I pride myself on success. I want every event I lay my hands on to be a success. But some days, you lose. This is one of those days.
Just as every win is made up of all the parts going right, a loss is made up of parts going wrong.
Here’s what went wrong today.
First, there was unclear information available on the Intranet. This information led to an event being created and overbooked. The site can support 200 people and over 500 registered.
I found this out the day before the event was scheduled to start. In an effort to avoid disaster, I worked with the organizer to set up the event on a site that can accommodate 1,000 people.
Even with 500 registrants, my rule of thumb is about 3/4 at most actually take part. So the new site was setup, but this meant new information had to be sent to the 500+ registrants late in the day before the event.
I was able to get the registration list from the organizer and reformat it to import the list into WebEx. When I setup the event, I had WebEx send all of them an updated invitation to the event.
In addition, another email went out advising everyone of the change in web link. I also answered about a dozen emails from people who understandably had questions.
350 People on a Party Line
Second, due to the event’s size, the organizer had booked a phone line to handle the large number of people. I didn’t think anything of it, as I’ve worked with this group before and they knew what they were doing.
The moment the event started, I knew we were in trouble. I was hearing people. A lot of people.
The large phone line should have been booked to allow anyone with a Host code to speak, but to set everyone who dialed in with an Attendee Code to Listen-Only mode. I should not have heard anyone but the presenter.
I heard everyone. And everyone heard everyone else. What happened next was 20 minutes of:
- Babies crying
- Hold music
- People talking over each other
- People yelling at those people to be quiet
- People asking everyone to mute their phones
It was a disaster. There’s no civil way to handle 350 people on an open phone line. We were handling questions over a text-chat in WebEx so there was no need to have the attendees be audible.
We got an operator on the line and she informed me she could not mute the participants as it was not setup for her to do so. She pleaded with the mob to mute their lines as well. And most people did. She was able to silence some hold music from two lines and find a line causing static.
So eventually the presentation began, 25 minutes after it was scheduled.
Third, there was poor planning between myself and the person presenting. I should have contacted them beforehand and made sure they were comfortable with what they needed to do. I should also have reminded them about a bug with our WebEx setup cause by a Microsoft Patch which broke Application Sharing.
I did not. And they tried to share the PowerPoint slides, a new wave of I can’t see. Can you? and “Where are the slides, all I can see if a green screen? Is something wrong? Along with the people who knew what needed to be done providing advice.
Meanwhile, in an effort not to talk over the people on the line, I had emailed the organizer and was using the WebEx chat to relay instructions on how to solve this problem.
The presenter did figure it out shortly and shared the slides by uploading them straight to WebEx and the event could begin.
The organizer gave me the name of the person who I would turn the event over to. We agreed to get dialed in no later than 15 minutes before the event was scheduled to start.
I started the event 20 minutes before the start time and waited. And waited. 20 attendees. 50 attendees. 100 attendees.
I emailed the two contacts I had, including the person I was supposed to turn the event over to, no response, which didn’t surprise me since they were preparing for the event.
Finally the presenter logs in, about five minutes before the event was set to begin. There were over 150 people on the line when she did. Any hope I had of talking things over with her were already drowned out by the people having problems.
I tell everyone I work with to give themselves extra time before their event. And if they’re unsure of any part of anything, to allow even more time. There are a lot of things we can do to troubleshoot an event, but the options narrow drastically without time.
I made too many assumptions.
I do this all the time. I spend my days planning, scheduling and supporting events and meetings. I forgot about all the things I know and take for granted.
I assumed a level of knowledge that wasn’t there. I assumed I didn’t need to remind the organizers of certain things. I should have.
This failing was a group effort. Though the event did eventually started and the people on the phone quieted down. There was some great information shared and good questions asked.
So in the end, the event did take place and did end somewhat successfully. But it wasn’t something I want to replicate.
I’ve gone over what went wrong. Now here’s what I did the prevent this from happening again.
- I located and updated the information on the Intranet which gave unclear information.
The information was all correct, but it was unclear and I saw how people were assuming they could host large events themselves. I rewrote part of the page to make it crystal clear how to requested a large event and who to contact in for scheduling and help.
- Next time I work with someone to book a large phone line, I will make sure they’ve set it up as an Operator-Assisted call.
This gives us the benefit of having Host codes that presenters can dial-in with to discuss and plan the event prior to the start. This also allows us to mute all attendees by default. If the organizer wants to have a verbal Q&A session, it can be conducted with the operator managing the phone lines and opening lines upon request and muting them again.
It’s how we’ve setup other large events and it works very well to keep the event quiet, focused and without the crying babies and hold music.
- I won’t assume the presenters or organizers know what I know. I will review with them best practices and stress the importance of showing up early.
I need to be more proactive. I need to remember to approach every event as if its my first one. I need to look at it with fresh, beginner eyes and not assume things or overlook details. With a little extra planning and if I had been more proactive, this meeting could have been more successful than it was.