The house lights have started to come up as the staff begins breaking down the room. With the event officially over, it’s now safe to get a drink and toast a job well done. You’re going to have to toast yourself or your event managers, though, because the client’s gone home, and she was too busy taking the bows in front of her boss to toast you anyway. But no matter, you kicked butt, and you know it, and that’s what counts.
None of this matters to the bartenders, who refuse to serve you. Fifteen minutes ago, you were the one who told them to close the bars in the first place, but they don’t seem to recognize you with the lights on. You think about that, and the fact that you paid their wages and you paid for the booze, as you watch them box everything up.
If the catering manager were around, he’d order them to give you anything you wanted, but you have no idea where he is. You try paging him on the walkie talkie, but there’s no response. You see him on the balcony overseeing the breakdown of the VIP area, not wearing his headset. Your well thought out communications system, which worked like a charm during the event, has now been reduced to something just below that of the carrier pigeon. You make your way upstairs and he apologizes to you, and orders a nearby waiter to take care of you. The guy brings over one of those midget bottles of Diet Coke. Apparently there’s no clean ice and the unused glassware and liquor is already back on the truck. You crack open the bottle and can’t believe how quickly these guys are breaking the room down. Mmmmm. Nothing like warm soda.
You sit down at a nearby cocktail table and put your feet up on a chair. The minute your butt hits the seat you feel the searing pain from your feet. Your feet are killing you. You realize you’ve probably been standing for eight hours straight. Who would imagine your feet could get so sore from planning a party. You may be physically and mentally shot, but you’re also strangely wired, and it’ll be at least 2:00 am before you finally fall asleep.
You check in with the few remaining vendors loading up their trucks, make arrangements with the venue’s night manager to pick up some boxes the next day, and then head outside to hail a cab. While you’re waiting (the trendy loft in the middle of nowhere is starting to annoy you now) you realize you haven’t eaten anything all night, so you buy a five dollar pretzel and a bottle of water from a street vendor. For the last three hours you were surrounded by an army of waiters peddling a vast array of delectable hors d’oeuvres, all of which you selected and paid for, and yet your nourishment for the evening is worse than prison rations. Ah, the glamorous life of a party planner.
To take your mind off the culinary irony, you decide to go through the event’s gift bag. You’re checking to see that the key inserts are there: the new pineapple-flavored vodka sampler (they sponsored the bar), the logo’d flip-flops, the charity flyer, etc. But you’re also looking to see what random junk found its way into the bag at the eleventh hour. You know it’s quality, not quantity, but your client has a hard time saying no to free shit. A demo CD from some random artist you never heard of – garbage. A $300 off coupon at Cartier – garbage (your client failed to catch the “$2,000 minimum purchase” clause on the back). A sample magazine that bears no relation whatsoever to the host organization – people may read it, but it confuses the event’s message and undermines the other items. A mini-pack of Crest White Strips – ok, this is a keeper. Totally unrelated to anything, but everyone will use them.
You close your eyes and reflect back on the event, the planning for which began four months ago. For the most part everything went smoothly. You know how easy it is for all the planning to be derailed by the most unexpected glitch, and you acknowledge that this one will go down in the books as a success.
Every event has a “tipping point”, a critical moment after which everyone can shift to cruise control. Sometimes it’s after the last award is presented, or after the product is launched, or after the CEO leaves the party. But the moment is clearly tangible and you can feel the tension ease. It happens in the blink of an eye, and then you’re over the hump. It’s strangely anti-climactic, sort of like climbing a mountain. After a huge amount of preparation and effort, you reach the top, look around at the view for a few minutes, and then head back down.
You’ve learned over the years to recognize the tipping point and savor the moment, however fleeting. Teaching younger event managers to recognize the tipping point of an event may be the most valuable lesson you give them. You see them busy grappling with a million details, carrying a production binder that could stop a bullet, and you gently point out that, at this moment, the event gods are smiling on them, that everything is in harmony and that they should take a deep breath and appreciate the fact that they made all this happen. If they’re lucky that moment will last a whole ten seconds, but it’s among the coolest ten seconds of their careers.
This is the dark side of event planning, the part you just can’t quite explain to the hordes of people who want to change jobs and move into your industry. The people who think your job is looking important with a walkie talkie on your head and checking Brad Pitt’s name off a guest list. They don’t know about the warm soda during breakdown or the stale pretzels in the cab. Even if you tell them, they don’t hear you.