If, like us, you were packing to travel half way across the country to host your first creative workshop event, what would you make sure was in your bag?
- Presenter remote? ✓
- Laptop monitor adapter? ✓
- Spare batteries? ✓
- Backup presentation files? ✓
- Print-outs of all important information? ✓
Backup venue? No, surely not.
We had chosen Central St. Martins School Of Art and Design as our venue for our first Visual Web Design Masterclass event in London because we wanted a setting that fitted with giving our events a more creative atmosphere.
Monday morning, just before 8:00am, we took a short walk to the venue. Time was always going to be tight. Their doors were due to open at 8:00am, then we had thirty minutes to set up our registration desk and AV equipment. Our guests were due to arrive at 8:30am, to register and have breakfast ready for a 9:00am start. We were a few minutes early arriving and Central St. Martins' shutters were down and all the lights inside were dark.
8:00am came and went. I watched the minutes slip by and was starting to feel very nervous at the lack of life-signs inside.
8:05am: Still, closed, still dark and still no sign of our hosts. I walked to the back of the building and was told by a disconnected intercom voice that there had been a power failure to the college. No-one, including staff would be allowed access until it had been restored.
8:10am: Our contacts at Central St. Martins were still no-where to be found. To make matters worse there was not one soul from the college on hand to advise us what was happening or our options. We were left standing on the street with our guests due to arrive in twenty minutes, some from as far away as Switzerland, and with an ever increasing chance that we would have no venue.
8:15am: Always calm and collected under pressure, Sue noticed a sign offering conference venue hire outside a building across the street. Now I know what happened next sounds implausible, but honestly, I could not make this stuff up.
8:20am: I walked into Lion Court Conference Centre.
The conversation went like this
Good morning said the helpful-looking lady behind the desk.
How can I help you?
Would it be possible to host a web design workshop for thirty people here? I asked (with probably a whiff of panic about my person).
We will need AV equipment, wireless internet access and full catering.
Yes. When are you planning to hold your event?
In ten minutes.
And ten minutes later, we did.
It could, so easily, have turned into a disaster. But thanks to Sue's unflappable clear thinking, Owen's help in directing our guests to the new venue and the slick professionalism of Clare and her team at Lion Court, we were ready to go.
AV equipment was connected, breakfast tea and coffee was served and without too much fuss our arriving guests were given their badges, branded Moleskine notebooks and were being seated in the theatre. Our timetable slipped by only fifteen minutes.
Guerilla venue switching
Even a small event like ours takes months of planning and we took care to think about everything that might go wrong. We took out insurance to cover certain aspects including what might happen if our guest speaker Brendan Dawes was somehow unable to attend. But never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that our venue would become unavailable with only minutes to go. Packing a spare laptop charger was a no-brainer, packing a spare, last minute backup venue? How can you plan for that?
How did Central St, Martins handle the situation? I have to say that I am very disappointed in their lack of communication and their lack of help and support when they knew of our plight. Because of this I doubt that I will consider using them again. I know that a building-wide power failure is no one individual's fault. I know that sometimes, even with the best plans, things happen to scupper them. What matters is not that things go wrong but how you handle them, and people, when they do.
Central St, Martins could so easily have kept us as future customers. They could so easily have liaised with their neighbors at Lion Court Centre to provide us with an alternative venue. They could have made the arrangements, completed paperwork and been our ally in this stressful time. Instead they left us adrift and so lost their opportunity to be our heroes at a difficult time and make us admiring customers for our future events in London.
In contrast, I could not have greater admiration for the way that Sue, Owen and the staff at Lion Court Centre handled our seamless switch of venue. They were superb in everything they did.
Holding our first event was a fantastic, if a little stressful, experience and I hope that our guests enjoyed it as much as we did. I learned a huge amount about how and not to handle a difficult situation under pressure to keep a customer happy.
Thank-you so much to all our guests for supporting us by attending. We'll be back in the new year with more events and I hope you'll be there with us.