I had been all set to sit down and write a post on insurance and risk management planning. But then I thought with the holiday season, I wanted to focus on something positive. Something that has been coming to my mind more and more as I’ve been interacting with other event producers – stories of heroism. We may be a lot of things – project planners, strategists, designers, etc. — but we are also heroes.
Responding to the unexpected
One story that sprang to mind immediately was one close to me. This past year while we were producing an annual event in Oxford, England, the hotel which housed most of our VIPs and speakers caught on fire. It was a major fire, and thankfully it happened right when everyone was attending the closing session and away from the hotel. However, it required my team to rehouse all those who had been staying there, and create care packages as all their luggage and passports were still in their hotel rooms.
The last part of that was the critical piece. Even though we could reschedule flights, no one was going to get on them without a passport. So we were up the entire night waiting for updates from the fire department as to when we could find out the extent of the damage, and get those belongings and passports back.
Helping in their hour of need
Adding to this of course, are the things that happen with any event, you learn the very real human issues that your attendees face. And it’s your job to help them in their hour of need. One participant needed their heart medication still in the building. Another needed that passport to leave for Africa where her sister was getting married the next day. With a delay, they would miss this once-in-a-lifetime celebration. There were more stories than that. Add to them the very real disquieting feeling of needing to stay the night at a hotel without any of your belongings.
We set-up a triage and rebooking station. We put together care packages of toothbrushes, contact solution, and other sundries, along with snacks and drinks. And we invited everyone to a celebration evening with appetizers and cocktails to share stories and encourage everyone to be hopeful in the midst of uncertainty.
In the midst of this my team worked tirelessly through the night rebooking; calling airlines and government agencies; and working with anyone who had a special request and need. This was at the end of a 14-day on-site, so it was a bit like running a sprint after you had seen the marathon finish line. But they did it.
The woman was able to leave the next day with her passport and made it to the wedding. She tweeted out her thanks afterward. The gentleman received his medicine. The women who were each in the midst of nursing babies shared stories and more and were able to laugh the next day while getting their things. It all turned out okay. And I told my staff they were heroes.
There are stories like this all around our profession. One I heard recently was helping a doctor get home from a medical conference when he heard that his wife was in labor. Getting the ground transit, flight changed, and assuring him that all his materials and other items would be shipped afterward.
Doing the little things
These are the most dramatic instances, but there are other more pressing moments where we often save the day. When the speaker rushes in last minute with an update to their slides – which is key to their presentation. And we make it happen. When an executive realizes they need extra print outs and we head to the 24-hour print shop at the end of an 18-hour day. When we figure out a way to fit that last student into the main session because they’re desperate to hear the speaker.
We do this all the time. We work to set up the event, yes, and we work to make the event happen. But we also work in the in-between moments when things matter deeply to the people we serve. And we make those things matter to us. We take our job personally. We have to. We are heroes.