For the first time in many years, I had more than a passing interest in the Rio Olympic Games. I’m not sure if this is because my kids and I all started watching them together with opening ceremonies, or if because I can finally think about the Olympics without the sting of my experience at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
I owe a lot to everything I learned the summer of 1996. While there were some highlights, like seeing the US Synchronized Swimming Team win the Gold medal in person, it was truly trial by fire on-site and after a grueling three weeks, I came out, licked my bruises and still chose to continue in the meeting and planning industry. A choice I would likely make again.
Around mid-1995 an opportunity arose to work with a world renown weekly publication on their 1996 Olympic Program in Atlanta. I was to work with the founder of the event planning company I worked with in San Francisco. I shall call her Ms. B.
I was very bright eyed about the experience. When Ms. B. started putting together a team of hodge-podge professional, I figured she knew what she was doing, she’d been a planner for nearly 20 years herself at that time. When I asked her questions about who would do what and she just said it would work out, I sort of believed her.
I could write a book about how painful, stressful, grueling and eye-opening those 23+ days on site were. However, instead of a blow-by-blow of all the gold medal failure and mistakes, I’d prefer to share what I learned and continue to apply in my event planning practices for the 20 years since the 1996 Closing Ceremonies.
- We wouldn’t be anywhere without our clients. They pay the bills, come to us with needs and ideas and rely on us to make them shine. Enjoy them and enjoy the process.
- Guests are important to the process too! After all, the energy, effort and resources are ultimately being put forth to create unforgettable experiences. Go the extra mile to make sure attendees are well cared for – sometimes the returns are incredible! In spite of all the foibles in Atlanta, I received and open ended invitation to Thailand to stay with a guest and his wife. (Do you think it’s too late to take him up on his invitation?).
- One of my favorite sayings is: “It’s one thing to have stress, it’s another to be stressed.” Being calm is one the best things you can be on any event site. As the lead planner, you set the tone for all your partners to create the right environment for your client and their guests. If you find yourself biting your lip and making crazy eyes at the smallest obstacle, you may need to re-think your place in the event industry.
- Always use properly vetted venues for any meeting or event. Just because it looks cool and interesting, doesn’t always mean it Construction equipment moving out on move in day is not necessarily a good thing for high level clientele. Neither is the need to have an exterminator on speed dial.
- Trained staff and clear assignments make it all work. Don’t expect your on-site Jazz pianist to become a bellman in his down time or recruit 10-year-olds to carry luggage.
- Be strategic in putting your teams together and if there are going to be major differences, think ahead about how to circumvent conflicts and manage the situation. Big events often comprise a spectrum of personalities to make it all work. A good leader can bring everyone together.
- Meals and accommodations for staff are important. If you are taking people away from home for any period of time, make them as comfortable as can be. Don’t make them sleep in over-crowded rooms filled with event supplies. Be realistic about the length of your program and what you are expecting of staff and vendors. Would you want to sleep in a 25’ RV for three weeks with strangers?
- Don’t hire your old crony friends! Even though we love what we do, our friends may not after a day or two. Having distractions that take us away from our guests and clients is unprofessional. Especially if that distraction revolves around having the 5 pm cocktail every night regardless of what’s going on with clients and guests.
- Document every facet of your program in advance. This is why we call it Planning. Make friends with spreadsheets or one of the programs available to streamline the process. Documentation allows your team to pick up where needed. This includes the Planning Timeline, Production Schedule, Run-of-Show, Vendor Contact List, Guest List, Transportation Manifest, Rooming List, Inventory, Staffing, and the list goes on. Make your documentation available to all who require it. Print it, email it and load it to file sharing. I have a very special relationship with Excel. When I begin a spreadsheet for any program, my heart starts to race just a little because I am practicing one of my favorite parts of my craft.
- Last minute changes always occur. Being as prepared as possible allows any obstacle to be dealt with in a calm and rational manner.
- And finally, Deal with It and Move On. Outcomes will always vary. Sometimes you think you are in for a great experience and it ends up souring for any number of reasons. Look at them, learn from them and avoid them in the future.