As we walked into the ballroom, we each received a blue piece of paper with a diagram showing a room with a variety of setups. We were a group of 20 meeting planners, plus myself, the token press person. None of us had ever set up a meeting room before, but we were here to learn how at one of the Behind-the-Scenes Experiences during the RCMA conference at the Tampa Convention Center in January.
“Where are the laborers?” asked one tall woman with glasses. Everyone laughed. “We're the laborers,” another woman said. She suggested we break into teams, so we lined up and called out numbers from one to four, forming teams by the number we each had called. “We need a leader to coordinate groups and tell which parts of the room each should work on,” I suggested.
“I'll be the leader,” said the lady who had asked about the laborers. Some of us raised an eyebrow, but she had already pulled out a pen and was circling different parts of the room for each group to focus on. “Let's move! We've got 19 minutes left,” she said.
Team 2, my team, had to set up two sections, and each section had 10 rows and each row had 10 chairs. We started hustling chairs from the back of the ballroom where they were stacked. The first row had to be 10 feet from the stage. We figured we'd have to estimate the distance, but then Al, a gray-haired convention center worker in a blue shirt, showed up with a plank of wood that had measures for up to two feet. “This is what we use,” he told us in a soft voice.
We started making rows of ten chairs across, but it was slow going as the chairs had to hook together, which was a bit of a process, until Al came over and suggested we stand behind the chairs instead of in front of them and hook them from right to left. Aha! Suddenly we were snapping chairs together like Lego pieces. We completed the two sections with six minutes to spare.
“What about the registration setup — that's Team 2's job,” our leader reminded us in a stern voice. Yikes! We had overlooked that area of the diagram. We ran to the back of the ballroom and carried two long tables out to the hallway just outside the door. “We're supposed to drape these,” one of my teammates pointed out. She found the blue drapes and brought them back to us. Then five of us tried to figure out how to attach the side panels. Three minutes left.
“You need clips,” said a woman wheeling a large trash can down the hallway. Clips! We found some back in the ballroom and finished the job with one minute to spare. We walked back into the ballroom to survey our work, and that's when Al came over to deliver the bad news. “Your center aisle is not in the center of the room, which you need to measure from the center of the stage. You've got to push one row over six inches.” One row was 10 linked chairs, and there were 10 rows to push. We started pushing.
We got the job done, a couple of minutes past deadline. We were tired and sweaty. We all thanked Al. We asked him how many workers it would take to do what our group of 20 had just done in 30 minutes. “Four, maybe three,” he said, with just the tiniest bit of pride.