I recently volunteered to speak at a program about safety precautions for COVID. The irony of it all was that the program inadvertently placed the participants at risk. The program organizers didn’t realize it. The facility staff didn’t catch it, and not a single other presenter blinked an eye. Was I being paranoiac?
In late September, I participated on a panel of speakers at a conference held at an internationally renowned hotel in Dallas, Texas sponsored by one of the largest global meeting and event associations. The program was designed to educate about 250 association participants on the safety measures taken by hotels and airlines in an effort to jump-start an industry hit very hard by COVID. What better venue than to have it at the hotel which that very day earned the GBAC Star Facility Accreditation. This is a performance based accreditation program that helps facilities demonstrate that they have work practices, procedures and protocols in place to prepare, respond and recover from outbreaks and pandemics. The association did everything right, and permitted participants to appear electronically. The hotel was impeccably clean. Hotel staff greeted and directed the participants, regulated the elevators, situated the tables far apart, covered the food appropriately and had individual antibacterial wipes available at each seat. There was nothing apparent that could have gone wrong.
The panel consisted of speakers from different segments of the hospitality industry, each of whom participated live. One of the speakers from a large international airline appeared sick, congested, coughing excessively, and probably contagious. Fortunately, everyone had masks on and each speaker was positioned about six feet apart on stage for the presentation. The sick airline representative which I named Mr. Contagious opened the presentation and I was the closer. So I was on the other end of the stage from him. I felt safe.
When the presentation started, I noticed only one handheld microphone that we were all to share. Mr. Contagious removed his mask, picked up the hand held microphone, and began to spread whatever was going on with him onto the microphone’s top shield. When he finished his part of the presentation, he coughed into the microphone, put his mask back on and walked over to panelist number two to hand her the microphone. Without blinking an eye she took off her mask and placed the contaminated microphone up to her mouth and began her presentation.
I could not believe what I saw. But looking around the room, the audience appeared expressionless as if there was nothing wrong with passing a germified microphone around to each of the panelist and then to the audience members to ask questions of the panelists. Was I being a germaphobe so engulfed in germs that I could not stop thinking about contamination? I said to myself, “I am not placing that microphone close to my mouth,” but not everyone would be able to hear me without the microphone. Panic was beginning to consume me. Just as I looked again into the audience, I saw an individually wrapped antibacterial wipe that I had not fully appreciated when I arrived and first saw it. I had found the solution to my panic.
When I microphone finally reached me, I made the antibacterial wipe a part of my presentation. I stood up, walked to the table to pick up the antibacterial wipe, wiped over the microphone, and sat back down to give my portion of the presentation in my mask. Fortunately, my improvisation was a hit generating laughter followed by applause. I realized that sometimes the best part of a presentation can often be unspoken.