Forget scary movies like “The Conjuring” and “Paranormal Activity”—these real-life horror stories from event planners are enough to make you scream. Anyone who’s worked in events knows that even the best-laid plans don’t always go exactly, well, according to plan.
We all experience situations that feel like something out of our worst nightmares occasionally, whether it’s a tech fail during a virtual event, a communication issue in a hybrid event, or an on-site mishap at an in-person meeting. In the spirit of spooky season, three event profs share their ghastliest event horror stories. Luckily, all situations turned out OK, and we can find humor in each comedy of errors afterward.
An Ear-Breaking Gaffe
For the opening session of a user conference, I had hired an electric violin act through an agency that, rather than send the performers I saw online, sent a random act they assured me would be the right fit.
On event day, the performers turned up, and I had them perform for me first. One was amazing; one was OK; and one was tragically bad. I told them to go practice more until showtime and then come back to me and prove I should let them on stage. When they returned, the tragic one was still horrible, so I fired her and let the other two go on stage as a duo.
During all of this, I then had to go up against the tech guy the act had brought with them who wanted to run everything through his iPad (clearly not ideal for sound quality). I tried desperately to get him to let my tech desk handle it, but he wouldn't budge—so I stopped pushing and agreed. Just before they went on stage his iPad did a system update, and he lost everything he'd saved from the rehearsals. All the performers could hear was screeching feedback in their ears. The audio through the speakers was a high-pitched squeal for the audience, too. Because my tech team wasn't managing it, they couldn't fix it, so we had to look on in horror. We very unfortunately had to let it play out, as cutting it midway through would have made the issue even more obvious. Total disaster!
I went back to the agency, told them everything that had transpired, and got a refund on the booking fee.
Lesson learned: Never book entertainment that requires their own AV. They use my team, or we get another act.
— Melissa Park, a independent global event producer dually based in New York and Sydney
A Double-Booked Penthouse
For a product launch for one of my clients, I chose a famous hotel in Miami and booked the penthouse, which, at the time, seemed to be the perfect fit for the launch. Two days prior to the event, a pre-con meeting was held at the hotel with the department heads to review each detail.
On the day prior to the event, I came in at 3:00 p.m. The penthouse needed to be set up, and our team had quite a bit of work to accomplish. After patiently waiting for the front desk to provide my key (it took so long, I was beginning to think something may have gone wrong), I was told the general manager needed to speak to me. Something had gone wrong, indeed: The penthouse had been double booked. My event was taking place during the annual Winter Music Conference in Miami Beach, so finding an alternative venue was out of the question. It dawned on me that my penthouse was most likely occupied by a famous DJ.
The solution to this came in the form of connections. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a few well-known DJs throughout my career and, luckily, it turned out that I knew the DJ who was, in fact, occupying the penthouse. I asked that we meet, with the hope that a compromise could be found. Thankfully, I was able to take possession of the penthouse later that night. It was not ideal for my team as we ended up setting up all night long, but everything was set and ready the next morning.
— Valerie Bihet, director of The Vibe Agency in Florida
A Dark Room Turned Bright Spot
A few years ago, I was on site for a three-day hospitality industry event kicking off our first keynote speaker. Halfway through her presentation, the room went dark. I was on headset with my audiovisual team and immediately asked what happened, as our battery packs were still functioning. The AV team didn't have answers immediately (they were as surprised as I was!) but were trying their best to get us back up and running. My event manager met us at that time and informed the team that a car had hit a transformer outside of the property, taking out the whole electrical grid with it. It was completely out of our control as the community all went dark at the same time.
Though electricity returned within a few minutes, our projectors had turned off. We all know those projectors take a bit to turn on, so visuals were out for at least 10 minutes. Our keynote was a trooper, though, continuing with her audio and talk. But just as we had hoped the show would be back, it happened again: All went dark. The generators had kicked in and the system rebooted, causing another disruption.
At this time, I had already spoken to our event manager about how to rectify the first blackout situation to get us back on track for a long day of programming. After the first outage, the in-house AV team partnered with our own AV team, sending out extra personnel to check breakout rooms and reboot projectors. We decided to schedule the break earlier in hopes of diffusing the situation with our audience. By the time the second outage happened, the break was set, and the breakout teams were already deployed, restarting again. Because of this collaborative action, we ended up starting our sessions only 5 minutes late, granting people extra time to grab coffee and a snack.
Next, it was important to ensure we communicated with our audience (all hospitality professionals) so they understood what had happened. My team and I deployed to each of the breakouts to explain, and we made an announcement during our second general session of the day. As our keynote didn't get her full talk in, we brought her back for the next event and also hosted a webinar with her to ensure our attendees would hear her message. Post-event, the internal AV team, which was part of a global company, made a training video out of the incident as a case study, focused on how teamwork and collaboration are important for any event. This couldn't have been truer for this circumstance!
—Angie Ahrens, meeting professional based in Atlanta
While not all “horror stories” can be avoided, these types of situations can be quickly diffused with help of an experienced, professional meeting provider. Get in touch to learn how MeetingPlay can be a partner in helping you flawlessly execute your 2022 events.