28 December 2019

The Event Was a Success – Nobody Died. (A fun post to welcome the new year.)

Above is the motto of marketing and public relations professionals when describing an event they managed.  You think I’m kidding.  Hah!

A lot of people in the crime writing world know me through my committee involvement in Bouchercon 2016, and the semi-annual Bloody Words mystery con in Toronto.  There’s a reason why I was on those committees.  It has to do with my real job.

I’ve been a professional event and conference planner since the 1980s, when I was part of the Bell Canada Golf Tournament committee.  That’s a lot of years.  In that time, I’ve arranged corporate promotional gigs, entire conferences, and classy fundraising dos.  The key to event planning is the second word:  PLANNING.  We try to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong, and plan for it.  Probably, we are the most anal, list-making people you would ever come across.  Even so, and even with a ton of experience, I’ve found you can’t plan for everything.  What can go wrong, you say?

Just wait.

You can have water…and well, water.

Note to self: never trust your new staff with critical functions, like – for instance – the bar at a reception for 500.  She took care of the liquor license.  The cocktail food.  The entertainment.  The security.  The insurance.  Everything, in fact, except actually hiring the bars plus bartenders plus spirits.  One hour before the event-start, we were frantically on the phone with a nearby hotel, working a deal to borrow all the staff and spirits they could muster.  They came through, bless their extremely expensive hearts.  As conference-goers waited in the two interminable bar lineups, senior management sashayed up and down the line with lavish finger food to stall the riots.  “It’s so nice to see all the executives get involved like this,” said happy munchers, blissfully unaware of their near-dry event.

Said senior managers took turns slurping the bottle behind the stage.

Lesson learned: ALWAYS put booze and the serving of which at the top of your checklist.  People will forgive most everything.  But not that.

But I thought Moose Factory was in the Prairies…

In Newfoundland, they have a nifty way to make a little extra money.  Moose insurance.  No, really.  I used to work for a really big health care association that had conferences across Canada.  The national conference was in St. John’s one year.  It took a lot of organizing to get the main sponsor’s huge demonstration truck across to the island of Newfoundland.  This was a million dollar vehicle filled with the latest scientific and medical equipment, for demonstrating to the lab manager attendees.  Not a shabby enterprise, and the highlight of our nerdy conference, seeing all those state of the art goodies.  That truck rocked.

Until it was totalled by a Moose on the highway. 

Lesson learned:  ALWAYS get moose insurance.  Yes, this is a thing.

Bus 54, where ARE you?

Wine tour.  Yes, those words should never be allowed together.  People who go on wine tours invariably like to drink.  As you might expect, so do their bus drivers. 

It takes 45 minutes to get from Hamilton to Niagara Falls.  A convoy of six buses started out.  Three hours later, five buses made it for the dinner theatre.  The sixth made a slight detour to a winery and never got out of the tasting room.  Nobody there minded.  They had a kick-ass time in the attached resto.  I’m told everyone forgot about the dinner theatre in Niagara.  We tried to reach them.  But the ribald singing made it hard for people to hear their phones. 

Lesson learned:  Never *start* your event at a winery.

Dogs and dragons…it will never work.

Twenty years ago, I joined the PR staff of a major urban teaching hospital.  Anxious to show our commitment to multiculturalism, we scheduled several ethnic lunch days in the cafeteria, complete with food and entertainment.  You can imagine our excitement when the local Chinese community agreed to bring costumed dancers with elaborate twelve foot dragon into our facility.

So it was with great pride and a certain amount of smugness that we had news media standing by.  Not only that, the local television station agreed to film the event.  All good.  Hundreds of people crowded in.  The music started up.  The dancers came on stage. The twelve foot long colourful paper undulating dragon was magnificent.  Cameras rolled.

Cut scene to our blind physiotherapist on staff, who came into the cafeteria with his seeing eye dog Mack.  Mack took one look at the huge dragon and took off, knocking over his master and a table full of thoughtfully provided multicultural food.  Dog went crashing into dragon:  Rips, screams, people running, tables falling, and all this thoughtfully caught on camera for the six o’clock news.  “Hamilton Hospital celebrates Multiculturalism”

We called in every favour we had banked from every media person in town, to keep this off the news.

Lesson learned:  The event was a success.  Only the dragon died.


  1. I fell out of my chair laughing, Melodie. Each one was funnier than the before. Glad you survived them all. Sorry the dragon didn't...

    Have a very Happy New Year.

  2. All this seems like a case of life imitating art! I can see where you get your inspiration.

    Happy New year!

  3. Nice way to start a Saturday morning. Fun reading. Dogs and Dragons.

  4. Thanks Paul! I realize now I forgot to talk about the bee incident at the Mayor`s Strawberry Shortcake Social. Rats - next time.

  5. Janice, so true. I couldn`t write some of the things that happen to event planners, in that fiction readers would say it`s too silly for belief. thanks for commenting!

  6. Thanks O`Neil! I can never see another Chinese dragon without thinking of this catastrophe. Haunted for life! grin

  7. Wow. Great stories. But that service dog should have been sent back for remedial training.

  8. Loved this, Melodie.
    Years ago, when I was running a small arts council in SD, we hosted a weekend-long Art in the Park every year. A young woman who was just beginning her career (God help her!) in event planning and non-profit management asked me what was the most important thing about having a successful outdoor festival. I told her the truth: "Get twice as many port-a-potties as you think you'll need, and four times as much toilet paper."

  9. Barb, I believe Dragon training had never been addressed in the therapy dog program. Huge oversight, obviously! grin

  10. Oh Eve - that is the truth! I remember one event...no, I won`t go there. Thanks for that lovely one.

  11. Melodie, I think all you have to do to find out if someone's ever had to manage an outdoor event of any kind is to walk up to them and whisper, "Port-a-potties".

  12. Eve, I am laughing! The chill that ran down my spine...

  13. Melodie, this is one of my favorites.

    Tell me, does Moose Insurance cover elk? An Arizona insurance company banned me from driving because an elk hit ME! That Elk lobby is something else.

    One of my friends oversaw some of the planners at Disney. The main mishap I recall had to do with a clambake at the Yacht & Beach Club (Swan and Dolphin hotels) supervised by someone who didn't know what a clambake was. Details are fuzzy, but no one was poisoned or incinerated, and the 'bake' was moved indoors supervised by professional chefs.

    Great article, Melodie. Love it.

  14. Thanks Leigh! I realized I missed the Mayor`s bee incident, and the incident where the VERY FAMOUS CELEBRITY had a complete meltdown two hours before going on stage, and I had delegate all tasks to my staff so I could take care of him like a mama (which was rather perverse, as he was twice my age.) I`ll stop there.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>