Dealing with out-of-control attendees.
“So, have you heard the one about the planner who lost control of her group?”
“No, what happened?”
“Apparently she did a really good job of making sure that the final banquet event was, well, lots of fun for the attendees, and things kind of got out of control. I think maybe she’s looking for a new job now!”
While the above might be a slight exaggeration from a manufactured scenario, it’s certainly not out of the realm of reality in today’s world where stress levels are manifesting themselves in all different kinds of situations, both in public and private places. In this era of planners being challenged to always come up with more excitement, more interactive opportunities for attendees, and generally assure that the next event is better than the last, the above situation could easily become a reality when attendees become too disruptive and upset the fine balance between having some fun and really enjoying themselves at the expense of others.
One of the biggest challenges has always been the over-drinkers that take advantage of your (sometimes) generous open bar policies and yes, some companies still do plan events with unlimited beverages! Most planners do realize that the best way to deal with this is to limit their intake to begin with (issue drink tickets,
offer only beer and wine, etc.), but for the sake of this article, let’s assume that as a planner your event includes a three hour open bar during which time dinner (more wine?) will be offered along with whatever entertainment is set for the evening. How do you deal with those attendees who are going over the top with your generosity? Consider using a couple of these ideas:
Instruct your bartenders to enforce serving no more than two drinks at a time per person. In other words, if someone steps up to the bar and wants to order four drinks ‘to cover all their friends back at the table’ tell the bartender to just say no! This limitation makes everyone have to sidle up to the bar themselves, thus avoiding a potential ‘drink hoarder’ from doing just that. A sign on the bar stating ‘one drink per person at a time’ re-enforces the bartender’s actions.
Offer your open bar only until dinner service begins at which time those specially selected wines are poured to accompany the meal. Lose the open bar during dinner service and then reopen once the meal has been served and dancing/entertainment begins. HINT: Don’t forget coffee service with those luscious desserts!
Get your bartenders to use ‘tricks of the trade’ such as pouring ‘virgin drinks’ when they can see the need to put the brakes on. Have you ever heard of the bartender ‘dipping the straw in alcohol’ just so that first sip is still tasty but then the rest of the drink is watered down? (I have to admit, that was a new one for me!)
Another common problem is loud phone talkers that not only disrupt meetings but also hallways, bathrooms and break areas. Aside from repeating the ‘please turn your phones off NOW’ announcements at the beginning of each session, the best prevention for this is to actually provide a phone-safe room/area for your attendees to visit as needed throughout the course of your meetings. This should be different from your wireless zone (which is normally a quiet area in which work can actually get done), and could possibly even be a small outside seating area designated for ‘friendly phone conversations’. You’d be surprised at how creative you can get with settings for this purpose, especially when coupled with those frequent announcements that begin all sessions, and then make sure to have fun signage always pointing the offenders in the direction of these designated areas. I know one planner who actually supplies an opening slide for all presentations with a funny but firm comic announcement letting phone abusers know where to go ‘in case of’, and it’s very effective if you repeatedly see it on the screen at every session.
The best tip I’ve heard is one from planner Idelisa Benjamin of event management firm Flawless Moments, when asked about attendees having loud conversations - with or without a phone - during a presentation: “I have little cue cards I place discreetly on a chair next to talking or disruptive attendees during a meeting that politely lets them know they are distracting others as well as the speaker. The non-offenders usually think it’s an emergency message I’m delivering so no one really feels that embarrassed and the situation generally takes care of itself.” A simple but courteous solution that even Emily Post might approve of!
The lesson learned is that meeting planners are full of creative solutions to all kinds of challenging problems, so when in doubt just ask some experienced planners for advice!