Most seasoned conference professionals have a war story to share. While as an organization we absolutely pride ourselves on professional delivery, behind the scenes there are simply days when nothing goes our way.

For example who could predict that a 5 Star hotel’s ceiling would collapse causing large quantities of bath water to fall onto the conference chairman’s head. Or that an over enthusiastic sponsor would turn up at an elegant city hotel location with a full sized train cab simulator. Shocking but true.

Maybe I’m a bit jinxed, or maybe I’ve just been in conferences a long time but, I’ve had my fair share of challenging events. My favorite was E-Business for Chemicals in Brussels. It looked fantastic, 200+ people, records revenues and a dynamic agenda, so feeling proud as the divisional manager, I was excited to attend the event.

We boarded the plane in London and everything went downhill. My producer started to feel ill and shortly resorted to filling large numbers of airplane paper bags – if you’ve ever had to deal with a similar situation you’ll know these bags are not strong and do nothing to mask the aroma – enough said. After a tortuous 2 hours we land and I endeavor to collect the bags and get my sick colleague safe to the hotel. My bag turns up, but not hers… it’s gone to Paris! And inside it, the all important conference kit, including brochures, sign in sheets and badges.

Feeling slightly ruffled but still in control we get to hotel, I send my colleague to bed and meet the chairmen to brief him before heading off for a restless nights sleep.

6 am comes round fast, I’m up but my producer has continued to make friends with her toilet all night and stays in bed. Not able to set up the registration desk (no conference kit remember) I turn my attention to the exhibition hall, however the bad luck continues, 4 exhibitors are borrowing stands from us and our courier… no where to be seen.

At 8 am over 200 people turn up on site. With a big smile I usher people into the conference hall before taking the stage to give the opening speech of my life, which is mostly an apology and lots of false bravado. My  finishing line is to appeal for one of the speakers to kindly make themselves known (as without a single brochure and this being before the days of mobile internet I have no clue who they are). After a frightening moment of silence a hand from the back goes up and thankfully a willing volunteer takes to the stage.

It was an interesting morning, but like all moments of crisis, it passed quickly. By lunchtime all was smooth, the bags arrived from Paris, the courier from Benelux and my producer re-joined us and managed to keep her lunch down.  And most importantly of all, our clients enjoyed a fantastic event.

So the lesson, a life in conferences may not always be smooth sailing but if you stay calm, think on your feet and keep smiling you can weather the storm. And maybe don’t each budget airline food!

Esther Head Shot B&WEsther, Global Head of HR, IQPC

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