Your success as a planner is based not only on how well you've prepared, but on how well you adapt to changes on site. It's essential to focus on enhancing the production value of your programs; it's equally important to anticipate problems that can weaken them.
Consider the following predicaments, all of which actually happened. Before reading the solutions, think about how you would have handled the situation.
Problem: The guy in the front row is being picked on by the banquet entertainer you hired. While a good portion of the audience thinks this is hilarious, you peer more closely from the back of the room and realize the guy just happens to be the chairman. You are not amused.
Solution: Audience members can be singled out by any type of entertainer--even a speaker. Discuss audience involvement with the performer or presenter in advance and on site. Better yet, outline limitations in the. This could include requiring the entertainer to ask for volunteers, avoid the front row, or eliminate such contact entirely. As you know, your best bet is to preview the act in person or base your selection on a reliable recommendation.
Problem: It's three in the morning. You've just returned to your room from an off-site event. The little red light on your phone blinks relentlessly. You anxiously check the voice mail. Alas, it's the president with his AV requirements--finally. He wants schoolroom seating for his general session presentation that morning rather than the theater-style setup you've planned.
Solution: The person to solve this problem is your production company's technical director. I recommend an immediate wake-up call and an invitation to the ballroom. With these sorts of problems, the TD, and often your producer, can quickly offer the best alternatives--they can plot a new seating diagram on their laptops within minutes.
The overnight hotel crew may be able to solve the problem, and can perform the turnover, but items such as rear-screen allocation, set and staging, production control, spotlights, aisles, and fire codes must first be considered. Include the overnight banquet services manager in your discussions. Among other things, you need to know whether the tables needed for a schoolroom set are available. If the change can't be accommodated, remember: One sound reason for staying with the theater-style set will go further with the boss than several vague excuses.
Problem: For your final night banquet, you've booked a band that came highly recommended from your company's top agent. You've heard they can be a bit loud, but they're supposed to be incredible and yours is a spirited, young-minded group. What's more, you got them for an excellent price. However, at the last minute, the new CEO, who dislikes "that loud rock music," decides to attend the conference.
Solution: When you meet with the representative for the band on site, explain that volume is a concern. Suggest that your group will respond better if the volume is contained. Here again, consider putting it in the contract. Other solutions: place the audio cabinets on risers (if they're not hung from trusses) so that the high and mid-range speakers are above ear level, seat the executive toward the center (not to one side) or toward the back, and let the executive know in advance what to expect. You had a great reason for choosing this band: Explain it to the CEO.
Problem: The name entertainer you hired for your January meeting demands a suite for two nights and is only traveling from New York to Boston. It took a lot of work to find money in the budget for this act, so minimizing expenses is a priority.
Solution: Weather often plays a role in how early you want an entertainer on site. In this case, the destination and time of year suggest that you get the act in house the night before, so I'd be happy to accommodate this entertainer's request. In fact, I'd insist on it. In general, we have a higher comfort level when we know the performer is on site, so the earlier they can arrive,within reason, the better.*