BIG Creative Events 101: Planning for the Worst is Best
Creative Events are delicate creatures that need constant nurturing if you expect them to live ... and you to survive. Part 6 in 15 part series on producing great BIG creative events.
We once created the media for a BIG software launch that was beamed live via satellite across multiple countries. Being in the creative event marketing business myself, I was of course curious to know who was producing it. I learned that the event was in the hands of a satellite company, and that office staff from the software company itself would be managing the media projection and speakers’ computerized visuals. To say that it sounded a bit “risky” to me would be an understatement of gargantuan proportions.
Unfortunately, my skepticism was soon validated. I watched the horror on the president's face when he realized that neither the crew nor his staff could find his presentation visuals as they went live … on-camera … around the world. For 30 minutes he had to “wing it” with a huge blank screen behind him—in front of a global audience—as the traumatized staff continued the search. As debacles go, this was one of the worst I’d personally seen. Somebody, if not an entire department, lost their jobs.
The company’s first mistake, of course, was not hiring a professional creative events production team. The second mistake was not having a plan for contingencies. They had no Plan B, and the omission cost them BIG.
Articulate Creative Communications has been in the business of producing BIG creative events under pressure for more than 20 years. And, we have learned that having a sleepless producer on staff who constantly worries what will go wrong is the best insurance anyone can have. For BIG creative events, leave nothing to chance. Expect that if something bad could happen, it will—and do everything you must to see that it won’t. Over rehearse. Over-plan for contingencies. Manage for mishaps. Aggressively ensure peace of mind.
Delicate balance. One of our writers recalls the time when he watched three recipients of awards get called to the stage and invited to sit on stools as the president praised each for their accomplishments. What the event producer had failed to do, however, was calculate the physical abilities of the three recipients. One of them needed (unanticipated) assistance climbing onto the stool, which was clearly embarrassing for her. While the CEO began to speak glowingly of the winners, the audience was riveted on the valiant efforts of the woman to remain on her perch. The tension in the room was similar to watching a large balloon bobbing in a cactus shop. Fortunately she managed to hang on, but the recipients’ proud moments in the spotlight were completely overshadowed.
Hold a “fire drill.” Just as a fire drill prepares you in the event of emergency, an on-the-ball executive producer will schedule a meeting with the key players (venue, media and AV providers) to identify what could go wrong. This “What if” meeting is critical for heading off issues before they appear and having emergency plans at the ready. Here is just a sample of the kind of conversation that should happen before your event goes live (EP = executive producer)
EP: What if we lose our audio on CEO?
Crew: We’d go to our backup system
EP: OK. How do we do that?
Crew: Well, we’ll send John to talk to Bob, who’ll bring a new lavaliere to the CEO.
EP: Good. John and Bob, let’s walk through that. Where will you be in relation to the stage? And, what will we say when it happens?
Plan your Plan B. What is your backup plan for these critical components of your big event?
· Lighting: dead bulb; electrical short
· Audio: microphone/battery replacement
· WiFi: weak or absent signals
· Teleprompter: malfunction; missing or incorrect copy; jumping too far ahead
· Speakers: sudden illness or incapacity
· Venue: attendee “traffic” issues
· Timing: event running too long
Learned it the hard way. In this one, the schlemiel was yours truly. We were producing an event on a stage so BIG that an industrial cherry picker (crane) was required to adjust the lights and speakers in the ceiling. The projector, a front projected model, was placed in the venue’s fly system. Two projectors should have been installed, to double the brightness as well as provide backup if one projector failed. But, in an attempt to cut costs the second projector got axed. I fought valiantly for it, and considered putting one up there at my own expense, but didn’t.
You’ve probably already guessed where this is going.
The president was onstage. The projector lamp flickered fatally for a number of minutes like the eyelids of a dying man. It went out—and I nearly went out with it. The same executives that cut the budget now glared at me with contempt. You may not be surprised when I tell you this little mishap landed me in the emergency room, where I was under observation for potential cardiac arrest. “I knew we were tough,” said my client during a kindly visit to the hospital room, “but I didn’t know we were this tough.”
One final gruesome, but now hysterical story. In my early days, years before I became a creative events producer and founded Articulate Creative, I used to make my living as an on-stage Talent. One time, years ago, I had been hired by a production company that always took short-cuts. In this case, they never hired a writer and I was the Master of Ceremonies. Being responsible to keep the event lively, I had to invent what to say real-time and write amusing quips myself on the fly the day of the event. When I asked the producer if he wanted to review what I wanted to say in front of 2000 people, he said, “Don’t worry kid, you’ll be great.”
Well, this was a career achievement award for an employee—20 years of service. So, keeping it light I said the following: “And now, ladies and gentlemen, presenting the winner of the Dinosaur of the Year Award … please welcome to the stage, Bill Jones!!!
Crickets. I mean absolutely no reaction from 2000 people. But, what I did hear in the back of the room was a distant sound: “Clump-Drag-Clump-Drag.” Yes, Bill Jones was indeed a Dinosaur. Over 95 years old, he struggled up the aisle to the stage on a walker. Clearly, the most beloved man in the company, the audience rose to their feet in waves as he passed and cheered the heroic warrior’s journey down the aisle to the stage. As he refused help up the stairs, at one point he nearly toppled backwards, only bolstering his iron-clad respect from the audience. He scraped his way to the microphone and this is where he shot the silver-bullet into me. As he was positioned in front of the microphone, he removed from his pocket one of those electronic voice-boxes which he held over his missing larynx and croaked out a tearful goodbye to his extended family of employees. When he mercifully left the stage, I remained there alone to complete the event. I have never felt so much hate in a room in my entire life. As an epilogue to this story, more than 15 years later, I actually pitched an event to the SAME company which I performed to all those years ago. Although they thankfully did not remember that it was me, they actually mentioned this exact story during the pitch meeting as something that really “went amiss” one time at an event. Breathe Brian, breathe.
Plan. Plan. Plan. And, have a contingency plan for those plans. Because, your BIG creative event is only as good as your Plan B.
(c) 2014 All rights reserved Articulate, Inc.