Fifty weeks our of the year the right high and right mighty redoubtable right noble lords of our realm don’t know I exist. I like it that way. In fact I sought out anonymity and willingly stepped away from a track likely bound for leadership. If I ever wanted that life for myself it’s a notion I lost quickly, much preferring a role as simply one of many.
Two weeks out of the year, usually sometime between October and November, those mighty lords turn their eyes upon me… and it’s a terrible thing to behold. It’s a little like having the Eye of Sauron taking a good long look at you. That eye. That unwavering, soul crushing eye turns on you. God help you then. “Leadership” and helpful “recommendations” will fall from the sky like hammer blows. You’ll get executive level “assistance” until it’s oozing our your ears.
When you’re a half assed event planner the very first thing you learn is that nothing you’re doing is important to anyone above your immediate boss until about a week before whatever it is you’re planning is supposed to happen. Guidance, intent, guests, and outcomes are all helpful things that could be given well in advance, but they won’t be. You don’t have a prayer of getting those until it’s too late to matter – so you muddle through making up your own guidance for lack of any better until someone tells you to stop.
Under the circumstances, the very best outcome you can hope for is to avoid having a heart attack, a stroke, or saying something to get yourself fired. Beyond that, your two weeks basking in the withering glare of Sauron’s unblinking eye are simply something to be endured. You can’t measure success or failure in conventional terms. Just surviving is all that matters.
The big three-day not-a-conference that I’m nominally charged with planning has turned out to be a bigger draw than I expected based on last year’s numbers. That is to say that just before I left the office on Friday, one of the three days dropped into the “sold out” column. Since the powers at echelons above reality frown on advertising anything as standing room only, I have very little doubt that my inbox is going to be filled to the brim with all manner of email – from pleading to threatening – making the case for why we need to squeeze in just one more person…
In turn, those emails are going to open the discussion about changing the venue to somewhere larger, a pissing match as we define what “sold out” really means, and the inevitable intercession of senior leaders who don’t want to tell anyone (except their employees) no. So here I sit on Monday night, knowing the shitshow that’s waiting at the other end of the commute.
It’s too much to hope that the team will get an attaboy, a pat on the head, and marching orders to hold the line and sell out the other two days. No, tomorrow will be an exercise in spinning the wheels at a hundred miles an hour but going absolutely nowhere.
Sometimes it makes me sad that having a smoke and a highball at your desk has gone out of fashion. It would make those eight hours in the middle part of the day far more tolerable.
I could write another post about today’s dealings with even more corporate “executive” types who are challenged with reading the English language. There’s a fair chance I could turn that into the story of the week. I’ll spare us all of that unhappiness, though.
Instead, let me tell you a little tale about scheduling… specifically any effort you may be tempted to make to negotiate, coordinate, synchronize, or otherwise cause agreement with half a dozen organizations about the event schedule. During that process you’re going to have a moment when all seems right with the world, when all parties have agreed and the two-month effort to reach that agreement feels like it might almost have been worth it.
That right there is the moment when at least one major moving part is going to utterly and completely fail and threaten to drag the entire effort back to the beginning. It’s the moment when VIP Speaker #1 sends you an email effectively saying, “Yeah, I know we all agreed to this, but even VIP-ier people in Arlington want me, VIP Speaker #2 and VIP Speaker #3 to be there for some other random video conference that we can’t possibly change the time of to accommodate the 500 people we’re going to have sitting three hundred yards away in our own venue.”
No problem, I’m utterly ecstatic to chuck out the entire day’s schedule. I look forward to begging, pleading, and threatening everyone we’ve finally gotten in line and having the outstanding opportunity to rework the damned thing for the 83rd time in the last couple of months. It’s absolutely my pleasure.
I currently have the great joy and high honor of planning a “not a conference.” The requirement to talk to people is an unfortunate and unavoidable consequence of this situation. I can usually struggle through making the best of it, but today is special. Today we opened registration. Because we are who we are, there is a very specific way that has to be done in order to ensure there isn’t the impression that one group of attendees is being given preferential treatment over any others. Essentially, once the “registration open” sign starts flashing, it’s like firing a starter’s gun – all interested parties are off to the races.
The problem there, of course, is that all interested parties are not equal. Apparently some are gifted with the ability to read and understand the written word, follow instructions, and achieve their heart’s desire. Others most assuredly lack that particular gift. I know this second group can’t possibly be able to read because my in box fills up with a metric shitload of questions that were very plainly spelled out using real English words directly underneath the flashing “registration open” sign.
So please, ladies and gentlemen, I beg of you, if you are a regular attendee of conferences, workshops, training events, not-conferences, or any other meeting of multiple hundreds of people, please for the love of God, His saints, and all things Good and Holy, please read the registration material. Read it. Understand it. Consult it a second time to ensure full understanding before firing off an email to the poor planner who’s going to be on the other end of that message. You’re saving him or her from answering the same question for the 328th time and you’re saving yourself from his everlasting judgment and damnation. Believe me, it’s a fair trade.
1. Failure to RtGE. If you’re attending an event and the people (person) responsible for planning it send you a confirmation message, it might be helpful to go ahead and Read the Goddamned Email. You never know, it might just be filled with all manner of helpful information, links, instructions, and answers to all the questions your apparently illiterate ass would rather jam my inbox and voicemail with asking individually. At most, I’m just going to forward the email that you already have. At worst I’m going to ignore you. It depends entirely on my mood.
2. Door slammers. I’ve always been under the impression that when you’re exiting an auditorium it’s basically common decency to make sure the door doesn’t slam behind you. Particularly when you’ve been there for a few hours and certainly have heard the thunderous clanging the door makes when it slams shut. Or maybe not… because it’s obviously more cost effective to just go ahead and require stationing two “doormen” on site, each who earn into six figures a year, for three days in an effort to minimize the incessant banging and distraction to everyone sitting in the last 20 rows.
3. Wearing out your welcome. If you’re still milling around flapping your gums when someone walks over to the breaker box and starts turning off the lights, you have overstayed your welcome. The fact that you’re the last six people in a 1000 person auditorium and the lights are off are an unmistakable sign that you need to take your ass elsewhere. Rest assured that after 13 hours on my feet, your dirty looks are the very least of the things I could possibly care about.
4. Name dropping. Something to keep in mind is that I’m not in any way impressed by who you work for or what names you drop. I’m not entirely sure what kind of people fall all over themselves because you think you have weight to throw around, but believe me when I say that you don’t… and even if you did, I really wouldn’t care.
The week to date has been all about variations on a theme. Unfortunately, the theme of the week has been “everything is going to turn to a giant steaming pile of shit in your hands.” Today’s example comes in the form of a not inconsequential event in the life of a typical big government organization. It’s not uncommon to start planning for something like this many months in advance. By the time you get down to the few days before the thing actually kicks off, you should mostly be down to making sure the details are covered.
What you shouldn’t be doing three days before the big show is deciding that while the plan to do everything indoors has been well and good for the last two months, what we really should do is throw most of those plans over the side and instead plan on doing it outside, open to the weather, and subject to whatever nature decides to throw at you that day. That’s a fine enough approach if you’ve had months to do all the extra planning that goes into having an outdoor event, but it rarely leads to good things when it’s sprung on you with way, way less than a week to go. What you end up with under those circumstances is a Frankenstein’s monster tossed together with whatever parts and pieces you’re able to get your hands on without prior notice. Those pieces are generally not ideal.
So, we spent most of the day today inventing Plan B as we implemented it, making up details up as we went along, and having a vague hope that it all might hold together just long enough to get through the next few days. If history is any guide, the wheels will come flying off sometime late Friday afternoon, so there’s that on the horizon. It would certainly be in keeping with the week’s theme.
The only up side that I can see is that by this time next week it’s all going to be over no matter how badly we botch the implementation. Many years ago, one of my fellow teachers was fond of saying “the important part is setting your goals low and achieving them.” If his advice doesn’t apply here, it doesn’t apply anywhere.