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The Locust Invasion



We’re event professionals. We love what we do, we don’t do this solely on a pay-the-rent-job approach. We’re committed and we put a lot of ourselves in delivering a service that matches our highest standards. So what do we do when Murphy’s law takes control and the task is to limit the catastrophe? Here is a tale about an event that went wrong, why, and how it could have been avoided.

This happened years ago, to a global firm who’d been hired to run registration and housing for an event of 2000+ attendees in a large facility with 3 different hotels. That event was later remembered as “the event where everything went wrong” – and the simple mention of the client’s name still sends chills down to the spine of those who’ve been on that team.

Mistake number one: Too much pressure – self-inflicted.

The event was for a new client, big gun, corporate, with huge opportunity for future business. There was a lot of pressure to succeed, and impress the client. And this lead to overcommitment. For the future, remember that 1. Any client deserves full motivation and dedication, and 2. Committing to landing on the moon without the proper rocket is like shooting yourself in the foot. Just don’t, for a thousand obvious reasons.

Mistake number two: Hoping for the best without planning for the worst.

Best practices included using a new and shiny event management software, which had just been implemented but was still in the beta test mode. Its potential was humongous, but some features were still in the development phase 3 days prior the show… including rooming list reporting and badge printing. 3 days to come up with a rooming list system for 7’000 room nights and printing of 2000 badges through mail merge is like learning you’ll be asked to tie the knots of your parachute before jumping – you just know you have to be quick and that there is no room for failure. So when you fail at Plan B, you’d better have a solid Plan C.

Mistake number three: Overconfidence in your skills

You assume that if plan A doesn’t work out you’ll succeed at plan B. ENHHH! (Sound of the wrong answer buzzer). Any person who’s used Word mail merge in the past knows what kind of nightmare it can become to print badges because of an inch of margin… and can lead to printing badges until 4am in the morning.  Lesson learned for sure.

Mistake number four: Sacrificing yourself

One of the client’s requirements was to have the badges (once they were printed properly of course eh!) distributed by the hotels to the attendees upon check in. The team’s decision was to split the badge distribution based on daily arrivals to ease the hotels’ task, even if it wasn’t required. Why they had decided to shoot themselves in the foot the story doesn’t say but with all of the last minute changes in hotel and registration, keeping track of re-prints, distribution dates and locations made it a bad decision all around.

Mistake number five: Expanding the area of responsibility

Badges were personally delivered to hotel staff by the team for distribution upon check in. However about 500 badges in their badge holders got “misplaced” by one of the hotels. How that happened no one will ever know, still, this got added that to the “Catastrophe List” – and resulted in the re-print of 500 badges.

Mistake number six: relying on (your) technology

Towards the end of a long day, as the team was working its way through onsite changes and updates, it suddenly became impossible to access the remote servers. Assuming it was an internet connection problem, the IT team was called back onsite to repair the network while they were at one of the social events. After spending 30 minutes testing the network, they realized that this was never an internet access problem. The team’s own office IT team, back in the headquarter office was actually doing a maintenance on the remote servers and hadn’t checked if a team was onsite first. If you were trying to install a cold war atmosphere between two office departments, this would be the way to go.

Mistake number seven: Not disclosing you’re in trouble

If you confess to your client that you’re not up to what they’re asking, this is like calling your own Time of Death. So when the client asks for reports that are technically impossible to run from the system, but means data has to be manually processed (2000 attendees, 30 sessions…), would you respond “we can’t do this”? Well those said “Sure we can”. Even if they were fully aware that it meant taking ages and leading to a mental breakdown.

So how to avoid this?

  • Acknowledge your limitations. I personally think this is a demonstration of maturity.
  • Test plans B. Because they may just be the only way to go.
  • Don’t try to complicate things – no one asks you to make it more complicated than it should be. Simple does not mean bad. It could really mean efficient.
  • Ask for help. When the planners struggle, it undeniably “infects” the show even though it’s not the intention. And you’d be surprised how understanding and helpful clients can be.
  • Take the time to think things through. Looking back, what this team mostly lacked was some quality time to review milestones. When you’re sinking, you try to cope with the emergencies without thinking ahead… but that quality time is necessary to avoid sinking even deeper and faster.
  • Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Make sure everyone is aware of what’s at stake, what’s they supposed to do and that they swim with their own buoy duck.

Looking back, this event could have been smoother if the team had taken the time to step back and re-think their contingency plan. But as they were struggling with badges at night, they were only wondering what catastrophe would happen next… a locust invasion maybe?

Written by Sophie Deville, Project Manager, Legend Conference Planning


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