The forecast called for freezing rain. It was a cold January that year. One of the coldest I can remember. I stood in the massive entrance of the Governor’s Room at Liberty Grand shivering, not sure at the time if it was the cold draft blowing inside from guests arriving one after the other or just nerves that overwhelmed me. As I look back now, I recognize it was the moment itself. I did it. The smiles, the buzz of happy banter, the awe on faces and more importantly, the gasps on their lips when the pretty red-head unfurled and dropped over the dance floor in shocking delight and surprise. WOW factor achieved. I has happy.
Rewind to September. The client, a world-class publisher, whom I had the pleasure of working with on various events in past, was celebrating 60 years in the industry and wanted to mark this occasion in gratitude for its employees. This was no author dinner or book launch. This event was more important. It was to celebrate its people and their hard work and commitment to excellence over their 60 years. Just a fancy dinner, some music to dance, awards ceremony… they said. We don’t expect more than 350 guests to attend… they said. The budget is limited… the one thing they did say which was true. I accepted enthusiastically even with the challenging 3-month timeline. Hey, it was a diamond anniversary! There was sure to be bling and sparkle, and those who know me, know I live for both.
By November, it became apparent the executive team was struggling with opposing visions. Venue location was a hot topic. DJ or Live Band was another. Sit-down service or buffet-style foodie stations caused many heated discussions to escalate. My internal monologue was always the same at these meetings: time is running out, make the decisions for them, it’s what you know so trust your instincts. They hired you to get this done. They have their own jobs to do. And so I did. Don’t get me wrong, there was push back and a whole lot of fear in possibly failing to deliver an extraordinary guest experience. Every planner battles this simple truth. But invitations had to go out, period. I had to tune out the noise.
December was a blur. Venue secured, menu finalized with a compromise of sit-down dinner service and dessert stations for optimal caloric opportunities. Why choose when you can have both a DJ to start off the evening and help emcee the welcome speeches, presentations and provide synched visuals onscreen, THEN open the dance floor with the Live Band taking center stage and pushing the party late into the night? Done. Décor? Well you know there was sparkle. Starting with shimmering tablecloths that swept the floor, silver-satin napkins cinched with polished rings and displayed over silver-rimmed chargers, sparkly crystals on tall candelabras topped with jewel-dressed roses. Simple, elegant and within budget.
Wait. January rolls in with a surprise or two or three. The guest list is now pushing 500 RSVPs, isn’t that great?! Many of them from our head office up north, we’ll need to bus these guests downtown. Ok, no problem. Oh, and we should really capture the night in some special way, perhaps a keepsake photo for each guest to mark the company’s milestone… You bet. I’m on it. And!! Can we still add the WOW factor you suggested previously? … they stared at me with excited anticipation. Of course I said yes! Everyone knows successful events need the WOW factor. Live aerialist coming right up. Please let the venue be equipped to support the poor girl suspended from the ceiling.
And just like that, the budget screamed uncle.
I needed a quick “funds re-allocation plan” and some big favors. Luckily, vendor partnerships are a superpower in this business. I was grateful for those relationships then, and I’m certainly grateful for them today.
Fast-forward to 2020. Sitting here at my desk reminiscing by clicking image after image of magical. It was pretty, that’s for sure. But it’s not why I’m sharing my story with you. It was a pivotal night for me personally and professionally. This celebration marked me differently. Maybe it was the profound learning curve that came with a high-profile event or maybe it was simply finding my voice amongst the noise. I don’t know. What I do know is that it gave me the confidence to reach a little higher, expand our brand and align our core values with a deeper, more human outlook to social connections. I was now securely in the business of making people happy. I found my sparkle.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED, THEN PLAN FOR IT.
BE GOOD TO YOUR VENDORS. ALWAYS.