Preparing for the Worst: Avoiding Corporate Entertainment Disaster

corporate.trivia.entertainment.supplier.jpgCorporate trivia entertainment supplier

I’ve always been interested in safety and emergency preparedness. I have no idea why, but it’s just who I am, and who I’ve always been.

What does this mean, exactly? It means I have a heightened awareness of safety issues, and hyper-sensitive protective instincts. I want to keep everybody safe: my family, my friends, my colleagues, clients, and myself. My nickname for as long as I can remember has been “Safety Dave” (follow this link for more on that, as well as tips on keeping your corporate entertainment event safe).

You might be surprised to learn that I was a volunteer firefighter throughout high school and college. It’s true: I completed formal firefighting training and became a certified EMT, and did everything from responding to car crashes, to crawling inside burning houses looking for victims. I’ve always had way too many fire extinguishers and smoke/carbon monoxide detectors in my homes (the batteries of which I diligently change every six months – as should you). When we moved from New York City to California nearly two years ago, I insisted upon us only getting the safest cars on the road.

But wait – there’s more!

Seeing how we now live in California, the land of earthquakes, I’ve gone absolutely nuts with our earthquake prep. Our house is loaded with emergency supplies: in addition to a “deluxe” family-size disaster survival kit with everything from first aid gear and hand-crank radio to whistles and dust masks, I’ve got a whole stockpile of nonperishable dehydrated food, as well as a bunch of flashlights and probably 100 batteries (I’m also going to get a giant drum to seal gallons of water in, as is the recommendation from local officials).

I’ve got our cars stocked as well: food, water, blankets, and about a zillion other things we’ll hopefully never, ever need.

I think the reason I’m like this is because I’m not a practical guy. I don’t mean this in a self-deprecating way, but rather a literal way. There are people out there who are problem solvers: their natural state of being is to look at things, and instantly try to improve upon them, make them work more efficiently, and set right what needs to be corrected. Engineers are like this; many bosses and managers are like this; my wife is like this.

I am not.

While I have other strengths going for me – communication and writing, a knack for making people laugh, and the ability to produce some seriously fun corporate entertainment trivia events – I’m just not good at solving problems on the fly. Maybe it’s a left brain/right brain issue, however if you drop a problem in my lap, be it some kind of jolt to the system or massive kink in a well-crafted plan, it takes me some time to process, and then cautiously respond (my wife, on the other hand, responds to these sort of things reflexively, almost without even thinking. I have no idea how she or others who are natural problem solvers do it).

And so, since I don’t have the innate ability to deal with things like problems in a lightening-fast manner, I’ve adapted by trying to anticipate every possible scenario, and planning/preparing accordingly.

Which brings me (finally) to the purpose of this blog post: how can somebody like me – or anybody, really – prepare for the unexpected when it comes to team building events, corporate entertainment, company trivia parties and the like? You can bet this is a subject I’ve invested a lot of mental and emotional energy into, especially since making TrivWorks my full-time business over six years ago.

Knock on wood, I’ve never had any REAL disasters hit; there’s always the unavoidable snags which crop up, the fires which must be put out. But as for the bad stuff that could really tank an event – and my reputation as the industry-leading corporate trivia event supplier – nothing dire has come to pass…yet. Perhaps I’ve had some really good luck all these years; more likely, it’s because I’ve always, always been prepared.

Let’s look at the big nightmare corporate trivia event scenarios one by one, and how they can be prepared for.

Emcee Cancellation

The possibility is always out there. The emcee who has been assigned to work an event has something unexpected happen: a medical or family emergency, cancelled flight, or unavoidable obligation he/she can’t get out of. Trust me, nobody wants this to happen; not me, not the emcee, certainly not the client.

But it CAN happen – and in fact, it’s happened a handful of times.

As unlikely as this scenario is, it MUST be planned for. I employ two tactics here: redundancy, and only working with pros.

For most events TrivWorks runs, I as executive producer send at least two staff members: an emcee, and a producer. The emcee of course runs the company trivia contest or corporate game show, while the producer handles every other aspect of the event: preparation of materials and visuals, setting up the space, running the grading operation once the event is underway, etc. I’ve designed things so that many of my producers are also emcees. Should the unthinkable happen and an emcee has to cancel last-minute, there’s a strong chance that the producer can step in and fulfill both roles.

I had this happen to me a few years back, actually. I was training a new company game show host, and was going to serve as her producer while she led the team trivia event in New York City. As I was getting off the subway near the client’s office in Midtown Manhattan, I had a message on my phone that she had been struck with a debilitating migraine, and couldn’t make it; fortunately, I was there to take on the emcee role and deliver the event.

While definitely a “safety net,” I realize that redundancy isn’t a foolproof plan. I’ve found that that best preparation for dealing with potential emcee cancellations is to simply hire only professionals (for more on my emcee hiring practices, go here). Why?

Simple: because they’re professionals.

If I were only working with weekend warrior-types like bar trivia hosts, aspiring actors & stand-up comics, etc., then I’d always run the risk that something more important would come up, and they would bail on me. I’ve had this happen as well and trust me, it is NOT fun. With professional trivia event emcees, the situation is different. I can trust them to do the right thing, and to commit to me and only me when they sign on. Also, if something DOES happen that’s completely out of their control and they can’t make the gig, they will bend over backwards to make sure that they find me a suitable replacement (here’s an excellent case study comparing two emcees, and how each handled having to back out of a gig).

AV Failure

We provide interactive corporate event entertainment and team building, and as such, having professional audio and visual equipment is absolutely essential to delivering our services. As corporate game show host and TrivWorks “Special Talent” emcee Pat Kiernan says, it’s the sound system which will make or break these events. We could have the best venue, fully-customized trivia questions, awesome prizes and even an enthusiastic audience at the gig, however if the sound system is inadequate or craps out completely, it’s a disaster.

God willing, neither I nor any of my emcees have ever been in a situation where the venue’s sound system has completely failed. Should this highly unlikely event transpire, however, we DO have a backup plan. At most events (not every, but most) the producer brings a portable, high-powered amp and microphones. It’s professional quality, and can project great sound across large spaces filled with upwards of 100+ people. Is it always ideal? No – but it gets the job done.

To try and mitigate the risk of having a sub-par sound system, I also send clients our comprehensive production guide in advance of every event, complete with our AV needs. This helps reduce the chance of us showing up, and finding out that the sound projection system in the space is actually not going to cut it.

Force Majeure

Commonly referred to as an “Act of God,” Force Majeure refers to any kind of external force beyond anybody’s control which makes it impossible to produce the event. This can include a riot nearby the venue, a power outage, fire, or other kind of disaster which puts the venue out of commission – but most practically, it also includes weather-related issues.

What should happen if, say, there is a hurricane or blizzard the day of the event? Alas, even with the best-laid plans, safety comes first (Safety Dave!). There’s not much that can be done here, save planning for this highly unlikely – yet still entirely feasible – scenario, by adding a Force Majeure clause in the contract. For my service agreement, I state that should we need to cancel the event due to an “Act of God,” we can simply re-schedule the event for an agreed-upon future date (here’s another article on how to handle weather-related event cancellations).

Things Not Going According to Plan

I put my heart and soul into every event I produce; my reputation is on the line each time, and I want to do everything within my power to ensure that my staff are equipped to succeed, and that my clients’ expectations are met (and exceeded).

But then, of course, there’s reality: even the best-laid plans don’t always go as expected.

Things can change last-minute: events have a late start, need to be wrapped up early, half the group is stuck in the office with a crisis, there’s only one microphone instead of three – the list is literally endless. Once again, my solution for dealing with the unexpected is in my hiring. I only hire extremely competent people, who I know can handle the unexpected. Virtually all of my emcees are trained master improvisers; they can react to ANYTHING with grace and composure. I trust all of them to make good decisions in the face of unpredictable challenges, and they ALWAYS come out on top.

For more on dealing with corporate entertainment event supplier disasters, visit

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