Tuesday, January 19, 2010

If You’re Spinning Out, “Gas It!”

“Gas it! Gas it! Gas it!” radioed a spotter to the lead driver as the car went into a sudden spin coming off a corner. It was the final lap. Under full power, the open-wheel, rear-engine race car did a full 360 but somehow emerged from a huge cloud of tire smoke headed in the right direction. The driver held on to win the race. After I happened to see this spectacular save on TV, I posted a little card in my office as a reminder of the vivid lesson it imparted: If you’re spinning out, “Gas it! Gas it! Gas it!”

For live events, the best assurance of a smooth ride is, of course, preparation: careful planning, detailed record-keeping, checklists, review, clear and frequent communication, and practice, such as a run-through of emergency procedures. When unexpected difficulties arise, thorough groundwork can keep a bump in the road from sending the event into a spin.

Luckily, I haven’t had to face a catastrophic emergency at an event, but I’ve had to steer through obstacles like injuries, fire alarms, power losses, and criminal intrusions. Countless small problems can also crop up—shipping errors, bad weather, no-show speakers, staging mishaps, “costume malfunctions,” miscues, AV glitches, drunken or nutty participants, printing errors, missed deliveries, angry VIPs, negligent vendors —but with relentless advance effort and communication, these “normal” problems are less frequent and have less serious consequences. With experience, we can navigate around them.

It’s the really big problems that demand a different approach. The big problems often occur well before the scheduled event, when some key ingredient changes—economic factors shift drastically, a marketing effort falls flat; a crucial player or partner leaves—and things start to go seriously off-course. The more significant the variable that changes, the less likely it is that “slow and steady” will win the race.

When we start to get off track, it’s instinctive to slow down, back off. Sometimes caution works, but we need to know when to put “pedal to the metal.” The right moves may be counter-intuitive. With really big problems, we need to act, experiment, respond, and adjust realistically but dramatically. And fast! Otherwise, we’re just waiting to hit the wall. A radical response may feel risky. But often the greater risk is to stick to the original plan and deny, ignore, or try to hide the developing crisis.

Event in the red? Sell like a maniac! Slash costs! Last year we closed on two sponsorships just a week before a conference. I once threatened to serve peanut butter and jelly at a black tie dinner to get a partner organization to live up to its financial commitment. Key player leaves? Find a replacement pronto or alter the game plan. When you are in deep trouble, don’t idle along hoping for the best. Gas it! Gas it! Gas it!

Other readers will appreciate seeing your comments about how you’ve responded successfully to an event spin out, as well as how you’ve learned the hard way what not to do with problems large and small. And if you need event help right now, don’t hesitate to give me a call at (866) 271-9450.

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Blogger Roger Wilson said...

Just to be clear here, I am not advocating “standing on it” as a winter driving technique. I recently watched a police officer burn a tire right off his stuck cruiser by doggedly trying rocking and gunning the vehicle. As Albert Einstein said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

January 21, 2010 at 9:40 AM  

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