One Meeting Planner’s On-Stage Disaster Stories

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meeting planner disaster stories

No one likes meeting planner disaster stories—and everyone likes meeting planner disaster stories. At least that is what Terry Matthews-Lombardo, CMP of TML Services Group, LLC, has found with the publishing of her book Meetings Mayhem!

Here are a few real-life meeting planner disaster stories from Lombardo’s book, which is available on Amazon.

The Stage Floor Caved In

By the way, that title pretty much sets the scene of what happened: Her stage caved in hours before Patti LaBelle was due to take the stage.

“[The client] was screaming at the top of her lungs for the benefit of anyone who would listen, which of course was all of us because we were stuck in the middle of this mayhem. First it was, ‘I am SUING YOU for this!’ followed quickly by, ‘You’ll never work in this town again!’

And then everyone’s favorite and always a motivator when you want people to work harder, ‘If you don’t get this finished in the next three hours, I’m NOT paying you!'”meeting planner disaster stories

An Unexpected Stripper

She didn’t hire a stripper, but suddenly, that was what she had on stage.

“From my [the planner/narrator] position in back of the room (there was no closet I could crawl into), I agonized while watching the train wreck happening up front until I could no longer stand it. I don’t actually know whether it was a New York minute or a full fifteen before I summoned up all my youthful courage to yell STOP! I followed that with the universal sign language of a sharp slice to my throat as I marched toward the stage to cut [the stripper] off.

“Then this: STRIPPER TO ME: But I didn’t finish! ME: OH YEAH, PRETTY SURE YOU DID!

“The rest of the story is (gratefully) a bit of a blur, but I do remember that somehow I managed to blubber out a brief explanation to the still-in-shock audience who finally gave a somewhat guarded but definite chuckle at the whole ordeal. At least that’s the way I choose to remember it now.”

James Brown Blows a Fuse

“We were still on schedule. Until we weren’t, because it happens just that fast!

“While I proudly stood cued up backstage right next to ‘the man’ [James Brown], suddenly there was a loud buzzing and popping through the sound system accompanied by all the on stage lights blinking. In rapid succession that flashing crossed the stage, snap, crackle, pop. Just like dominoes falling. For sure it was quick! Every piece of equipment that had previously been glowing now was not.

“What felt like minutes was probably three or four seconds. There was a noticeable electrical buzz through the sound system, and then it was dark. Completely.

“By the sounds and visuals we knew immediately it was an electrical surge, but as the panicked minutes ticked away, we quickly also discovered that all (as in A-L-L) of JB Band’s personal backline equipment had been fried, hotter than a basket of potatoes in an air fryer! So besides having no musical equipment with which to perform, I had a furious celebrity and inconsolable band members. As I recall, the conversation between our Account Executive and JB’s manager went something like this:

“OUR AE: Um, obviously there’s been ‘a situation’ here and, um, there will be a slight delay. And, um, by ‘slight delay’ I mean possibly no show. At all.

“JB’s Manager: What the M***er-F***er is going on here?!

“Not to mention JB himself was throwing a Godfather-worthy fit. Oh boy! He was quickly escorted back downstairs by his manager leaving the rest of us to sort things out, not to mention a large live audience waiting for a show.”

A Swinging Start to a Convention

“The lights dimmed, the crowd hushed, and the opening number began. The curtain slowly parted, revealing the stage set—a huge vertical Hollywood Squares-style grid, with costumed dancers posed and silhouetted in each square. They began moving in unison to the pop hit, Magic. The male performer in the center square put a microphone to his lips and began to sing. The first few bars went well until he got to the line: ‘You have to believe we are magic; nothing can stand in our way.’

“Except something did stand in his way.

“He was rigged to step off the grid and literally fly around the stage, but clearly that was not happening. On the plus side, he didn’t fall to his death at this point. That said, if you are picturing a guy literally suspended in air, helplessly swinging in the breeze, with thousands of [audience] eyes focused on him, your imaginary vision is correct. Peter Pan he was not. More like a singing pendulum.

“To his credit he was an unflappable performer. Somehow, he was able to continue singing while uncontrollably swinging back and forth, still attached to the flying apparatus. This is what might commonly be referred to as a technical glitch. And all the other dancers in their grids kept doing what they were supposed to be doing, but backstage? Mayhem until the curtain came down, probably less than a minute into the dangling/singing/swinging male vocalist’s not-so-finest flight after which the audience heard, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your president. . .’

“And, just like that, the show went on.”

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Barbara Scofidio is Editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In her 30 years in the industry, she has become known for her passion around greening meetings, growing awareness of human trafficking and promoting CSR activities as part of business events. She is currently a member of SITE's Women IN Leadership committee and the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee. She was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of SITE for 30 years, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. Before joining Prevue in 2014, she served as Editor of Corporate Meetings & Incentives (MeetingsNet) for more than 20 years. She has a BA in Literature/Rhetoric from Binghamton University. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.