- When Murphy’s Law strikes
- Learn from other planners
- Keep it all in perspective
When I was a younger planner I learned several things the hard way, like don’t ever ship your meeting binder or your name badges. There were other lessons I never could have imagined, like what to do when power goes out for a full day of your meeting… in New Orleans… in June. Here’s a tip: be sure to blow out all the kerosene flames keeping your luncheon warm; without ventilation, it creates an awful smell and a lot of smoke!
I never could have anticipated the time a rigger climbed up into the ceiling of my general session room and accidentally tripped the water sprinklers. I had 1,700 people arriving within 20 hours. To make matters worse, the water smelled like things too terrible to mention here. Would you believe that was the second time I’ve dealt with “rain” in a ballroom?
My point is, no matter how well versed you are in risk management procedures or how long you’ve been in the industry, there’s always something you can’t anticipate.
I always tell my onsite staff that one major challenge will inevitably happen with our plans, which I call “sacrificing one thing to the meeting gods.” After that, everything generally will go smoothly. That’s been my theory for a long time, anyway! It doesn’t mean we wait for something to go wrong, but when it does we roll with it, overcome it as best we can and move on. We also add that challenge to the ongoing list of things we’ll be better prepared for, if it ever happens again (like rain in your ballroom, for example!).
I’ll let you in on a secret: the best way to prepare for all the crazy things that can happen at your meetings is to get to know what other planners have gone through. It’s better to learn the easy way from another planner’s bad experience than to learn the hard way on your own.
I’ve been asking many fellow planners lately, ‘What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you at one of your events?’ The responses have been pretty shocking. Murphy’s Law certainly can waylay the best-laid plans of just about any meeting or event.
- There’s the seasoned planner who last year dealt with Legionnaires’ disease at his convention - a disease I didn’t even realize was still a threat.
- Power outages galore are a common occurrence, along with internet outages.
- Speakers no-showing are more common than you might think.
- Having to relocate an entire meeting on short notice (even on arrival day!) due to natural disasters, hotel closures, booking errors and more are incredible challenges to many planners.
- Shipment snafus abound: from important items held-up in customs, to name badges and give-aways that never arrive, to onsite theft. I’ve experienced all three.
- Deaths and other sad occurrences at events can impact us all.
I just experienced perhaps the most ironic incident of Murphy’s Law in my 20-year career. Let me give you the back story first. The last time I was in New Orleans was in 2000. My bag was lost in transit, along with all my maternity clothing for the meeting I was about to run. Of course, I spilled something all over myself on the plane and upon arrival, had nothing to change into. With my meeting beginning in a few hours, my only option was the hotel gift shop where the only thing in my pregnancy size was a horrific man’s t-shirt that said “Smoooth Jazz.” Ugh.
Last month, I had the opportunity to go to New Orleans again, this time as a speaker. I was forced to gate-check my bag, which of course was lost en route. As Murphy’s Law would have it, the bag would not be delivered to me until an hour after my speaking engagement was to begin. That’s not much help when you’ve lost all your business clothing and makeup and you’re in yoga pants, a hoodie and running shoes. You’ll never believe my speaking topic that morning: Murphy’s Law!
Fortunately, I found a 24-hour store where I was able to get basic toiletries, makeup and a clean shirt to wear. The best reality check I could have had was en route to the store in my frustrated huff that morning. I passed a homeless man in a wheelchair and he had no legs. Someone asked him how his day was going. He simply smiled and said, “It is what it is, baby.” It really put my whole inconvenience into perspective. I could easily replace what I had lost, he could not. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, a challenge seems insurmountable and like it’s the end of the world. A little perspective sure can help.
So next time Murphy’s Law intervenes at one of your events, just remember the guy who’s probably still on that street corner in New Orleans. Then remember to keep everything in perspective, fix what you can and move past what you cannot.