When Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759 – 1796) wrote, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley, (commonly translated into “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”), it was an ode to a mouse. But the quote alone had far more staying power than the poem itself because of the innate truth to it.
When we’re planning an event, conference or meeting, we do everything we can to ensure that absolutely everything goes smoothly and according to plan. Unfortunately, things are often out of our control and after months of planning, we can only hope for the best.
Conference Planning – Hope for the Best, Plan for the…Not the Best!
When we’re conference planning, we’re planning for the best case scenario. The venue will be great. The weather will be clear and sunny. The caterers will show up and the transportation will be on time. A planner can dream, right?
But how do you react when something goes wrong? How we respond to an emergency, whether professional or personal, is very telling. When everything runs like clockwork it’s easy (-ier) to be cool under pressure. But the true measure of a planner is how we respond when things go wrong, bad or even horribly off track.
Conference Planning – When Bad Things Happen to Good Planners
Stuff happens. No matter how hard we try, how much we plan, review and check every excruciating detail, certain things are out of our control. And sometimes it’s our fault (a missed detail or confirmation), the client’s fault (incorrect information), or simply beyond our control (weather, traffic, or worse). Regardless of blame or fault, it’s our job to FIX IT!!!
There’s no worse feeling than a hundred eyes boring a hole in the back of your head as your group is waiting for transportation that has yet to arrive. But usually a (strongly worded) call will solve that dilemma. And when it doesn’t, you have to make it work! We once ended up hailing about 45 taxis to transfer a group whose coach hadn’t arrived. An expensive solution, but far cheaper than an angry client. The delegates arrived on time and the client, although unhappy about the coach, was pleased with our willingness to think on our feet and react.
Conference Planning – Sometimes it’s out of Our Control
Weather is out of our control. So is traffic. But have you ever had an event canceled due to war?
The day started out just like any other. A new program was launching with international delegates arriving first. Having traveled extensively to get to North America, we knew they would be tired and jet lagged. But with a top of the line livery service, and meet and greets planned for every arrival, our goal was to welcome our international delegates and get them to their hotel as quickly and painlessly as possible. Sounds pretty basic, right?
That’s when it happened. President George W. Bush announced that the United States was declaring war on Iraq. It was a tumultuous time anyway, and the clients kind of freaked out. No one knew what, where or for how long, things were going to go on for. The world was still reeling from 9/11 and all that followed. What to do, what to do?
After several meetings, conference calls and serious consideration, the client decided to cancel the entire meeting. They were able to contact about 75% of the delegates before they departed. But what about the rest?
The registration desk did a complete 180 and became travel central. Our only goal…to ease the delegates worry and get them back home as soon as possible. The client stayed on site and greeted each arrival personally and helped explain the situation.
It was a difficult situation. People were tired, jet lagged and (just a little bit) cranky. And that was before they were even informed of the termination of the meeting! We had one CEO of an international company break down and cry. She was so physically exhausted that the bad news was the final straw.
We ended up on site for about 44 straight hours, assisting delegates, adjusting plans and canceling venues, events and suppliers. The clients were stressed, the attendees were seriously ticked off, and the suppliers less than thrilled. But in the end, the clients appreciated our support and re-booked about six months later, even after taking a huge hit financially. The delegates were grateful for our assistance and guidance as we helped them get flights home and fill their time for a shortened visit. And the suppliers, well, they were a little prickly, but knew the circumstances were out of our control.
Conference Planning – Making the Best of a Situation
It doesn’t matter how hard we plan. Regardless of how many times we review a file, confirm the bookings and check the Weather Channel, stuff may happen. But hopefully, it’s more of a wrong color napkins problem, rather than an international dispute. But despite the nature of the problem, it’s our job to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly.
No matter what goes wrong, it is imperative to remember to stay calm and roll with the punches. Freaking out won’t inspire confidence and when your clients see you handling a situation in a calm and rational manner, they’re more likely to respond in kind!