Corporate Events: Lessons from Epic Event Failures
The recent “fail” at one of Tony Robbins’ events in which 21 people suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns during firewalking is an important reminder. It doesn’t happen often but, if your company organizes team building retreats of corporate events for long enough, sooner or later, you may encounter an embarrassing moment or an event failure of epic proportions…. when something goes horribly and visibly wrong. Fortunately, most failures don’t involve permanent damage – just bruised egos.
No team building session or corporate event is immune from being derailed by unforeseen circumstances. In fact, there can be setbacks during all types of events ranging from conferences and business meetings to weddings and galas. Decorations, tents and awnings can fall. Laptops can crash. Stand-up comics, speakers and panelists can go rogue with inappropriate or insulting comments. The key is to be prepared and react appropriately if something goes wrong.
Lessons Learned from Weddings and Special Events
It’s important not to have tunnel vision. Learn lessons from all types of events. For example, here are some lessons that corporate event planners and companies planning team building retreats can learn from the world of weddings.
Using a professional caterer or event planner can minimize risks and prevent the most predictable mishaps….
….but fancy cakes have toppled during slicing. No one would want this to happen to their CEO cutting into the official cake at an upscale gala, client appreciation event or opening.
While equestrian events are usually a thing of grace and beauty, horses can get spooked.
Fireworks can add the wow factor to any gala or luxury corporate event. Things can go wrong. Take a look at this one that happened in Burma a few years ago. Fortunately no one got hurt.
Despite years of planning, the Olympics are not without their fails. Remember the host of controversies surrounding the Beijing Olympics?
Here Britain’s Minister of Sports speaks about preparing for event fails and then gets to practice by dealing with an embarrassing moment of his own.
Event Fails at Corporate Events and Conferences
Most mishaps are less dramatic. BC based Business Consultant Colin Parker witnessed a vivid example of why speakers need to be reminded to turn off lapel mikes when they are away from the podium:
Scenario: Conference speaker finished speaking still wearing his live microphone and heading to the washroom…humming all the way. The sound of the toilet flushing brought down the house.
As German Chancellor Angela Merkel discovered, waiters sometimes spill drinks or food on elegant ball gowns or business suits:
Some situations can be avoided but there will always be clients who disregard advice and events that get off track due to last-minute planning (i.e. client calls today for an event next week) or a myriad of changes to event plans that lead to confusion. There is no point in hiring a professional to organize your event or team building retreat if you disregard their advice or give them an unrealistic budget or timeframe to pull things together.
Sometimes, for reasons that no one can quite pinpoint, team building and corporate events just aren’t well received by attendees. It is important to know how to react then things go wrong.
How to Prevent & Deal Team Building & Corporate Event Fails
It’s impossible to anticipate all scenarios but paying heed to our Top 10 Team Building Pitfalls is a good place to start. Here are 10 other strategies that may come in handy.
- Avoid fake team building and never substitute extreme activities for team building.
The business value just isn’t there and it’s not worth the risk.
- Always have back-up plans and put emergency procedures into place for every event. Brainstorm with mind maps to identify the various types of mishaps that could occur and formulate plans to deal with them.
- Brief your client or senior management team about why back-up plans are important.Some may see them as overkill so be ready with concrete examples.
- For events in remote locations or high risk activities (e.g. abseiling, rock climbing, extreme sports, anything involving fire), have emergency personnel on standby.This will vary depending on the type of event. It could involve having first-aiders, medical personnel, police, ambulances, or MedEvac on hand.
- Keep the lid on the alcohol in high risk situations.If there is resistance, check with the legal department for a full briefing about risks and repercussions.
- Begin damage control immediately.This could involve getting people out-of-the-way, administering medical aid or putting out fires, both literally and politically.Sinziana Gille of FIA Brussels shared an example highlighting the importance of quick and creative thinking.Scenario: When organizing a European road safety competition with children on bicycles in Paris, we got stuck in a terrible traffic jam on the way to the gala dinner. The biggest problem was that all medals and other gifts were with us.The solution we found was to put all gifts and medals in backpacks, take two of the kiddie bicycles and ride all the way to the Olympic committee where the gala and award ceremony was taking place. I do not know what motorists thought about seeing two people, one wearing a tuxedo and the other one an evening dress, and backpacks on red children’s bicycles but we were certainly faster than they were.
- Don’t be defensive Appoint a spokesperson to deal with the media and be forthright about what happened.
- Investigate to identify what went wrong.
- Conduct a post-mortem to uncover lessons learned.
- Apologize, repair damage and compensate when appropriate. (Excellent example from Readercon.)This could involve refunding all or part of a fee, giving refunds, issuing credits, paying to repair property damage, covering dry cleaning expenses, and a host of other measures.
MOST IMPORTANT: Keep things in perspective. This too shall pass.
What tips would you add to this list?
Photo Credits: yveshanoulle
For team building and corporate events that are smoothly executed, please contact Executive Oasis International.