“The option of cancelling events is not really viable”

Interview with Jimmy Le, Senior Conference Manager with the IEEE Communications Society

Interview with Jimmy Le, Senior Conference Manager with the IEEE Communications Society

Jimmy Le, a Senior Conference Manager with the IEEE Communications Society (ComSoc), has generously shared some of his organization’s challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted the importance of human connectedness within the industry. ComSoc is a professional society of close to 25,000 electrical, electronics and computer engineers from around the world who study, research and apply all aspects of communications engineering. They organize 43 annual meetings and conferences internationally.

Can you share some of the challenges the IEEE Communications Society is facing at the moment?

One of the obvious challenges our organization is tackling at the moment is the necessity of having to make quick strategic decisions on how to move forward with our programs that are affected by COVID-19. Do we postpone, go virtual or outright cancel our events? Of course, each of these options comes with its pros, cons and associated challenges. As our members depend on our conferences to have their work published, the option of cancelling events is not really viable, though. Therefore, many of our programs have been moved into the virtual sphere. As a result, our conference and IT teams had to quickly study up on various platforms, do the analysis, make recommendations to the leadership, and ultimately implement the new systems. Needless to say, it’s a lot of work considering we’ve had as many as 15 conferences planned. Since many of our programs are international, we also have the additional challenge of dealing with different time zones and cultures. I guess these challenges were fun in some ways, but I don’t expect us to normalize this format for our future programs.

Is there anything specific that your organization is doing differently these days in order to address the challenges we are currently dealing with?

One immediate thing that we did was to update our standard Force Majeure clause. The previous version did not include any language about pandemics or epidemics. Therefore, our new standard clause has been changed to include language about pandemics as well as travel restrictions. On top of that, we have also discussed slowing down future contract signings. For many of our programs, we would sign as far out as four years. I do expect that this will change in the future.

Do you have any advice for your fellow industry professionals?

I imagine my advice is something that most of them have already been given before. However, I do hope that all of us in the business events industry will continue to stay as positive as possible. As with other epidemics, this too shall pass. It may take a little longer, but I have no doubt that we will overcome this epidemic. I would also recommend using this special time to reconnect with customers and industry friends, to volunteer with industry groups such as PCMA or MPI or to study for the CMP, CMM, DES or CAE. But most importantly: Just keep smiling!

Do you believe the industry could have prepared better to answer this unprecedented situation? And what can we learn from this crisis for the future?

This is a hard one simply because not only is COVID-19 unprecedented, it is also difficult, if not impossible, to predict when the next crisis will hit. Even though we had heard about the possibility of such a pandemic, how could we have prepared? Should hotels stop accepting business because of a potential crisis that may happen a few years down the road? Or should planners like me stop sourcing for future programs? I don’t think that any of these options are feasible. Many of us have been through events such as hurricanes Katrina or Sandy, 9/11 or SARS. If there’s any way to prepare for future crises, it would be to apply some of the lessons learned in the past.

What would you consider your Top 3 lessons learned from this?

Firstly, we have to be grateful and thankful every day. We tend to always want more and more. That’s just human nature. But even still, instead of constantly wanting more, we should be thankful for what we do have.

We should also put more effort into keeping in touch. I understand that we are all very busy with our professional and personal lives. However, if you can find some spare time, please reach out to some of your industry friends whom you haven’t spoken to in a while. Not all communications have to be about work though. I always love hearing from industry friends even if I do not have any business for them. In fact, it means even more to me when there isn’t any business involved. Of course, I do know that I have to heed my own advice because you never know when it might be the last time you get to speak with these friends.

And lastly: Stay resolute. During these troubled times, we often like to remind each other to “#bestrong.” But this implies that we were weak before and thus we must be stronger now. I don’t think that we were weak though. We are resolved during the good and the bad times, and it is our collective resolution that will get us through hardship. I have no doubt that we will get through this pandemic if we continue to stay resolute.