When "Ho, Ho, Ho" Goes Horribly

My team and I had been working for months on a holiday party for a local chapter of an event planners’ networking group (no pressure). We’d toiled over every detail to make it fun and interactive, while giving back to the community and celebrating the season. We’d thought of everything, dotting every i and crossing every t. In short…we were ready for just about anything. Until, that is, the “just about” happened.

While running around to get last minute décor items, I received a call from one of our sponsors who was providing two of the interactive stations, saying that all of her staff had called in sick and she would have no one to man the stations, ultimately leaving people to fend for themselves. Slightly flustered, I assured her that it was OK and to just show up like normal. I would task one of our volunteers to keep an eye on things to make sure everything ran smoothly. I thought, ”if this is the worst thing that can happen, we’re OK.”  I had spoken too soon.

What do you do if the one horse for the "One Horse Open Sleigh" never shows up?

About an hour and a half before the doors were scheduled to open, my DJ called me to let me know that his girlfriend had an accident and he had to rush home, nearly an hour away. He had left the equipment I needed to set up the music, and someone from his office was headed to meet me, but he would not be able to be there that night. Having served as a DJ and emcee for almost the past decade, I took this in stride and kept as much of a happy face on as I could muster, assuring him that we would be fine. Thankfully, we got the equipment set up and the music playing before any of our guests walked in the door.

With just minutes left until people were scheduled to arrive, I noted to my onsite coordinator that the bar wasn’t completely set up, and I had yet to see the caterer arrive with food. She assured me that she had spoken with them and they would be fully set to go within 10 minutes.  Almost 20 minutes later, this was still not the case.

Breathing and mustering as deep a woosah as I could, I headed over to the registration table, to give final instructions to the staff about nametags, and how to use the Eventbrite web check in feature, only to discover that we, in fact, had no nametags.  More specifically, the person who was supposed to arrive 15 minutes prior with the nametags (and consequently run the check-in station) had not yet arrived.

To make it even better, people had started to arrive early and were more than a bit confused about what they were supposed to be doing since there was no bar, no food, and no one at the front to really direct them toward the unmanned activities we had for them to do.

Happy holidays everyone, fend for yourself at the water fountain until we finish. What? You want to make cookies? Well wait one minute while I get another one of the guests (or the United States Marine in full uniform) to help you out…be right there. Yeah, this was less than the optimal way to start a party.

Things may not go as planned, but there is always an opportunity to make attendees smile - it's all in how you roll with it!

To cut to the end of the night- everything finally came together. Eventually. The nametags showed up, the food came out, and the bar served drinks until we shut it down. Guests loved the interactive decorating stations, and the USMC officers were the hit of the party, even showing more than a few guests the proper way to cut out a construction paper snowflake. After the event, the praise to our team was effusive and the smiles from guests were seen all the way out to the valet stand. All in all, the night was a success, and more importantly, I learned more than a few things:

1. Don’t freak out: Stuff happens, and nothing is ever going to flow as smoothly as you anticipate that it will. There comes a point at which you have to say, “we’ve done all we can to make this night a success, now we just have to learn to roll with the punches and see what happens.”

2. Have a backup plan: Had the DJ not been able to get set up, the venue was ready to pipe holiday music through the speakers, and though not ideal, would have at least created a festive holiday atmosphere for the guests in attendance.

3. Be versatile: I’ve worked a lot of jobs in the entertainment industry in my career, and I’m amazed at how often various ones come into play. At this event alone, I was a decorator, a valet (of sorts), a DJ and emcee, a photographer, and (for a brief moment) a table busser. Having the ability to not be locked into your pre-defined role is key to any event.

4. Have floaters: Several members of my crew were on hand as “just in case.” We didn’t need them for anything specifically, or so we thought, but they were integral in making sure things ran smoothly and on (close to) time. Having people I could trust to get stuff done with minimal direction was key in making the night successful.

5. Laugh: Several times throughout the night I was reminded that it wasn’t that serious. People I didn’t expect to come showed up, and friends I hadn’t seen in over a year popped their heads into the event. These friends and surprises served as little reminders that, at the end of the day, it’s a party so I should learn to laugh, and enjoy the time I had with people I actually was fortunate enough to like being around.

All in all, the party was a success, not just because of what we were able to accomplish in hosting a successful event, but also because I learned that even in the midst of a “Bah Humbug” moment, I can still find a reason to relax, smile, and let the holiday cheer take me over.

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