It is a role that I have not often been, and never did truly relish – being the person that everyone goes to when there is a question. Does anyone like this role? It would be so much easier to be able to turn to someone and ask them the question, and be handed the answer. At the very least, maybe you have to come up with an answer, but to be able to run it by another person so it’s not really on your shoulders would be nice.
But I was the answer woman last week, when Kathleen and I went to Boston for the Foundation Fighting Blindness’ Visionary Awards Dinner and Symposium on Retinal Innovation. Throughout the planning, I was the lead meeting and event planner for the events: a dinner for 250, and a science symposium the next day with 140 attendees and 40 speakers. I was well-versed in the specifics of the event, but as I’ve learned over the past two years, anything and everything can happen. If you over-prepare, there will still be unexpected things that will happen, but hopefully not so many!
The first event was a seated dinner with a seating chart. Sponsors received dinner tickets as part of their sponsorship, and I added placeholders to the attendee list. This worked well right up until the day before the event, when there were still a great deal of placeholders on the attendee list. You don’t want to pay for meals that won’t be eaten, so we made a determination on the final number, and that was it. Until these placeholders became real people, showing up for a dinner that they knew they were coming to, but failed to inform us after countless follow-up email and phone calls. I was very lucky to have a client who wasn’t easily fazed, and a fabulous catering staff at our venue, and ultimately, all attendees, placeholder or otherwise, were seated for the dinner and program.
The second event was an all-day science symposium, with no assigned seating and all buffet meals – yay! While Kathleen (production goddess and A/V guru) was dealing with speakers who brought their presentations with them, sometimes giving them to Kathleen mere minutes before these presentations were supposed to be on screen, I was handling less technologically-dependent requests. An attendee with no nametag? No problem! An attendee wants his bag brought up from downstairs? I’ve got it! I hoped that I would not have any food-related issues after resolving issues the previous night. I knew there were a few dietary restrictions among our attendees, including a vegan, and I had informed catering and knew who the vegan was. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the mozzarella sandwich headed to his table before it was placed before him, but the attendee was gracious and the hotel staff quick on their feet to correct the situation. In the end, our vegan ate well that day.
The two days were a whirlwind for this meeting and event planner, but an exhilarating whirlwind. Just five days later, the beautiful city of Boston was besmirched on Marathon day, right outside the very hotel for these events. As we all work to recover from that sad and shocking day and lend our support to Boston, stay tuned for our related blog post on event security.