, and we’re essentially guiding them through the process, but it’s all company driven. It’s one-to-one. In this situation, there’s one to 800.

Anne: Sure.

Gerald: One to 900 –

Anne: Yeah, yeah.

Gerald: – kind of thing where everyone is an individual entity with their own interests, questions, challenges, ups, down, locations, experience in the industry.

Anne: And they ask you about it. You know? It’s like, when people have questions, when my husband is planning an event, they can ask him. And then he can respond on behalf of the event. When people have questions about VO Atlanta, they just come to you. [laughs] There’s like 800 people asking you questions. Otherwise my husband deals with everybody in the company asking him questions and he can kind of buffer it. But you have no buffer. Pretty much people say, “oh I asked Gerald.” I’m thinking to myself, Gerald spends probably all of his days responding to people. [laughs]

Gerald: Well fortunately I have an amazing team this year. I have always had an amazing team. But the team has grown this year. There are certain people who will pick up the ball in terms of responding to a lot of things. We’ve had to do a lot more follow-up because people were more used to contacting me directly, texting me directly, having to kind of to push back a little bit which is really hard because you want to answer everyone. But you just realize that if you don’t funnel this all through a certain channel, both to manage it and the other part is to make sure you get back to people in some way, right?

Anne: Sure, absolutely.

Gerald: Because again, they’re an individual entity. And they see things through how it affects them as one person. Whereas from my side I look at how it affects 800, 900 people collectively, and they’re very different perspectives, and neither one is right or wrong. They’re just different. And so you know, fortunately I do have a great team in place. We respond to things as quickly as we can. We direct everyone back to the website and say hey, open a support ticket or chat thing down there. If we’re able to chat with you live, we will. If we’re not, you can leave it. And that way, you know, we can check in on it, make sure if there’s something we missed, we try to make sure we get back. If there’s something that we’ve not responded to, it’s still there. The question is still there. We’ll make sure we get to it versus –

Anne: Sure.

Gerald: – what was happening before, where some people would come up with a question in the attendee box, some people would just post in a regular thread, some people would send me a direct message. Some people would send me a text message. Some people would send me an email. Some people leave a voicemail.

Anne: And then others will leave comments on the forum, and a forum that wasn’t even part of necessarily your domain, so that’s difficult trying to reach out to them. So I think one of the things that I know, when this whole thing started, people kept waiting. There were a lot of events. They were like, will it be canceled, will it be canceled? And a lot of people were uneasy about not having that answer right away. So tell us a little bit about all of the things in the background there that I’m sure you were waiting for answers on before you made this really tough decision to postpone the conference.

Gerald: Okay. It’s interesting, but I’ll allude back to my comment about a one-to-one relationship versus the one to 800 or 900 relationship. Right? Because as many people as were saying, they should go ahead and cancel, there were also people messaging saying “hey, I know you’re probably getting other views on this, but I hope you don’t cancel. I hope you go forward.” Because there are 800 to 900 people looking at things through their own perspective and how it affects them. They may be someone in a state with very little impact at that point, whereas someone else is in a country who has already been restricted.

Anne: Right.

Gerald: And so they have very different interests, and I have to respect both of those in the process of evaluating what that final decision looks like, not to mention also taking into account the commitments that we have with our sponsors and exhibitors and the venue itself, because you know, this isn’t like 90 days before the event.

Anne: Right, this is a couple of weeks.

Gerald: This is a more like, this is a few weeks before the event.

Anne: And also I want to point out too, is that it makes a huge difference that we’re not just talking domestic. We’re talking international. The fact that you have an international conference brings a whole new light onto this situation as to honoring, you know, our international guests that are coming to the show.

Gerald: Oh absolutely.

Anne: That must have put a whole different spin on things as well because, I know that a couple of my students that were talking to me were like, “well, I don’t know if they’re canceling or not, if they’re waiting a couple of days before to cancel the flight, so I don’t know if I should cancel. Should I wait for the airline to cancel the flight? Because how am I going to recoup my costs that I’ve invested in this?” I know that’s another question that everybody is very worried about. How are we going to recoup these costs? I think the entire global economy is asking that. How are we going to recover from this financially?

Gerald: You know, that’s one of those things, Anne, that we discussed a little bit ago, which was typically there’s one issue, and everybody just maybe put their heads together about how to deal with that one issue. In this situation, there’s so many issues at so many levels, most of which are completely outside of our control that you’re kind of left in a position where you have to wait and see. You have to take – when they say take it a step at a time, that’s all you can do. You have no choice. So in my case, you’re working with the hotel. You’ve got contracts in place because unlike the smaller events where maybe it was 50 people or even 150 people, their agreements are probably way simpler than mine. And so I have to get with the venue and go over the terms of how do you make those adjustments, how do you adjust those commitments, because what some people may not realize is that it’s not as simple as picking up the phone and going “hey, we decided not to hold it.”

Anne: Sure. I’m sure you have a lot of nonrefundable fees that have already been paid.

Gerald: Absolutely! So when they come back, and they say – and we’ve had this in one instance. I’ll give you two examples. I won’t name the organizations, but one of them, the email back was “sorry, sorry you guys are postponing. I’ll go ahead and forward your contract over to our legal terms to see what penalties you’ll have.”

Anne: [laughs] That’s encouraging. [laughs]

Gerald: Yes.

Anne: Not.

Gerald: The other one was very similar.

Anne: Yeah.

Gerald: And they were like, “well, sorry to hear about that, but per the terms of your contract, your canceling will generate a penalty.” And I’m talking a penalty that’s well into six figures.

Anne: Yeah, we’re not talking $50 penalty.

Gerald: So it’s one of those things w