With events, anything that can go wrong will. It’s the nature of the business and part of life, from that misspelled name on the first birthday cake to the funeral programs that arrive a day late.
You can fight Murphy’s Law with over-preparation – but realize your efforts won’t always suffice. Below are a few ideas for dealing with the inevitable.
Lesson one: Plan a backup plan.
On the night of an annual meeting with 1,200 attendees a few years ago, the spotlight guy called in sick and another key person had a family emergency. No sweat. Each person with a role at the meeting also had a backup assignment, because our good event planners had set up contingencies that anticipated hiccups. In this case, Murphy’s Law was overruled.
Lesson two: Go with the flow.
I once crafted what I thought was a Ted-level speech for the board chairman at our organization’s planning conference. The speech, as written, opened with a flourish, revealed our challenges, and went a bit “Knute Rockne” while explaining how we would ultimately overcome. The chair complimented the speech before explaining that her participation in the previous evening’s social events left her “under the weather” and made it impossible to give the speech its proper due. Her version, perhaps to everyone’s satisfaction, was much shorter and softer.
Lesson three: Improvise.
Another time, I managed media and financial communications around a huge company event 2,000 miles from our corporate offices. This involved crafting the press release and managing its dissemination (at the company’s only facility still using dial-up Internet), setting up the live press conference and webcast, and preparing remarks and Q&A. The sound system, successfully tested the day before, failed at connecting the online reporters and analysts. No one in the room could hear their questions. We had to relay the online questions to the CEO, which he repeated for everyone else. In hindsight, that extra step gave him a little more time to consider each response.
Lesson four: Know your equipment.
Anyone have a laptop battery die in mid-presentation? How about struggling to get the laptop to work with the conference room projector? Connect cables, hit fn + F# (depends on laptop model) to toggle to your screen, switch the projector to the right setting… Years ago, while presenting at a conference, a certain registration software company’s founder assisted a competitor who couldn’t work the technology to set up and give his presentation. Guess who won a bunch of business that day?
Lesson five: Mother Nature’s events often take precedence over yours.
Churchill Downs, in its quest to inexpensively add expensive seats for its Kentucky Derby weekend, merged two gigantic tents in the center of its infield area about a decade ago. Hundreds, dressed to the nines, enjoyed their semi-private party in the center of it all – until the thunderstorms came. One section of the tents – where the downpour pooled – collapsed, drenching a few tables of patrons (and racking up a huge dry cleaning bill in the process). As most of the former tent-guests decided to seek more secure shelter, some of the regulars in the non-sheltered Infield targeted them with mud. And when the head of security and general manager (also in suits) went out to put an end to the shenanigans, they, too, were greeted with mud.
Lesson six: Know when to shut it down.
I once worked a press event about a waterway cleanup effort that toward the end got hi-jacked by a reporter with an unfriendly agenda about an unrelated topic. That was my cue to end the event. Yours might be when attendees start slipping out, your watch says you are 30 minutes over or your presenter sits down after no one asks any questions.
Lesson seven: Don’t leave eggnog in your refrigerator past New Year’s. And don’t let ex-employees back in the building.
In the early years of “Thunder Over Louisville” – billed as North America’s largest fireworks show that annually kicks off the Kentucky Derby Festival – the family responsible for the pyrotechnics dined on the eve of the event in the first floor atrium area of a five-story building. In the late 1990s, an ex-employee of a building tenant happened to get to the fifth floor, find old eggnog in a refrigerator (in April), and mindlessly pour it over the balcony. Some of it reached those dining below, who thought they had been vomited upon. The Thunder event went on without a hitch the next evening, but some say the real fireworks occurred the night before, in what was informally dubbed “Chunder Over Louisville.”
Most of this collection of anecdotal event stories is meant to enforce lessons related to event planning and management. We’d also like you to view this article as an invite to share some of your “favorite” event experiences (removing names to protect the innocent, of course), lessons or not. The Comments section below is just waiting to become an awesome repository of Murphy’s Law/events lore.If you don’t care to comment but would like to know more about online registration software and ABC Signup, please contact us by e-mail or phone (866.791.8268 ext. 0).