Somehow we must learn to accept uncertainty. It won’t be easy.

They say acceptance is the final stage of grief – after denial, anger, depression, and bargaining. Once you’ve reached this point you can begin to move forward and rebuild your life with some sense of purpose.

Right now, millions of people are going through this process – either because they’ve lost a loved one, or because their daily lives have been upended and a return to the old way of doing things remains a distant prospect.

While nothing compares to the pain of losing a loved one, the anguish of those facing redundancy or financial ruin should not be underestimated – and nowhere is this anguish more acute than in the business events industry.

Every visit to LinkedIn flags up more job losses. People we know well, others perhaps we have met once or twice, and those we have only known online: all reaching out; all showing gratitude to their former employers; all putting a brave face on it.

And we start to imagine a hinterland beyond the avatar: the stresses and strains of domestic life, the bills that must be paid, the children that must be clothed and fed, the humdrum responsibilities of life suddenly writ large.

We offer support and encouragement, and hope it won’t be our turn next.

In the UK alone, it is estimated 126,000 event jobs have already been lost as a result of the lockdown measures taken to control the spread of Covid-19.

There has been much debate about the future of the business events industry. Some say it will take several years to get back to pre Covid-19 levels. Some argue that the take-up of technology means things have already changed for good – that the virus has simply accelerated a shift to virtual and hybrid meetings that was overdue.

The truth is we don’t know – and it is this lack of clarity that makes acceptance, and therefore moving on, so difficult. The futurists whose dazzling keynote speeches we applauded didn’t see this one coming.

It seems impossible, to me anyway, that people from different corners of the world will simply stop meeting in-person, that the richness of physical human contact will ever be replaced by the digital experience. But equally it seems impossible that the volume and size of international meetings will ever return to 2019 levels.

Like everything it will be a matter of degrees – to what extent will online meetings replace in-person meetings – and, of course, this is not a trifling point. In recent years city halls have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into building new convention centres and upgrading existing ones. Will they see a return on their investment?

And what impact will the shift to digital have on the supply network that supports international meetings: destination marketing organisations, accommodation providers, caterers, audio-visual firms, professional congress organisers, stand builders, entertainers, speakers. Again, the answer is shrouded in uncertainty.

But this is to take the long view. Most people involved in organising international events can’t see beyond the next few weeks as governments tighten, then relax, then re-tighten lockdown restrictions in the hope of outsmarting a virus that seems impervious to the seasons and pretty much everything else. It is nigh-on impossible to organise in-person events in this stop-start environment, so online meetings  – ‘virtual’ is a strange misnomer – are the only option. For how long? That’s anyone’s guess.

Somehow, then, we must come to an accommodation with uncertainty – to accept it, even – if we are not going to be paralysed by fear and frustration. Optimism is a good thing, but blind optimism can be fatal. The safest bet right now is to take the most realistic view possible, work out what that means for your organisation, and act accordingly. That might involve remodeling your entire organisation. But is ‘wait and see’ a viable alternative? Many won’t have that choice. While the degree of change is uncertain, change is certain. And that, if nothing else, is something we should all accept.

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