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Sleeping With the Fishes… Or, Event Planning and PR Lessons

Mom... Sharks!

Look, Mom... Sharks!

No, I wasn’t up for a mob hit (that I know of, anyway). I spent Friday night at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks, OK with my 7-yr-old daughter and 224 other Eastern Oklahoma Girl Scouts. Plus some other moms and leaders of course… altogether, about 300 of us were present for a night of adventure and discomfort.

You see, when you sleep with the fishes at the aquarium, you sleep right beside the tanks and exhibits. On the concrete floor. My comforter-doubled-over-for-padding did not cut it in the comfort department. But I digress. Several things happened during our adventure that I thought were great lessons in PR, specifically in event planning. So here, without further ado (and because I’m still working the kinks out of my shoulder and back), are event planning lessons learned:

Prior Planning Makes For Perfect Events > You could tell, rather immediately, which troops and girls had prepared appropriately for the evening and which ones had not. Planning well is the difference between event panic and event accolades. Our troop leader rocks, by the way, and we were armed with flashlights, toothbrushes, vending machine change, and other necessities for the night. And in her defense, she’d recommended foam padding for underneath the sleeping bags. I (ouch) should have listened.

Do, Indeed, Sweat the Small Stuff > Someone, somewhere, decided “Alice in Wonderland” (the new, Tim Burton version) would be a great movie to screen in the big hall before lights out. Some of the girls in attendance were 5 or 6. All the girls had gone on a red-filtered flashlight tour of the aquarium exhibits to observe the animals in their nighttime modes just before the movie. So you watch a giant moray eel by flashlight and then see giant scary things on the movie screen and then you go sleep someplace unfamiliar in the dark? uhhh… not a win for the younger girls. Me, my daughter and her three other young troop members all bailed on the movie about 30 min in and went to settle down on the concrete instead. Be sure to think through all the choices… go visit the site for your event, for instance, at the time of day you’re having it. Are there traffic issues? Parking problems? What are the best sight lines for TV cameras? Do you have a need for or access to electricity? A microphone? Podium? Are there outlets so reporters can plug in anything they might need to? Refreshments? And if you’re serving food with napkins or containers, do you have a trash can handy?

Some Of Us Are Best Out Of The Spotlight > The flashlight tour was an amazing thing… so many of the animals that were, well, boring during the regular hours of operation were quite interesting at night. The story my daughter has told over and over? How she got to see the inside of a clam (really a mussel) and how when someone’s non-red-filtered light shone into the tank by mistake the “clam” snapped shut again. The “clams” are definitely at their best out of the spotlight. So are eels and some of the jellyfish. If you’re planning an event for a client, know the strengths of the people you’re working with and for. If the COO is not comfortable in large groups of people, gently talk the CEO out of making him speak at the event. Yes, it’s wonderful that Bill wants to share the spotlight with Ted, but in order for it to remain a big adventure and not become a big disaster, Ted needs to play a role he’s better suited for… perhaps welcoming guests one on one at the entrance, or simply hovering in the background, available for a one-on-one later on.

So there you have it… Plan, Prepare, Pick Your Performers. And take the foam padding next time you go sleep with the fishes. Trust me.

Event hiccups, disasters, funny moments you want to share? Please go ahead! It makes us all feel better to know we’re not alone in the moments we remember that we’d really rather forget.

– (Originally posted on the Journal Record’s Blog Hub, August 7, 2010)

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