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Eric Wise

Eric Wise is a stay-at-home dad with three children, ages 11, 9 and 3. He was formerly a reporter for the now-defunct Hershey Chronicle newspaper, and he has 10 years of experience in public relations with four different statewide associations. His home improvement column, "Around the House," appeared in daily and weekly newspapers around Pennsylvania from 2007 to 2009. He is a graduate of Hershey Senior High School and Elizabethtown College. He enjoys reading, playing guitar and photography. 

Avoid these embarrassing situations when planning events

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None of us wants to be the groom who splits his pants during the wedding or the woman with a dryer sheet stuck to her rear when she walks up to receive a lifetime achievement award. We try to do what we can to avoid putting ourselves in situations where we look silly in front of others.

Over the years, I have seen a few people take a metaphorical pie to the face in public. I know a few who had a great laugh about it -- two or maybe 10 years later. At the time it's mortifying. Most of us don't want to see others flustered and panicked by the unexpected and undesired happening in public. It's painful to watch anyone, especially a friend or relative, embarrass himself or herself in public.

While many such incidents put a single person on the spot, poor planning or preparation can make an organization look bad. I spent years working for associations that hosted dozens of events for their members, associates and honored guests. I attended events held by national organizations, local clubs and groups that fall somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, any group has a chance of looking ridiculous, farcical or undignified at an event.

Larger groups often have professional meetings or events planners while volunteers plan them for smaller organizations. At some point, you might be a part of a group responsible for making arrangements for a banquet, meeting or some other event, so I am sharing some examples of gaffes that I have seen so you might avoid making a similar mistake.

At one point, I was paired with another employee to help plan a small conference for a group of professionals. Each of us planned speakers for one day of the conference. I gathered our organization's shirts and other items with its logo for speaker gifts. My coworker said she would get some other gifts appropriate for all the speakers. The speakers I arranged were members of the organization, so my coworker and I knew most of them for a few years. One in particular had spoken at other events within the past two or three years. When the event day arrived, my coworker gave me the gifts to provide to my speakers, including the speaker who was most familiar with our organization, for whom she had gotten a box of chocolate candy. I reacted in shock at the inappropriateness of candy for our speaker, an insulin-dependent diabetic. It would be easy to laugh off such an error with a first-time speaker, or if we had asked another organization to provide a speaker from its panel of experts, but this was someone with a long history and respected reputation within the organization.

While the speaker was gracious, such an uncaring oversight shows poor planning and coordination. If you are choosing a gift for a member, run it by a few people, just to make sure there is no reason the gift would be a bad choice. You never know what you might learn that could avoid an awkward situation.

When another group was preparing for its annual banquet, someone had printed out cards for certain tables so they would be reserved for leaders or distinguished guests. I am sure that for many years, printing cards with "Reserved: Smith" or "Reserved: Reynolds" had worked just fine. However, there was one year when this didn't work out so well. I don't want to identify the group or person in question, but to understand what happened, imagine that 15 or 20 years ago, your organization had managed to score legendary musical guests Barry White and Clint Black. In this case, using the Reserved: Last Name format could raise eyebrows for two tables. I know families with last names like Good, Fake and Flowers. How much time would it take to look at the cards prior to the event and print new ones with first and last names, or even Mr. Hank Good and Guests?

Fortunately, only a few people noticed the table sign, but that's not the point. It takes only one person to see it and cause a scene, and that just makes the whole organization look bad. Pay attention to this type of detail, and you will avoid the appearance of having an organization of ham-fisted amateurs.

When some events are organized, the planners (or someone else) provide speakers with the program. This may appear in several forms: a copy of the agenda, a list of important points, or a list of names of those to be recognized or a script. People work differently from scripts, based on their familiarity or comfort level with public speaking. Some take a script and read 95 percent of it verbatim, and yet they are so natural that they got up and spoke off the cuff. In contrast, there are speakers who use the script as a guide or a crutch.

Many things might go wrong when your speaker opens his or her mouth. I have heard plenty of names butchered. Sometimes, the master of ceremonies has stumbled around because the outline provided nowhere near enough detail to meet the speaker's needs. At one event, an organizational leader read every word of the script. That doesn't sound bad until you realize he read every word. At one point, he said, "And now join me in welcoming tonight's honoree, ("John Smith") to the stage. Pause here for applause... whatever the heck that is supposed to mean." Take some time to discuss the script with the speaker, verify that it meets his or her needs. Double-check to make sure stage directions like "pause here for applause" are not read aloud.

At one event, a member welcomed a well-known speaker by reading an extensive, detailed biography. She took the stage and deadpanned, "It's always nice to hear someone read your obituary." At another event, an organizational leader took the stage to welcome a guest speaker at a banquet. Her introduction to this speaker went on for at least 10 minutes, comparing the speaker to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus. No one could live up to her deluge of flattery. I am sure most of the audience thought it was absurd.

To introduce a speaker, tell the audience the speaker's name and a few words about his or her background. You may add the topic, and the reason this speaker is qualified to discuss it. The handoff should be brief and unremarkable; it should take one minute. The audience should remember the speaker, not your introduction.

Finally, you should try to avoid a problem because of the stage setting and your speakers' appearance. I have heard about, but never seen, this happen. A woman gets up to speak wearing a dress the exact color of the backdrop. The audience sees a head and hands "floating" on their own in front of the curtain and starts laughing hysterically. This situation can get out of hand quickly, so if there is a way to let your speakers know ahead of time, it's worth doing. It seems like a million-to-one shot, but it has happened.

Take a few minutes to consider some issues involved if you are ever called upon to help plan an event. I hope it goes smoothly for you!


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