"And the Oscar Goes to...": What we can learn from the 2017 Oscars big screw-up.
That moment when, at the 2017 Oscars, they figured out that they had announced the WRONG WINNER for Best Picture. To the average person at home it was a surprise or an amusement or a small shock--but to us it was our worst nightmare come to life in front of our eyes. My own sense of empathy was off the charts and I imagine the a/v crew, producers, handlers, etc., backstage scrambling; furious chatter over the com system trying to figure out how it could have happened.
Sometimes when things go wrong at your event--they really go wrong. Most of the time it isn't quite as public as a huge televised award show watched by ~33 million people.
But here are some things that we can learn from the Oscars screw-up that we can apply to our own events, should things ever go wrong.
Correct the issue in the moment.It's embarrassing. No one involved quite knows what's going on. But correct an issue as soon as you realize it--even if it means interrupting your presenter on stage. (Obviously, this only applies to errors with a certain level of magnitude--little minor fact-checks don't need to happen in real-time.)
Mea Culpa.You're not going to be able to hide when something goes seriously wrong. Own up to it. Apologize and continue. Most of the audience wants to see you succeed and will be feeling the pain of your mistake right along with you. Don't worry about *how* the mistake came to be right then and there--you can take time to mull it over and decide whether the explanation is important.
Go with the flow.The host, Jimmy Kimmel, was really great at saying, "Hey, this is an awards show. It's live. Things happen," and going with the flow. Obviously everyone was flustered, but they reduced the awkwardness by keeping the ending short and saying they'd figure it out later. Sure, it didn't have the impact that it was supposed to have, but it kept it from delving into the minutia of mistakes.
Try to make it up to the impacted parties.The Oscar mistake truly did steal the spotlight from the Best Picture award winner. Even though time was running short, they were given their due with their speeches, and are being given ample recognition the day after the event. If this happens at your event, a special call-out to the wronged party may be in order--even if it's not at the event itself.
Double check everything.In this type of event, secrecy is key. But at YOUR event? Give up a little secrecy to make sure that everyone has double checked EVERYTHING. Some mistakes are still going to happen because it's a live event--mistakes happen. Spontaneity that leads to a sparkling, vivid event can also cut the other way and leave the door open for mistakes. Even big mistakes. Mistakes will happen, but dealing with them with grace and aplomb can mean the difference between a disaster and a minor embarrassment.
How creativity rules when an event goes wrong.
Life happens. Nothing goes exactly according to plan ALL the time (and if you're reading this and saying, "It does at MY event," then 1. I don't believe you, and 2. Blessed are you among event producers, for you are nothing short of a miracle and shall be sainted by event producers everywhere.)
Lucky for, well, everyone--no one knows EXACTLY how the event is supposed to go save for you. Chances are that an overwhelming majority of the time the audience won't know that something didn't go as planned.
But sometimes BIG things happen. You can't know what will go wrong, but the best thing you can do is remain creatively agile. Have a backup plan in mind. We're not talking about moving the lunch inside when you're blessed with an epic tropical storm during your soiree, here. We're talking about content not going over, technical issues that stop the show, and things that just flat-out didn't play.
1. Have a contingency plan.
When you have many years of experience in events, you have a couple of activities or strategies in your back pocket that you can seamlessly insert into an event. It's good to have these planned out ahead of time. They can either be backup presenters (uh oh, if the CEO gets the flu, who is going to deliver her message the day-of?), backup activities (the team competition is incredibly skewed, how can you insert an activity that might balance the event), or other (we've gone 1 hour over time--what can be swapped out for something else or moved around).
Look at each place in your agenda and think, "What if?" We're not saying to start thinking like things ARE going to go wrong--just have a few tricks up your sleeve just in case. Sometimes plan b ends up going over better than plan a anyway.
2. Get a Character assist.
We realize that this is unique to our offerings in a way, but having an AniMate* to right the course can be an incredibly valuable tool at an event. One of the main issues with executing plan changes at an event is communicating the what, when and WHY. An AniMate can do this in the voice of the audience, make sure everyone is on the same page, and host additional activities or events without having to get an internal presenter up to speed on the fly.
3. Engage low-tech solutions for high-tech problems.
We've all had technology crash and burn (um, sometimes quite literally) at an event. You run the PowerPoints 100 times and the projector bulb goes out. You triple-check the video sound and someone unplugs and re-plugs a cable without running it one more time. The amazing event laptop AND backup system is wiped in the middle of the night by Event Goblins. Whatever. Technology is ubiquitous and can be flawed. The good news is that the low-tech solution can be a welcomed novelty when the high-tech plan fails.
Having a presenter sketch out their points on a flip-chart when the powerpoint goes down can be compelling and even force the presenter to speak more spontaneously and engagingly. Narrating a soundless video on the fly can be an exercise in improvisation with fantastic (and often humorous) results. Phone polling that ceases to function because ballrooms get notoriously poor reception can be replaced by a simple raising of hands...or an even more interactive standing up to respond.
The key with any event issue is agility and creativity. The best producers we've known have kept their head in times of uncertainty and chaos, taken a deep breath, and put forward several alternate solutions. They don't have to be perfect to work, and the audience doesn't know the difference most of the time anyway.
*An AniMate is a live, 3-D animated character who interacts with the emcee and presenters to communicate messaging, be the voice of the audience, add humor, and/or host the event.