Event-Planning Reminders From “Christmas Vacation”

Event- and conference-related takeaways from the holiday comedy classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and its lead character, Clark Griswold.

With the holiday season come lots of traditions. On the list for me: baking cookies, building a gingerbread house, taking in the decorations at Willard Intercontinental Hotel here in DC, and of course, watching lots of Christmas movies.

My must-watch list includes A Christmas Story, Home Alone, Love Actually, It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. So far, I’ve crossed three off the list. And, as I was watching Christmas Vacation last weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the film has a lot of good takeaways related to conferences and events.

So, in keeping with the holiday spirit and to finish out my blog for 2016 on a lighter note, I offer up four lessons and reminders from the Christmas classic.

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Less is more. Main character Clark Griswold really wants the decorations on the family house to stand out from the neighbors. To make that happen, he strings 250 strands of lights with 25,000 lightbulbs on them. And, boy, does the house light up—so much so that it blinds the next-door neighbors and can be seen from high above. Memorable? Yes. Overboard? For sure. So, as you’re designing your upcoming events, keep in mind that a little can go a long way. You want the design to stand out but not overwhelm attendees.

Expect the unexpected. The Griswolds encounter a lot of obstacles, letdowns, and unintended situations as they make their way through the Christmas season. One is an overcooked turkey. Another is the unexpected—and chaotic—arrival of Uncle Eddie, and his family, and the dog, and their RV parked in the driveway. But the Griswolds make the best of the situation, even when extremely frustrating at times. Anyone who has ever planned a meeting or event knows you’ll likely run into something you didn’t anticipate. That’s why it’s important to plan for the unexpected and have crisis communication or evacuation plans on hand. Remember, it’s always better to be overprepared than underprepared.

Industry conferences matter. When Clark isn’t busy getting in the Christmas spirit, he works as a food additive designer. During the movie, it’s revealed that his current project is a “non-nutritive cereal varnish” that seals and coats pieces so milk can’t penetrate them. His boss, Frank Shirley, is excited about the product and tells Clark he needs a brief write-up because he’d like to mention it in a speech he is giving at a trade group’s conference. Even though the film was released in 1989, this gesture speaks to the continued importance of face-to-face meetings and tradeshows to introduce new products and services that could help innovate an industry.

Experiences are top priority. In one of the movie’s first scenes, the Griswolds head out in the family station wagon to find the perfect Christmas tree. Even though the rest of the family would rather be somewhere else, Clark is determined to get everyone engaged in the festivities. “Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together,” he tells them. As meeting planners, your ultimate job is to create experiences for attendees that they won’t want to leave.

Now it’s your turn. What lessons have you taken away from holiday movies—work-related or otherwise? Please share in the comments.

(Handout photo)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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