When All Goes Wrong In Paradise


It looks great on paper. Tomorrow’s annual convention in Scottsdale is opening with a keynote speaker and all the fanfare of a Hollywood movie premier. One thousand of your association’s finest members have arrived. They are excited and chomping at the bit to get underway. Then you get a call in your room at 7:00 in the evening. It’s your speaker. She’s in Kalamazoo and can’t get out because of snow. What now?

We all have challenges, but when the ramifications effect hundreds or even thousands it’s enough to turn hair grey in a hurry. Seasoned meeting planners have the experience to deal with these challenges and you can learn these same skills.

Karen Climo, of the American Movers Conference, arrived on site at the hotel only to find out it had been sold and was now under new managment, begining that morning. “The entire sales staff was gone. The new management team was marching the former employees out the front door and had a trailer at the back door where they were hiring an entire new staff,” says Climo. “We wanted to go through a dry run of our program and no one at the hotel knew what was going on. Everyone we had worked with ahead of time had vanished. Lucky for us, everything was documented. I made sure that the new team had the latest version of what was supposed to happen at our convention and then went through the plan, step-by-step. There was no way they could fall out of it. Every minute was staged.”
Luck wasn’t really involved here. Karen not only had the foresight to stage the entire event, but made sure everything was documented. She also knew to arrive with copies of the entire plan. It is critical to always have copies of all contracts and correspondence with you on site. You never know when you will need to create a quick solution to a problem caused by miscommunication or a hotel staffperson’s short memory.

Cynthia Huheey, of the American Resort Development Association, created the ultimate closing awards banquet for her members. The banquet hall was divided into two sections and used a large curtain to conceal the surprise entertainment that would follow dinner and the awards presentation. When the production crew started to remove the curtain halfway through dinner instead of waiting until after the awards were given Cynthia went into action. “The crew chief just wouldn’t listen so I called his manager at home,” Huheey said. Cynthia went on to say, “most of the times that things go awry it’s because of miscommunication. I’ve enough experience over the years to know there is a way to fix everything. Sometimes you just have to do it a different way.”

Cynthia knew the value of having the home phone numbers of all the important players. She also had the confidence to know that there is always a solution. Don’t be married to the program or the process. Instead, be married to the results. If you keep that in mind, you won’t be too upset when you have to change something to solve a problem, as long as your atendees still get the great time you planned for them. If the cheese cake doesn’t show up and you have to substitute chocolate moose at the last minute, that’s okay. Remember, most of the time, the attendees never know the details anyway.
Marsha Rhea, of the American Society of Association Executives, has had challenges with speakers and their lack of preparation with using new, high-tech equipment. “Speakers don’t come early to test out high-tech equipment that they are using to show how ‘with it’ they are.” One time, Marsha had a speaker show up at 12:00 for a 12:30 program. He had a computer and a Power Point presentation only to find out that he didn’t have a copy of Power Point on the computer to run the show with. Quick work by Marsha produced a portable computer with the correct software. Then it turned out that the file wasn’t a Power Point file after all. The speaker happened to also have a video with him. Along with using the video, Marsha manually placed the overheads on the projector, which wasn’t on the stage. All was saved. “We now are thinking about requiring our speakers to show up a specific amount of time ahead of the program to test the equipment,” said Rhea.

There is no replacement for trial runs and testing out all the variables. Professional speakers, for the most part, know to arrive early to check out the room and equipment. Sometimes, industry experts need a little extra reminder about rehearsals.

By planning to the finest detail and then documenting everything, you will lay the foundation for a great program. Arrive early with your file of documentation in hand and an open mind. Changes may need to be made. Have back ups or sources for backup for your speakers and equipment. Things go wrong from time to time. It’s usually “when” not “if.” Seasoned meeting planners know there is always a way out and that paradise can be just around the corner.


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