Event Nightmares – Imagine if this happened to you…


By: Phoebe Yong

The best way to avoid an event disaster is to anticipate any or all disaster scenarios. Yet we can’t predict every possible thing that can go wrong.  What we can do is share our experiences so as to help one another avoid making the same mistake.  This is my event nightmare which I share in hopes that it may never happen to you. Just thinking about it brings back butterflies…

It was many years ago when CTIA Wireless decided to host their member meeting in Vancouver and all the major names in the wireless industry were expected to be there. I was working at Sierra Wireless, who was a member of the organization, and as the head of marketing communications, I had close ties with the CTIA’s planning committee. They asked me to help them with selecting the venue for the big reception so I chose the Art Gallery.

For the month of December our blog has been dedicated to events and last week we featured our Ultimate Event Check List with some very useful tips. The one thing on the checklist that I didn’t put down, and neither did the Gallery that day, was a liquor license. Each of us had made the fatal assumption that it had been taken care of by the other. And so the nightmare began.

At 13:00, the day of the event, I went to see the banquet manager to finalize all arrangements (planning ahead!) and at the end of our cordial meeting, she then dropped it on me, “You have the license?”  I looked at her with bewilderment. A few moments of silence passed and then panic struck, for both me and her.  The banquet manager explained that the venue was not responsible for issuing this key government document to which I retorted that I hadn’t even considered that it was my responsibility. This was the Art Gallery, a venue that holds regular cocktail events, not a community centre! While the banter on who was at fault went on for several minutes, reality hit that we had less than five hours until some of the biggest names in the wireless data industry would be descending on the Gallery with only water, juice and soda to drink. This was not good!

The banquet manager pointed me to the police station, which she said could process a license the most efficiently with such short notice, and that’s where my nightmare progressed. I raced to the station and there I was told that the only person who could issue me the license within the same day had already clocked out. By this time it was 14:30, and apparently he had been issuing licenses since 3:00 and so rightfully his work day was done. The clerk saw the pure desperation and fear on my face – I guess it was pretty obvious! I was envisioning 300 frowning guests, sipping on diet coke. My job would surely be at stake. To my utter luck, she kindly offered to call the off duty officer and see if he might be nearby to sign the document. At this point, I was ready to try anything.

She did get through to him on the phone but unfortunately, I was then told, he was too far away to return to the station. I had no choice. I had to find him. I asked her to give me his location, paid for the license, got the paperwork completed and then I was off to find the only one who could put an end to my event nightmare.

With heart pounding, head spinning and palms sweating, I was on a “police chase”. Finally I spotted the officer near the intersection of a busy street. Upon seeing me he unassumingly came out of his vehicle and said, “You’re one lucky girl that you caught me.” I thought to myself, “You have no idea!”

I wanted to give him a huge hug, but instead gave him a big fat handshake. The night was saved!

The truth is I was very lucky. The event could have easily gone the other way, and it all hinged on one mistake. My biggest lesson from this miscue was to make sure that I always have a proper checklist! Nowadays, many indoor venues in our city have already instituted liquor licenses included with their banquet package, but one can never assume. Another take away is this: know which questions to ask and trust your intuition. There are no dumb questions! The question that you fail to ask could be your last hope of preventing a nightmare.

At the event, while the CTIA Wireless chairman thanked the Vancouver team for hosting the event, making special mention of my name, I was nowhere to be seen. Instead I was driving around the city like a mad woman on the hunt for the license. When the ordeal was over and I had arrived, I ordered a nice glass of scotch. I have no idea who made it but I can tell you distinctly from memory that it was the best tasting scotch I’ve ever had!


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