Rule 3. Be ready to fail. (You will. It is inevitable.)
You’ve tested. You’ve re-tested. You’re ready for the event. You’ve done everything you possibly can to make it a success. But it’s not.
You’re going to fail sometimes. Accept it now. It’s part of the job.
Sometimes no matter how hard you work to succeed, you will fail. It could be a last-minute change or late addition. It could be miscommunication. It could be something out of anyone’s control like the power going out or a total loss of internet access.
I’ve had my fair share of failures. There are a few things that make a failure more tolerable.
Tell the organizer immediately.
Tell the organizer when something fails. Don’t try to hide the failure, it’s going to come out. Try to have an alternative to workaround the failure or at least a plan in place to mitigate it.
It’s bad when you say this is failing. It’s better to say this is failing, but we can do this! If you are having a partial failure and can workaround or resolve it without the attendees noticing, do it. If your fix requires rebooting a computer or having people rejoin a session, ask the organizer first. It may not be worth it like in the case of the missing recorded video I detail later.
Work Quickly and Call for Help.
If you can’t fix something, don’t hesitate to call for help. Nothing gets a faster response than being in a live event that’s having problems. Don’t be afraid to name drop executives. If the CEO or the Secretary of the Department is present, use them to get the white gloves you need to help you succeed.
Keep your Cool.
Don’t freak out. You are still the expert in this situation. Your organizer will look to you for help. If you’re losing your mind, you won’t be able to help. Be professional and keep calm. You can look back over a drink that night about how freaked out you were. But in that moment don’t let on. Even if you’re screaming inside, think through your options and do the best you can.
Below are two events that failed in various ways. One was due to poor planning and a bad setup. The next was a technical issue that showed up mid-event.
No planning. No infrastructure. Meeting is tomorrow. Go!
One failure that still sticks with me is one that was doomed from the start. I got word of an event happening in our Hall of Honor. This is a small part of a wide open ground floor. It has no walls and even with the curtains there’s no way to properly damped outside sounds.
This event featured a discussion panel of four people. One Congressperson, a couple of CEOs and one high-ranking staffer. I didn’t know most of this until the day before. Because it was scheduled a few days out. Which is usually not a problem, but I couldn’t get any firm details from the organizers.
I didn’t know how many people were presenting, how many people were attending in person or remotely, or even rough estimates. I didn’t know how we needed to setup our sound and video. Did they want the webcam or just audio? Do they want a WebEx or just a conference call for audio? Is there a slide deck or anything visual in the presentations?
I didn’t know any of this until late the day before the event. Worse, it was in a place that does not have its own network or phone connections meaning we would have to run this completely over the network as a Voice over IP (VOIP) event. Normally we would offer a telephone line for people to dial in and listen. But this time we had to run all audio over WebEx itself.
I was at work until 8pm the night before with the events team lead trying to see if we could even make this work at al. And we got it working. Sort of.
We had audio. We had video. Neither were ideal and there as a lot of outside noise because of the venue. But the next morning we got the event up and running. About 30 people joined remotely and even less than that showed up in person to listen.
All in all it was a ton of work for an event I considered mostly a failure. The people who attended enjoyed it and the few who logged on remotely said they had a good experience despite some issues where our audio cut out part of the way through the event.
Technology is great until it breaks suddenly.
Building a Trauma Informed Nation was a huge joint event I ran with Health and Human Services. It was a two-day event talking about trauma and how we handle it.
The event went great. The speakers were interesting and it was well-attended in person and we consistently had a couple of hundred people logged in. Many of those people were “amplifier sites” where others were gathered to watch and listen to the sessions so the reach of the event was even greater.
There were some great speakers and every session was recorded. And this is where the failure came. I had run two in-depth dry run test sessions and spend the morning testing every part of my setup before the 11am start-time.
It started well enough. The WebEx and phone came up with no problem. Our mics were all dialed in and sounded great. Good volume. No feedback. The opening keynote speaker was fabulous. The second speaker took the stage and everything continued to work.. right up until it didn’t.
After the first two speakers, the recording lost video. I still have a live webcam up and running and everyone who participated live was able to see, as well as hear the presenters. But the recording would not capture them.
I immediately notified my point of contact and let her know what had happened and ran through some options. But we couldn’t stop the event so when the afternoon break came up, I killed the entire feed and rebooted the computer, tried a second computer and got on the phone with our vendor.
It turns out it as a known issue and there was no workaround or documented cause.
Once I learned this, I let the organizer know and we briefly discussed a few options including capturing video outside of WebEx entirely but in the end decided to keep going with the live video with the understanding the recordings would only capture the audio and the presenter’s slide deck.
So while the event was a success, the recordings were missing a major part. Because it’s nice to see who is speaking and to put faces with voices, especially if you’re watching a presentation after the fact.