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Go with the Flow

10/24/2012
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My job requires that I attend and staff several conferences every year.  Some are small, intimate board meetings while others are large events with hundreds of attendees, several moving parts, and of course…technology.   For the first two years of my work, I was a nervous wreck.  At each event I obsessed about all of the possibilities for error – a misfiled name badge, a burnt out projector bulb, a missing speaker.  I spent my time checking and rechecking every element of the conference just hoping that nothing slipped off course. 

Then, last year, I attended a convention in Downtown Chicago.  I had a great time and thought the event was one of the most well organized conferences I had attended.  When it was all said and done I sat next to my bag in the hotel lobby while my coworker checked out.  A few seats away, I saw the staff and conference organizers kicking back and relaxing over a job well done.  They were incredibly relieved that the weekend was over and laughing over all of the little things that had gone awry.  Apparently some handouts were never distributed, one speaker had to cancel at the last minute, and someone had forgotten to pack the CDs that they had intended to play during the reception.  These things went wrong and I, as the attendee, had been none the wiser.  Not only that, the staff had seemed cool, collected, and friendly the entire duration of the event.  They were never in a frenzy.  And it turns out…that’s because they knew sometime I did not…

Most attendees will never see those little details that go wrong.  This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t always strive for perfection or that glaring oversights will go unnoticed.  But if you are calm and rational in your problem solving, if you go with the flow and leave some room for flexibility, you and your attendees will have a better time.

My very favorite event that I have ever been a part of featured a speaker who got lost and couldn’t make it.  He was supposed to teach on a highly technical and specialized scientific process.  Inspired by the morale of the staff I mentioned above, I walked up to the microphone and explained that it would just be a few more minutes as we figured out the best course of action.  The audience got up to stretch and a woman walked up to me to let me know that she has taught on this topic for 25 years and has her laptop in her hotel room.  This was something of miracle and I don’t expect it every time, but had I not gotten up there calmly, she never would have approached me. 

People will react based on how you react.  If you begin to panic, they will react negatively. Great problem solving requires a level head and a bit of perspective.  Don’t get me wrong, details are important, but if you allow yourself to drown in them, you will find yourself dreading every event you organize.

Nicole

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