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Let’s be honest. Things go wrong

Example A! On a cold dark winters night a few years ago, we had 5,000 runners on the start line and we were counting down… 10, 9, 8 …, I had 27 people staring at me, my team, police, clients, sponsors, and a global audience watching online. I needed to make the call, are we ready, or not?? It was decision time.

Rewind to a few years earlier and there I was on live international TV. I’d told my parents if they ever saw my face on TV, something had gone wrong. And it had.

A couple of years earlier… we were on the eve of a major international event, with an audacious build almost complete. But just 1 tiny detail had been poorly executed, and just a few millimetres were keeping us from a very expensive, and embarrassing crisis. 

All the above had serious implications, both in that moment, and for a momentous hangover. The infamous ‘knock on effect’, where one incident creates another. If I delayed the start, 23 other simultaneous global events would have to do the same. If we didn’t respond to our issue right then, while on live TV, we would loose a lot of fans and partners. If we didn’t fix it fast, court cases and careers would be lost. If I stuffed it up, there goes our main client and the jobs of most of my team.

All were difficult and challenging situations, example of which I’ve experienced many times in our work of events. I am sure you have too, and we will again. Large, and small. I wrote a while ago about ‘expecting the unexpected’, and it is part of life. And in some ways provides the necessary context to what makes an exciting profession!

FYI, in each of these cases, we got through unscathed. Due to having some great people on our teams, and, some great preparation. 

‘Murphys Law’ states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. I don’t think we need to be that pessimistic, but we should be realistic.Let’s not be arrogant

Events by nature are the sum of many interdependent parts, and many contributing people. And to believe that we can completely control all these parts or people is not likely, or realistic. I firmly believe we would be arrogant to think otherwise. So in fact, we need to be prepared for these things that will go wrong. By firstly, acknowledging that they do.

Lets be honest

I spoke at the Eventing The Future conference recently, at an impressive gathering of event leaders, and then with promising group of Swinburne University students just 3 weeks into their event journey. And one thing that the audience all honed in on, and importantly, got the most out of, was the discussions on what goes wrong, and how to deal with it when it does.

To the credit of Peter and Jeannie who organise the ETF conference, forums were dedicated to this topic. And even more credit to those who spoke, and openly shared their learning’s from when things went wrong. And to me that demonstrated that this is what we need to talk about more, both in our teams, and as an industry. 

I’ve been fortunate that the teams I’ve worked within have been open to reviewing, debriefing and assessing how it all went. But it’s not often we get the chance to share these learning’s with our wider industry. And so it is refreshing when these occasions do arise.

Image courtesy Cushla McGuigan

One of the main pieces of feedback I have had from my Experience Design Evening’s is that its just great to talk about and hear the challenges of like minded people. As in events we are often working on our own, or in fragmented teams, and the support systems are often few and far in between.

“So how do we plan, and deal with things that go wrong?”

This was a great question from the Swinburne students (I may have scared them a little!?) – and I believe the answer is that, firstly, recognise that unexpected stuff will happen. Then plan for it, and get the right people and process in place to help you when it does.

You can’t always predict or plan WHAT will go wrong, but you can have a plan for WHEN it does.

The mention of ‘Risk Management’ will often see our eyes glaze over – the agenda item at the bottom of the page that’s always avoided – but we shouldn’t avoid it. It’s actually really easy to go through. It’s actually quite good fun, visualising your event, and the things that may happen.

And also, do check where your name is on the risk register, you may be surprised to see what you are listed for! Seriously, make sure you’ve read (and acted) on those risk assessments, before it is too late.

We borrow a lot from other worlds, and take inspiration from the fields of sport and theatre, in the preparing with deliberate practice, the simulated dry runs and dress rehearsals. And also from the ‘Start Up’ world, where prototyping is essential.

I’ve always encouraged spending a lot of time ‘walking in the shoes’ of our customers. Both the good and the bad. Walking through an event day, bringing it to life. What if this happens? Who is there? Then what? You can do this as a ‘table top exercise’ around a plan, and it’s also great to get out of the building and into the venues during various stages of planning. 

We would never question the value of practice in sport, or rehearsals in entertainment, so shouldn’t we do the same with live events?

Rehearsals and readiness session are essential. For performance, and peace of mind. 

“Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the nose” – Mike Tyson.

So lets talk more. And support each other, when things go wrong.

Cheers AOL

I’m running industry forums, readiness workshops, and can facilitate table tops for your team. Just let me know!

We will talk more about feedback, and the power of ‘Black Box’ thinking over the coming weeks. As in all areas of life, whether events, sport, coaching, parenting or otherwise, the path to progress is feedback, learning, and, actioning our learning’s.
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