If you think more people are partaking in protests these days, you wouldn’t be wrong. The Washington Post reported a “sharp increase in in U.S. protest activity” in certain months in 2017, as well as an increase in attendance. Freedom of speech is what makes America great. Everyone has a voice and is allowed to use it.
But what happens when a protest affects your event?
What happens to your voice?
You can let the chaos drown it out or you can be prepared to handle what comes your way.
The Show Must Go On
Before you choose a host city for your show, assess the social and political climate to see if there is any instability that could possibly affect your event.
You might not be able to prevent every disruption, but you can do your best to evaluate the following risks beforehand:
- Do you have any speakers who might be considered controversial?
- Have there been any labor disputes in your host city?
- Are there any local sponsors that have come under fire recently for being controversial?
- Have there been any protests in your host city recently?
- Are there any other events in the area that have sparked controversy?
- Has the city passed, or is considering adopting legislation that is controversial?
Every city varies on what they allow and how they enforce certain regulations. Contact someone who is familiar with the city’s rules, like your facility contractor. They can direct your inquiries through the proper channels if necessary.
Being prepared means having a backup plan.
And a second backup plan in case the first one falls apart.
The goal is to reduce your attendee’s exposure as much as possible and to keep everyone safe. You can do this by:
- Joining forces with the provided security team to formulate a plan of action.
- Hiring off-duty police officers to canvas the event and to patrol the areas where the protest is taking place.
- Securing all points of entry and designating one entrance for people to come and go.
- Creating an internal memo that outlines the actions you are taking to ensure the safety of all involved. Make sure to share it with your event staff and exhibitors.
- Reassuring attendees that you are prepared and have everything under control.
- Preparing a statement to give to the press in case they show up. Share the statement with all event staff and exhibitors to ensure consistency.
- Creating a code of conduct that is visible to all attending and working the show.
From The Outside
It might feel like the protests are out of your control, but you have rights too. While protesting and holding demonstrations is constitutionally protected, they do have to adhere to certain boundaries.
Protesters must remain on public property. As long as your event isn’t happening in the middle of the street, a sidewalk, or a public property, such as a park, you are well within your rights to have them removed. They cannot infringe on your rights in order to demonstrate theirs.
The best way to ensure that they don’t trespass is to block off a specific area for them to hold their protest. Trying to silence them might only lead to chaos. Allow them to exercise their voices from an area that can be contained.
In the event that the protests don’t remain peaceful, the police will get involved.
To The Inside
Sometimes it’s not the protest outside that you have to worry about but the protesters that find their way to the show floor. Protesters have been known to purchase tickets to events to gain access. When this happens the intention is to disrupt the show in some way, like storming the stage during a speech or shouting repetitive chants.
For example, union members might attend your show with the sole purpose of picketing to spread their message and gain support. Their goal is to distract from the message of the show; it’s yours to make sure they aren’t successful.
If the conduct of the protestors endangers the safety of others or is disruptive in nature, you are well within your jurisdiction to have them escorted from the premises.
This can include:
- Wearing offensive clothing that is contrary to your shows message.
- Signs that are inappropriate and interfere with the show.
- Offensive language and yelling.
- Interrupting the speech of keynote speakers.
- Attempting to enter areas blocked off to attendees.
It’s important to remember that while you can’t control what the protesters do, you can control your reaction. All eyes will be on you gauging your response. Demonstrate your resolve to make the show a success regardless of the latest challenge.
A challenge will only become an obstacle if you allow it.