YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: Michael Tyron, an independent meeting planner from Edmonton, Alberta, was running a meeting for the Edmonton Police Service at which a woman complained to police that a man was following her. It turned out that the man was trying to recover his wallet, which the woman had stolen from him as part of a pickpocketing scam she worked with her daughter.

Tyron's anecdote was among the winning entries in the Hampton Roads (Va.) Convention and Visitors Bureau's inaugural Meeting Planner Sound Off contest, which awarded prizes for planners' most bizarre meeting stories. Winners received framed New Yorker-style cartoons of their stories and weekend getaway packages to Hampton Roads (including lodging at the new John Q. Hammons Embassy Suites Hotel, a harbor cruise, and passes to the Virginia Air and Space Center). The winning cartoons will be on display in the new Hampton Roads Convention Center, which opened in April.

Then there was the story, told by Mark Singer, president of Advocates of Virginia, a Richmond-based event management company, of an audience that was moved to tears. During a conference for hospice workers and caregivers, Singer arranged for a state trooper to speak about safety. During a demonstration on the use of pepper spray, the officer dispensed an empty container toward the ceiling. Suddenly, the crowd was hacking and wheezing — but not from the pepper spray dispenser, which was indeed empty. In the kitchen, someone had just spilled a 10-pound container of black pepper in front of an air duct, which sucked the pepper into the meeting room.

Strange, but True

Other winners included Shanda Gray, associate executive director at the Delta Sigma Pi Professional Business Fraternity, Oxford, Ohio, who relayed an anecdote about a meeting guest who eschewed an elaborate dessert and requested Jell-O instead. Jennifer Ellison, formerly with T&P Event Center in Abilene, Texas, (now activities coordinator at Abilene Christian University) also won for a tale of two weddings and a fire.

The contest was so well-received that the CVB has decided to do it again. Now through October 31, planners can submit their anecdotes by logging on to