Monday, November 05, 2007

NJBIZ Meeting and Event Planner Guide 2007-2008 "Plan B" by Mary Jasch

So your event is in full swing and everybody's happy. You've chosen the freshest cuisine, trendy table fashions, a mesmerizing speaker, hot entertainment, and brought in the latest audio-visual gear. Accolades, we hear you coming....

But bad-news surprised show many disguises like the speaker's evolving off-color jokes, rising room temperatures and, even worse, the wrong entree. But it doesn't stop there. Your laptop locks up; the digital projector is fuzzy. And the band, now playing for hours, is tipsy and playing loudly.

Comedy of errors? No- imminent devastation. But not to worry! Professional planners and producers are saying "No!" to inebriated entertainers, dining debacles, poor service and bad-taste jokesters. You can, too, with a few solid trip from two New Jersey experts. Planners, take note. Quell these killers with alternate plans, immediate action, backups and a little grit.

"You have to have a Plan A and a Plan B," advises Christy Bareijsza, CMP, CMM and president of The Red Carpet Events in Jersey City. She sees most problems in technology, food and beverage and services.

During one conference where most presentations were Internet-based, a virus blazed through the hotel and Internet service was shut down. But Bareijsza made sure her client was prepare with backup Power Point presentations. "It wasn't as effective, but we still had to make it happen, " she says. She also advises renting equipment from a reputable company, and make sure you rent or bring enough. Last-minute needs such as an extra microphone or replacement computer might be impossible to get.

One-site requests often go unfulfilled, she says, because no one is there to help you to reach the right person or get that person to do what you nee- for instance, medication for a guest with a headache or water from a waiting-to-be-refreshed beverage stations. What to do? Hopefully, those details are outlined in the Banquet Event Orders (BEO's), which make the venue accountable and should eliminate surprises. But what if the BEOs are not followed? "We go up the chain," Bareijsza says. "We go up to the general manager and the situation is basically dealing with an 'on-site behind-the-scenes' to ensure that everything happens correctly."

Being a watchdog becomes second nature to Bareijsza to the point of monitoring toilet paper and hand towels. "In the venue's defense, they can't be on top of every aspect at every single moment. So I'm on the hotel radio, so if I need something, I radio in. I have immediate contact and it's done," she says.

Meetings perhaps suffer the most when things go wring in the food and beverage - cold food, wrong menu, just poorly done. People become distracted, unhappy, and talk to others about it and the company ends up looking bad. What to do in the middle of a food fiasco? First, appoint someone to watch the food as it comes out of the kitchen and to handle problems immediately. If the food comes out cold, stop it in the kitchen and make sure the rest comes out hot.

Now picture this: Everyone is served and the CEO, among others, gets salmon instead of the sea bass he ordered. It happens often, Bareijsza says. Venues sometimes plan poorly and run out of the agreed-upon food, replace is it with 'allowable' substitutions for anything from salad dressing to the entree. Solution? Talk to management immediately. If they have the correct food, arrange to have it serviced. If not, they should offer a concession - either a percentage off the bill or extra courses. Meanwhile, to keep attendees happy "call another caterer to bring the right food in-house. Venues don't like that, but in that situation they have to accommodate you," says Bareijsza. She advises planners to establish a good rapport with the venue. "If they like you, they tend to do a lot more for you."

David Warner, president of Events Plus in Whippany and president of the International Special Events Society, northern New Jersey chapter, has experienced almost every event monster in more then 31 years of business - most of it in entertainment.

So what to do with those babbling speakers and intoxicated entertainers? "If the person is bad, they shouldn't go on at all - now way," he says. Have a backup plan - a movie, another speaker, another subject or cancel it completely. If a speaker goes too long or keeps talking, "Pull the plug," advises Warner. "Pull the microphone plug, shut off the power. First, give them a cue - for five more minutes, give them five fingers - then four minutes, three minutes....and if they don't adhere to it, give them another minute and that's it. At the Academy Awards, when an acceptance speech goes too long, the band starts playing right over them and they're whisked off the stage."

If the problem is a speaker with bad taste, tap him and say "I'm sorry. This is not appropriate" or it will continue. "You've got to just cut it," add Warner, "turn your mike on and say, 'Thank you! Let's have a nice round of applause!"

Having a great event under a tent? Warner warns that Mother Nature sometimes brings a few wolves to your outdoors event, too - especially rain. If you are on ground prone to flooding along one of New Jersey's lovely rivers, have a backup plan to go indoors or cancel, or be ready to buy plywood to make walkways for guests as Warner once did.

"Some things are in your contract and some are not, but you'll be blamed for both" chuckles Bareijsza. "I've accepted that I'll be blamed if it rains. But if something doesn't go right with food and beverage, look for compensation. Don't accept it for what it is. Know that you don't have to accept something that is not written in your contract."

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