Captain Sully’s 5 Tips for Landing a Hot Mess Event

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Sully, meeting tipsWhen Captain Chesley Sullenberger settled into the cockpit of U.S. Airways flight 1549 on a cold January morn in 2009, he couldn’t have possibly predicted that his New York takeoff would end not with an as-usual stop in Charlotte, but rather a balls to the wall coast across the Hudson River.

Sully, as the world has come to know him thanks to the 2016 film featuring A-team actor Tom Hanks, saved all 155 passengers onboard. And though obviously scaled down from the rapid-fire decisions he was forced to make, there are a few common threads to Sully’s in the moment thought process that planners in the throes of an event gone wrong can learn from.

When Life Sends You Geese

“Everything is unprecedented until it happens for the first time.” Both engines of flight 1549 failed after a flock of Canadian geese were sucked into them mid-air. I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of unexpected problems, too. This is where understanding and keeping the values of your event front of mind comes into play. What do you do, why do you do it and for whom? You can usually improvise the rest.

Keep It Creative, Not Reactive

“It’s not a crash, it was a forced water landing.” The last thing you need in an event crisis is to have all the hens in the coop running around saying the “sky is falling!” It takes discipline to compartmentalize your emotions and think rationally when the A/V isn’t working and the caterer is late. The Bellow Breath technique, which is proven to create calm and increased alertness, is made for these moments. Aim for three in-and-out breaths through your nose per second, followed by normal breathing. Do this for 5-10 seconds max to experience heightened awareness like a BOSS. For another tip on calming it down a bit, check out Kimmy Schmidt’s advice.

Ho-Hum with a Vengeance

“It’s amazing what you can learn to get used to.” One of the caveats to being resilient human beings is that we can get used to just about anything. This is actually good news for low-key, potentially ho-hum events. Science shows that rapid-fire decision making removes the barriers that stifle creativity. Sully had less than four minutes to make the life-saving decisions he made. Grab your team and launch your own 1-minute rapid-fire brainstorming session. One company had their team generate random words and ideas while watching a minutes-worth of “I Love Lucy.” Another company blindfolded teams and asked them to create a product and slogan based on the random objects they held. If all you can do is make room for one interesting thing in your event, do so with a vengeance.

When We’re Bad, We’re Even Better

“Every day we wake up, we have an opportunity to do some good, but there’s so much bad that you have to navigate to get to the good.” Sure you can add a CSR experience, mastermind a green event or incorporate sustainable gifts into the agenda. You can also architect a choose your own adventure event, where attendees have a say in the what, why and where of their do-good experience. Now, when I say choose, remember this little fact: 90 Percent of our brains are always functioning at a subconscious level. This means you have a 90 percent chance of moving attendees in a direction of your choosing. Chew on that.

The Art of Reinvention

“I think it’s become an economic necessity for people to be able to learn and grow throughout their lives, because most people can’t get through their entire career with one skill set. We have to keep reinventing ourselves.” The ROE and ROI outcomes of your event are dependent on many things, but one of the most undervalued is your own state of well-being. Are you challenging your mind, body and spirit and giving yourself the stimulation needed to be creative; to break through boundaries; to go where no man has gone before? Take care of yourself. In doing so, you’ll expand the possibilities of how to take care of your attendees as well.

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