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?
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.