Most meeting planners are very familiar with the stress and frustration of last-minute changes, or even catastrophes, when organizing an event. I sometimes shudder at different last-minute challenges that have cropped up at some of my very early meetings and events and wonder how I didn’t end up in intensive care.
“Keep it simple” is one bit of advice I do not take lightly. It never pays to complicate things. Also, delegation is a must. I now hire leads to work on any lengthy program and review each item with a fine-toothed comb. This allows me to supervise more efficiently, make split-second decisions and solve any problems that may crop up.
One of my most challenging events was a two-city, nine-day incentive. It seemed that the near disasters occurred in almost domino fashion. However, I will only tell you about the last day’s final event, involving musicians and centrepieces.
I have always tried to be very creative but it sometimes backfires. For this final gala, I thought of creating chocolate centrepieces. After much research and discussion with a local chocolatier, we came up with a rather complicated item consisting of large chocolate discs decorated with the company logo traced in fine icing and surrounded by exquisitely-fashioned sugar roses. They were gorgeous. While they were being delivered on that fatal day, I noticed that only half of them had materialized. I went in search of the delivery person and saw her sobbing in a corner of the hotel lobby.
“Where are the other centrepieces?” I asked. After much coaxing, she reluctantly led me outside the hotel. With a sinking heart, I noticed a delivery van, which had just been rear-ended by a large garbage truck, straddling the sidewalk. There was a torrential downpour. I looked into the van and saw a confusion of smashed chocolate discs, and damaged roses.
“Think quickly!” I admonished myself. I raced down to the hotel kitchen in search of the pastry chef. I will never forget the image of the three chefs, their chef’s hats bobbing up and down, as they ran into the street and peered into the van.
“Can you fix them?” I asked. The chefs somehow managed to “glue” all but two of them together again and re-iced the logo. I had to buy roses and greenery to jazz up the centrepiece from the horrendously expensive hotel flower shop. As I walked around the beautifully set tables with my lovely chocolate centrepieces, I started breathing again! The next day, I presented the head chef with the largest bottle of cognac I could find.
Another fine mess
At the same time, the 30-piece RCMP band that I had contracted to play at the gala backed out at the last minute. (Note to self: read the fine print – Their presence was suddenly required by the Governor General for some visiting dignitaries.) With bated breath, I contacted one of my favorite orchestras consisting of 30 marvelously talented but very short musicians with twinkling eyes and wide girths. Because they liked to humour me, they agreed to dress up as Mounties!
As I raced from one costume rental location to another, gathering up all the RCMP uniforms we could locate, I briefly thought: “It could be worse!” It never entered my mind that the costumes might not exist. (Here is a good reason to be positive and optimistic when working in this profession.) The day of the event, the musicians all managed to squeeze into the uniforms. Luckily no one noticed they weren’t the real McCoy – although I did have to hover backstage to ensure that none of them stood up!
When I thought back on the program that week, I vowed to never again let myself be bullied by a client who almost squeezed the life out of me or think that I had to re-invent the wheel. We often said yes to outlandish requests, no matter how difficult the client, how time-consuming the project. I should not have ignored the fine print on the government contract saying they could cancel three days out, and I definitely could have made my life easier by ordering lovely floral centrepieces!