No one is immune. At some point in their careers, all meeting and event planners will have a horror story they won’t soon forget.
In this first part of a two-part series, our meeting planners and event managers relive some of their most “terrifying” encounters at events.
More importantly, they share how each of them helped save the day.
Now, it’s time to experience our first round of bone-chilling tales from event planners… if you dare.
The Day The Airwalls Stood Still
As we did a room turn to set up a 500-guest reception, one of my worst nightmares came true: the dreaded airwalls got stuck with less than an hour before the reception had to start.
The ladders and hydraulic lifts came out. Everyone took a turn up on the ladder, including the general manager trying to get the track working.
The clock is ticking; 30 minutes to go.
Meanwhile, we are setting up around this: buffets, seating, bars, décor. Finally, 15 minutes before doors open, we had to give up. The airwall wasn’t going to work. One section of the ballroom wasn’t enough, but the wall was about one-quarter of the way open, leaving a gaping hole in the wall.
So, like any savvy event planner, we made it look intentional! We centered the opening in the walls and adjusted the bars on both sides of the wall. We moved buffets to allow for a nice flow between the two rooms. The slightly raised lighting on one side of the room created extra seating for comfortable conversation.
The other side of the room was dimmed and had more of a conventional reception feel. We created two rooms with a natural flow, food, and beverage on both sides.
The clock ticked down, the doors opened, and as far as anyone knew, we designed it like this! Guests flowed between the two rooms, both were comfortable, and we had plenty of space for the full group.
The Lost Temps
I once had ten temps not show up. That was terrible.
I was running around looking for anybody and everybody who wanted to help us as a cashier. We had thousands of people coming to an event and I needed ten temps, but the temp agency didn’t put it in their system. With two hours to go, all of us—the company included—were scrambling to try to find people.
To make matters worse, it was a Saturday. NO ONE wanted to work on a Saturday. We couldn’t find anyone, obviously.
Of course, for that same show, the hotel didn’t set up our general session. With an hour and a half before everyone came rushing in—2,000 people—we were in the ballroom setting everything up as fast as we could. I’ve never seen such an all hands on deck situation in my entire life. Even the hotel’s general manager was down there.
We were all sweating. It was awful.
I learn from every scenario I experience like that one. I’ve become so detailed; I will follow up with suppliers a month to three weeks in advance, ‘Oh, hey it’s me again,’ so they do not forget… EVER!
Storm of the Century
I had an event once where a tornado siren went off right as we were setting up for a banquet.
We all had to evacuate—staff included—so we lost an hour of set up.
Once we got the all-clear, everyone was scrambling back, trying to get the salads on the tables and ensuring all the final touches done.
We opened the doors 15 minutes later than we had to.
Sometimes events are out of your control, and you have to adapt, even if it’s not in the event plan. That tornado was not in my day!
I was on-site in the beautiful Caribbean for a corporate group event. Typically, we prepare 4-5 hours beforehand, decorating elaborate floral centerpieces, buffet displays, and more. We were setting up a few hours before the event was going to start when these ominous, dark clouds began rolling in from afar. As we all know, in the Caribbean, storms are unpredictable.
The president of this group refused to make the call to move the event indoors earlier that day. Based on that decision (or indecision), I had the hotel set the resort ballroom the same as at the outside venue as a weather backup.
As luck would have it, the wind picked up, and the rain came pouring down. Additionally, the group’s contacts sent the buses to the outside venue earlier than planned, with all 200 attendees onboard. I immediately got the resort staff to open a nearby disco club where we could divert the buses. By serving drinks (a classic stall technique), we were able to “entertain” the attendees before sending them back to the resort.
Meanwhile, the banquet staff immediately packed up the outside venue–in the rain–and headed back to the resort ballroom. The attendees were only in the disco club for about 30-45 minutes before returning to the Ballroom for an event that looked wonderful. Upon arrival, I arranged for the banquet staff to greet them all with drinks in the foyer, giving me a little more time for the final touches.
The attendees didn’t seem bothered because they always had a drink in their hand, but probably wondered why they got on a bus to have a drink in a disco club.
Towards the end of dinner, the attendees figured out what had happened, stood up, and toasted the success of our staff for the quick turn, improvisation, and teamwork.