Meeting Planners’ Worst Nightmares

What if your bad dreams or worst-case scenarios actually happened? In the spirit of today’s ghoulish holiday, a few members of ASAE’s meetings community share the nightmares they have lived through.

I’m sure you know the feeling you have when you just wake up from a nightmare—your heart is racing, your palms are sweaty. And sometimes the nature of those bad dreams is job-related.

For me, as an editor, one of my worst nightmares would be for a horrible typo to appear on the cover of the magazine. In fact, there’s been many a time I’ve woken up in the middle of the night worrying that perhaps I uploaded the wrong version of a page layout or article. So I hold my breath a bit until I have the issue in hand. Luckily, there’s usually nothing wrong; just a case of unwarranted anxiety. (Fingers crossed I haven’t cursed myself by writing this post.)

For the next frantic—like where you start to have heart palpitations—minutes, I was literally running around the crowd looking for the guy.

However, as we all know, sometimes unfortunate situations and problems we may call our “worst nightmares” actually happen. So, in honor of Halloween, I reached out to the ASAE meetings and expositions community and asked them to share some of their own conference- and event-related nightmares that they’ve lived to tell the tale about. Here are some of the worst of the worst:

No Rooms for You

“Several years ago we arrived at the site of our annual conference (for about 4,000 attendees) and discovered that the hotel had sold all but a handful of our sleeping rooms to another group and moved 95 percent of our attendees to other hotels. All of the hotels were a good distance away and [attendees] had to be bused to the conference, which messed up our time schedules and a host of other plans. No advance notice was given to our association. I still have nightmares about it.”

—Margaret S. Bauer, CAE; Pennsylvania Music Educators Association, Hamburg, PA

Disappearing Act

“The highly anticipated keynote speaker disappeared moments before he was to walk on stage. I had done everything right. I had planning conference calls with a fancy schedule of events and outline of expectations. I confirmed that the speaker had checked into the hotel the night before the event,  met him the morning of [the keynote] an hour and half before the go-live time for sound checks, and sat with him to ‘relax’ before the program started.

“[Then] I turned my head to answer someone’s questions and—poof!—he disappeared. For the next frantic—like where you start to have heart palpitations—minutes, I was literally running around the crowd looking for the guy. How he got so far so quickly is beyond me, but he did, and it was all just to take a stroll to collect his thoughts.

“I now appreciate the time a speaker needs alone to focus and can provide that while still keeping an eye on his/her whereabouts. A green room is a must! I hang with speakers after the sound check and then give them 20 minutes [of] quiet time so they can review their notes and get centered before going on stage. It helps to tell them that if they leave the room, the door will lock them out  …”

—Rebecca L. Turner; International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, Alexandria, VA

Space Shuffle

“The hotel … for our annual conference of 600 cancelled on us six months out (and our first marketing mail piece had just hit our members desks the morning I got the call, too!). They had changed flags, and corporate sent down a renovations schedule that would take more than half their guest rooms offline the week of our conference. To make matters worse, there was a citywide [convention] in town, so we couldn’t find enough rooms at another hotel to fill our needs. Luckily a newer property in town had space for us if we were flexible with our dates by a few days and adjusted our schedule. They also worked hard with the groups they had booked over the same dates to ensure their meeting spaces, room blocks, and schedule fit in nicely with ours. It was a worst nightmare that turned into a great conference.”

—Beth Hecquet, CMP, CMM; National Association of Sports Commissions, Cincinnati

Planner Turned Keynoter

“Last February in Dallas, I was offering a new student-awareness event, where students could come for mock interviews and networking with practitioners. We were anticipating over 200 students from various universities in the Dallas area. Well, the night before the event, the area received two inches of snow, which shut the city down. The keynote speaker was on his way, but he got into a car accident, and with only one hour’s notice, I was the new keynote speaker with one of the college professors. Thankfully I carried a few presentations with me. We created a new presentation and presented it in a very short time. The event ended up being a success—just on a smaller scale.”

—Maunda Land, CMP, CAE; The Institute of Internal Auditors, Altamonte Springs, FL

Scary stuff, right? Now it’s your turn: What meetings nightmares have you had to deal with? Share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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