Murphy’s Law was created for events! “If something can go wrong, it probably will go wrong, at the worst possible moment.”  Things happen.  Vendors get delayed in traffic, their cars break down.  A sudden storm may force your outdoor picnic inside.  The father of the bride might get a food allergy.  A speaker or entertainer for your event might get stuck at the airport due to bad weather.  You never see it coming, but the unexpected can send the event into a tailspin that not even those managing it can fix.  It’s amazing to me how few people realize that an event is not an empirical fixed thing.  It’s is an event.  It’s live!  Anything can happen.  How exciting!

Murphy’s Law was created at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949.  It was named after Capt. Edward A. Murphy, an engineer working on Air Force Project MX981, a project designed to see how much sudden deceleration a person can stand in a crash.  One day, after finding that a transducer was wired wrong, he cursed the technician responsible and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”  The contractor’s project manager kept a list of “laws” and added this one, which he called Murphy’s Law.

The time to plan for Mr. Murphy rearing his ugly head is weeks before the event even occurs.  How do you do this?  Create one or several backup plans like he did with his transducers.  The attitude to take on is that things might go wrong, but most probably won’t.  By having a couple of backup plans, you won’t have to take the time to stop and come up with a new plan from scratch at the actual event. You can go straight to Plan B or Plan C.  You want to have a “healthy paranoia.”  As Dilbert said, “Just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.”  So the best way to handle things not going according to plan is to plan ahead.

So, what if you do plan ahead, get to the actual event, and then things start crumbling?  Since we don’t live in a perfect world and because of Murphy’s Law, here’s what you do the next time the unexpected happens.

First, step aside and take a moment to collect yourself; I mean literally.  It can be upsetting when things aren’t going as you planned, so call time out in order to calm down and regain your sense of direction.  Next, go straight to your Plan B, C, whatever.  What if it’s something you didn’t foresee?  Then, stop to consider why things might not go according to plan.  The best way to formulate a better plan is to figure out why the first one could come undone in the first place.  Compare how things are starting to look with how you expected them to look.  Ask yourself how it could happen and how you can prevent it from happening in the future.

Ask others around you for their input. If you’re working with a team, ask the people involved what they think the problem is and what should happen next.  If you’re doing this one alone, try explaining the situation to the client to see if they can give you a fresh perspective that you may not have considered (just be careful how much you admit to)!  Then quickly, assemble a new plan with these things in mind.  Where can you go from here, how can you get the event to where it needs to be in the time available?  Make sure you account for things that went wrong with the former plan, so you can be better prepared to deal with road bumps in the future.

This time last year I needed to use these same steps to solve an Event Malfunction!  Elena and I were in Vancouver about to board the Coral Princess cruise ship.  The ship doesn’t sail ’til about 4:30 p.m., so we decided to take our time and take in the sights of Vancouver and spend time with my cousin Adele who lives there.  We boarded the ship at about 3:00 p.m.  When we checked into our cabin we found a message blinking on our phone.  “This is Rich, the Cruise Director.  Our comedian Scott did not make it to the ship and you’re on tonight at 7:45.”  Now, to a singer or a comedian this might not be such a big deal.  To illusionists, it’s a MAJOR DEAL.  None of our props were on the stage yet.  They were on the other end of the ship in their cases (we hoped).

Immediately Elena and I started firing back and forth to each other.  “What illusions can we set up the quickest?” (Fortunately, I had a Commando Show already written out in case this happened). “Do we have the music ready?” (We did).  “Can we train the crew, lights and sound in just 30 minutes”?  On and on.  Fortunately, all of our props made it to the ship.  Elena began to put the music for the set on CD off her laptop while I RAN.  I rounded up four production guys to wheel the cases to the stage and help me assemble the illusions.  I had detailed picture books in each case of how to put things together in case this ever happened.  It was now 5:00.  Just then the production manger asks me, “Are you sure you can pull this off?”  I ran back to the room to shower while Elena handed out set lists and went over the cues verbally with the crew and gave them the music.  When I returned 30 minutes later, I trained the backstage crew how to assist in the illusions.  Just as I finished that, Elena returned.  It was now 6:15.  We did a quick 25-minute “make it or break it” runthrough of the whole show.  It was now an hour ’til curtain.  We might actually pull this off!  The second we finished, I began setting up all the small magic (appearing dollar bills, silks and pyro, etc.), while Elena applied make-up to my face, neglecting her own.  As she left me for the dressing room, I said, “Be on your mark.”  I never left the stage ’til curtain and finished setting up the show about 20 seconds before they introduced me!  I took a breath, turned toward the audience.  Just before they raised the curtain, Elena ran and jumped into the Blammo Box illusion. Then…Boom….Music. Whew!  After that day, we’re ready for almost anything.  What’s more is we performed two shows back to back that night!  You’ll find in these situations that tasks expand to fill the time available for them.  How did we set an entire illusion show from zero to performance ready in just four hours?  Because we HAD to!

Don’t risk having a mediocre event when you could have a spectacular one by planning purposefully.  You can avoid this with awareness and advanced planning, such as having a backup location in case of bad weather or being aware of road construction in the area. Your special event can be memorable for all the right reasons if you approach the planning with the right people in charge, a comprehensive budget, and clear communication among all participants.  Perform an event risk assessment as an early part of the event planning process.  Set aside time with your event team to brainstorm what could derail the event, then figure out ways you can mitigate those risks.  This exercise doesn’t take a long time, and it’s enormously helpful in understanding the weak links before planning even gets underway. Should the unexpected arise, don’t panic.  Your advanced planning will give you the power to work around it.

 

 

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