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There’s Got to Be A Morning After: Surviving Meeting Disasters

Remember The Poseidon Adventure, the movie that unleashed the cheesy disaster flick genre? The film featured a capsized cruise ship, and—if  I recall correctly—large, grotesque aliens crawling their way through the bowels of the ship (perhaps I’m thinking of Shelley Winters?).

Now though, thanks to that classic cliché of comedy: “disaster + time = hilarity”, we can look back at The Poseidon Adventure and think, “Wow, was that not the funniest movie of the 70s? I mean, bigstock-Stress-7508650who wouldn’t want to go on an upside cruise with Shelley Winters and a giant alien?”

Of course, this comedic formula also applies to life. Especially my life. In fact, I go out of my way to create, participate or simply loiter around disasters, just so I’ll have enough funny stories to keep me employed as a speaker well into my mid 40s.

So I’m taking a contrarian approach to this topic: why spend countless hours trying to disaster-proof meetings when, maybe, just maybe, you should be encouraging them?

After all, isn’t creating a fun event a high priority for any meeting planner? Aren’t we all interested in making our meetings more memorable? Don’t we want to generate some buzz and free publicity? And don’t we want our participants to bond together in a once in a lifetime made-for-television event? Especially one that can be played on HBO where people can curse and walk around naked?

A well thought-out, organized and timely disaster can achieve all of these goals, and then some. Now, given that the year 2005 was a high water mark for real life disasters around the globe, I’m not talking about a full-blown disaster, so don’t plan your Caribbean meeting for next September just yet.

No, we need to be more subtle than that. And fortunately, we need to do very little planning, thanks to that other cliché: “human stupidity + large numbers of people gathering at the same meeting place + Bonkers the one-man band = disaster waiting to happen.”

In other words, like little Timmy waiting for his beloved Lassie, your next disaster will smell you out and run heartily into your open arms without you having to do a darned thing. So just sit back, embrace it, and then . . .turn the disaster into an advantage.

Imagine, for example, that the power goes out for two days at your isolated mountain venue and you run out of food for the participants. Maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t come up with a better team building event than that! Who needs rope courses or circle drumming when you’ve got a real life Lord of The Flies scenario brewing?

Or imagine that your headline speaker turns out not to be the professional you had thought, but rather a notorious con artist or former politician?  I say, bring on the media, we’ve just bought ourselves three news cycles!

Venue double-booked and you have to share your meeting space with the Agoraphobia Society of Canada? Wow. Just think of the buzz!

To be able to navigate these treacherous waters successfully, you’ll need to keep your sense of humor. Here are a few ways to find the funny in the face of a disaster:bigstock_Avalanche_rescue_dog_11554976

Reward yourself. Rescue dogs dealing with a huge disaster will sometimes quit working if all they do is find dead bodies (I’m not making this up, so pay attention). So they reward the dogs by burying a live member of the search team in the rubble, and voila—you’ve got motivated canines raring to go. So the next time a big disaster strikes, don’t wallow—celebrate! Give yourself an annual award for “The Bonehead Meeting Play of the Year,” order a year’s supply of Bernard Callebaut chocolates on your spouse’s credit card or, if you’re really desperate, bury a live member of your team in the rubble.

Do what humorists do and mentally reframe the situation to find the funny within the chaos. Exaggerate how things could be worse (“Well, I suppose they could start cannibalizing each other”) or look at the situation from the perspective of an alien, a woodchuck, or Shelley Winters (especially Shelley Winters hanging upside down).

Relax! Give yourself a humor break. Get onto the elevator with your meeting clients, but don’t turn around towards the doors—face them with a goofy grin (this freaks folks out every time). Phone a fellow meeting planner, tell them you’re too busy to talk and hang up. Or grab the microphone and belt out a cheesy rendition of Sinatra’s My Way.  Just do something to flex your funny bone.

And above else take, comfort in the fact that no matter how bad the disaster, it really could always be worse—you could have held your meeting aboard the S.S. Poseidon.

Michael Kerr is an international business speaker, very funny motivational speaker, business trainer and the author of six books including, The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the;

Copyright Michael Kerr, 2006


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