Meetings From the Darkside
Even with the planner's best efforts, mistakes, mishaps, and disasters happen. It comes with the business. It's unavoidable. The following stories, ripped from today's headlines and snatched from the depths of the SM crypt, are a collection of some of the wildest, wackiest, and weirdest meeting fiascoes ever.
Proof: Meetings can give you Bug eyes
At left: Former Texas Governor Ann Richards (who lost to Dubya in '94) forgot to adjust the mikes before speaking at a Silicon Valley conference.
Bogus speaker pulls wool over textile meeting
Last August, the organizers of a Finnish textile conference thought they'd booked a speaker from the World Trade Organization. Instead, they got anti-globalization prankster Andy Bichlbaum, who gave a PowerPoint presentation supporting slavery and denouncing Gandhi as a "rabble rouser," then stripped down to what he called the "Management Leisure Suit," a gold leotard with a three-foot inflatable phallus.
"The company is going down the tubes? Hey! Let's party!"
In April 2001, while simultaneously inflating Enron's stock price and selling off their own personal shares, management took the company's top 75 performers and their spouses on an incentive trip to the Four Seasons Resort Nevis in the West Indies. Fiscal responsibility was not an issue on this four-day hiatus. The itinerary included flying in the band the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Final cost: $16,000 per couple.
Enough to jump off the wagon
At last year's annual shindig for an alcoholic counselors' association, bad things came in threes. First, the New Orleans hotel committed a faux pas by leaving bottles of wine as pillow gifts for the attendees -- many of whom are themselves recovering alcoholics. Then, the hotel generator conked out during the meeting. Finally, Tropical Storm Allison hit. It's dark. It's scary. There's booze on the pillow . . .
Let's Not Forget The Classics
This exhibit's a bummer: Krandel Lee Newton, a Dallas artist, charges trade-show exhibitors to sketch the behinds of willing visitors to their booths. His Original Butt Sketch costs $225 an hour.
Planners go down with ship: In '98, Titanic made over $1 billion in ticket sales, and hotels worldwide promptly jumped on deck with theme parties and ballrooms recreating the ill-fated vessel's first-class dining salon. What's next, a Hindenburg hot-air balloon ride?
Meeting pooh-poohed: Mississippi ex-Gov. Kirk Fordice got in deep doo-doo for bringing his dog to meetings. The pooch left "treats" in Senate offices.
Boardroom design transforms history: Alas, a heavy conference table saved Adolf Hitler's life in 1944 by shielding him from a bomb in a staff meeting.
Never Follow an Animal Act
Planners who like to find out a little bit about the group that precedes them when they bring a meeting to a resort might want to steer clear of the Hotel Humboldt in Caracas, Venezuela. Once the country's most luxurious property, the hotel is reopening this year after being abandoned for over 30 years -- at least by people. During that time, the property was taken over by a group that totally trashed the place: the jungle critters indigenous to that part of South America.
Meeting replaced by rumble
Planners, beware: Since the Enron debacle, annual gatherings might be getting ugly, and shareholders are not going to be swept under the corporate rug with the usual rhetoric. Take a recent shareholders' meeting in France. In April, doomed media company Vivendi Universal resorted to riot police to quell the crowd of 7,000 irate attendees calling for the CEO's resignation.
Dude, where's my car?
Attendees at an auto show at San Francisco's Moscone Convention Center were driven a little crazy when they learned the show's lone concept car -- the Infiniti XVL -- wasn't even there. Though these futuristic autos are the main draw for attendees of such shows, Infiniti dealers nonetheless sent the model to a more important show in Phoenix, without bothering to notify the San Francisco show organizer.
The Bush Family Meeting Album
Any thoughts on the sound tech guy? After speaking to a crowd at a political rally during the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush must have forgotten about the live mike inches from his mouth when he referred to a reporter as a "major-league asshole."
The crying game: Addressing an anti-drug summit this past April in Tallahassee, Florida, Governor Jeb Bush choked back tears as he told the audience of police and legislators about his daughter Noelle's addiction to forging Xanax prescriptions.
Hurl to the chief: At a 1991 state banquet in Japan, President George Bush Sr. couldn't stomach the sushi -- he collapsed and vomited in the lap of his host, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. Bush's spin doctors claimed it was a bad reaction to medication.
His Speech Was A Smashing Success
Nothing could go right at this conference, says keynote speaker Barry Maher: wrong room setup, wrong AV, a faulty sound system, a mike with a too-short cord, and the wrong room posted on meeting boards. Then, while Maher was signing copies of his book, Filling the Glass, during the break, the hotel manager tried to redeem himself by offering a toast before an immense pyramid of champagne glasses. He then proceeded to knock them all down.
Wanted: A Few Good Wasted Men
At a presentation to debut the new Air Force business cards, the planner got the slides only 20 minutes before the meeting and didn't check them. There was no way to avoid embarrassment; they read, "Air Force . . . A Great Waste of Life!"
This Meeting Stinks
Motor coaches taking 350 attendees to an off-site picnic last year pulled up on the Port-A-Potty hose lines. They later realized their mistake and backed up, but meanwhile the toilets were unusable and the stench at this outdoor event -- in sultry Florida
Fowl menu selection
Duck was the main dish at an awards banquet for a well-known meetings magazine, but the planner didn't know this fatty bird takes hours to cook. Hungry attendees were served late, got undercooked Daffys, and started ordering off the room service menu.
You booze, you lose
This alcohol counselors' association has a strict no-liquor-in-the-food rule, so an attendee at a 150-person lunch went ballistic on the planner when they were served Midori parfaits. She screamed, "Don't you know Midori is a LIQUEUR??!!"
Travel Planners' Worst Nightmare
In 1993, the Clintons fired seven longtime White House travel office employees to make way for their Arkansas buddies. Their friends later had to cancel their own travel plans when five workers were rehired amid claims of cronyism.
Winner of Crappiest Speaker Award
Just minutes into his presentation in Mexico City, speaker Jim McJunkin was hit with Montezuma's revenge. He called a break and ran for the restroom, and after about 10 minutes of doing his business, dashed back to the podium -- and realized he'd forgotten to switch off the cordless lavaliere microphone.
On a team-building retreat last October, a dozen Burger King higher-ups suffered first- and second-degree burns after walking over hot coals.
Election Party Exit Poll: "This Theme's A Loser!"
The conservative crowd at an association awards dinner in Las Vegas on the night of the 1992 presidential elections was all set to see their man George win again. But the banquet's God Bless America feel (red-white-and-blue lighting, patriotic music) became a cruel joke for the staunch Republicans watching the returns on giant I-MAG screens. "Before dessert was served, we knew the outcome -- Bill Clinton elected -- and I literally had grown men and women crying in the bathrooms," says the planner. "I held up the bar as I downed one vodka after another, watching the evening go to hell."
Let's Not Forget The Classics
Will you make it through the meeting? "Depends": When infamous tyrant Robert Crandall ran American Air-lines, his meeting style led employees to joke that he had "mankind's biggest bladder"; corporate get-togethers were eight-hour marathons laced with profanities.
Face-to-foot meeting: Once, during a heated meeting exchange, legendary Apple cofounder and boss from hell Steve Jobs suddenly kicked off his shoes. The sockless wunderkind then shoved his bare feet in a manager's face.
This event's a no-hitter: Skinflint Marge Schott wouldn't spring for party refreshments when her baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds, won the 1990 World Series -- or for a plane ride home for a player with a torn kidney.
If the National Peanut Board has its way, goobers will replace cookies as the F&B manager's snack of choice. With all those empty peanut shells, brooms will become a planner's best friend.
No Payoff, No Kickoff
The National Auto Dealers Association (NADA) had booked 16,000 rooms and sold 310,000 square feet of exhibition space for its annual convention, set for February 3 in New Orleans. Too bad: When September 11 pushed the date of the Super Bowl back a week, the overlapping events spelled Super Problem. After much negotiating, the NFL won the city to themselves, but not before shelling out $7.5 million to NADA for its event's postponement.
Born To Meet Wild
In April, three people died and more than a dozen were wounded after a fight broke out between 60 to 70 rival motorcycle gang members inside Harrah's Casino in Laughlin, Nevada. A weekend gathering had brought 80,000 biker enthusiasts to the resort town.
Attendee Bites Off More Than He Can Chew
At a 1981 CBS Records convention where rocker Ozzy Osbourne was meeting for the first time with the execs who'd just signed him, his manager suggested he make a flashy entrance by releasing three doves hidden in his pocket. The drunken prince of darkness released two, then bit the head off the third.
Way To Create A Party Mood
This pharmaceutical firm's cocktail reception at an Atlanta museum last month was rendered mighty unappetizing when attendees en route had to pass through a conflicting exhibit in the museum's entrance -- "Thraxpat,' an interactive commentary on biological warfare and the spread of disease.
Winner of Biggest Attendee Prima Donna Award
Monday Night Football sportscaster Al Michaels requires some high maintenance when on the road. His demands include an electric fan in the room to drown out street noise, a bottle of his favorite Scotch placed bedside, and a person waiting outside with his room key so that when his limo pulls up, he can step out and avoid the front desk. But the real doozy of a meeting demand occurred at a Buckhead hotel 20 minutes outside of Atlanta. After realizing he had left his notes in the hotel's meeting room, rather than taking the elevator downstairs to pick them up, Michaels called an assistant who was staying with other staffers at less expensive hotels in Atlanta. The lacky was told to come all the way back to Buckhead and retrieve his boss' notes.
He's Got A Monopoly On Being A Goof
Last August at a Microsoft employee event, CEO Steve Ballmer bounded onstage to the song "Get on Your Feet" by Gloria Estefan and jumped up and down, disturbingly, for a full minute, screaming, "Give it up for me!" and "I . . . LOVE . . . THIS . . . COMPANY!"
Let's Not Forget The Classics
From T&E to T&A: A government employee from Sweden traveled abroad on a site inspection tour, and later tried to bill his company for $27,820 in prostitution and champagne bills. When he got fired, he sued for reinstatement, claiming such costs were part of a planner's job. (He lost.)
Airport: The Movie, Part III: Two beery Germans looking for a bathroom during a conference at Frankfurt Airport mistak-enly boarded a plane -- and wound up in Moscow.
A catered affair? A Web designer in Argentina launched a Web site for cheating spouses seeking a faux getaway. For $120, he created fake conference invites, plane tickets, and certificates of attendance. (Sorry, lovers: The site's been disabled.)
Please Mike, Take My Ear, I Can't Bear Listening
At a recent press conference in Hawaii, Mike Tyson was asked a question by a CNN female reporter concerning his upcoming fight with Lennox Lewis. "I normally don't do interviews with women unless I fornicate with them," he said. If that wasn't enough to clear the room, he later added this beauty: "I wish that you guys had children so that I could kick them in the f***ing head or stomp on their testicles so you could feel my pain because that's the pain I have waking up every day."
Hey, It's A Basic Instinct
Mike Bloomberg is also no stranger to sexual harrassment lawsuits. Before he was elected New York City's mayor, the media mogul was a mite less PC. One of his ice breakers at his company's sales conference: "I would like nothing better than to have Sharon Stone sit on my face."
Planner Piping Mad
This association planner didn't count on having the neighborhood attend her event at a Nova Scotia historical fort. But surrounding freeloaders heard the bagpipe music being played by the 78th Highland Regiment and invited themselves for dinner. Even local homeless people showed up and tried to mingle with the guests at the grilled-lobster cookout. Later that night, over a meal out of the minibar, the planning staff brainstormed new career paths.
Attendee Robbed Blind
During an international conference in Atlanta on disability issues, a blind attendee's aide disappeared with his plane ticket and money. Because he was from a country with shaky relations with the U.S., it took the planner two days to get the attendee home.
Attendees Get Plastered
Last summer at a luncheon during a resort meeting in Florida, the planner was surprised to notice pieces of what looked like blue cheese -- which she hadn't ordered -- in the pre-plated salad. Before she could say anything, an attendee yelled, "Watch out!" and pulled another woman out of the way just before the ceiling collapsed over her chair. The chunks of "cheese" were actually ceiling plaster.
"Hey, That's not your minibar!"
At the 2002 Adult Video News Awards, rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg took two "adult Oscars" for his porn flick, Doggystyle -- and more. He also took over the penthouse suite, filling it with about 70 women from the adult entertainment industry. When the suite's original occupant, a (male) porn actor, wasn't allowed in, hotel security was called to escort Dogg and his entourage from the premises.
Crowe Eats Crow
Enraged when his overlong, pretentious acceptance speech was cut at February's British Academy Film Awards ceremony, Russell Crowe shoved a TV director against a wall and cursed him out. Hollywood insiders say the bad boy's beastly behavior was the reason he later lost the Oscar to Denzel Washington.
Another kmart bill in collection
Martha Stewart once invited top Kmart execs to her house for a meeting at which she served a paltry luncheon of tuna on lettuce. Stewart later added insult to injury by billing the company for a thousand dollars.
Go Sit At The Kids' Table
When a top PR honcho didn't recognize her during a 1995 Humanitarian Awards dinner honoring Princess Diana, the haughty homemaker hissed, "You know goddamn well who I am!" Her dining companion professed to disagree, at which point Stewart snarled, "If you don't know who I am, then you don't deserve to be at this table!"
In its battle against the international drug trade, the U.S. military sometimes flies into foreign countries and drops chemicals to eradicate coca and other narco-crops. But at a conference on biological weapons last December, things got testy when Latin American diplomats objected to the U.S.'s use of one biochemical, "Agent Green." U.S. Ambassador Don Mahley reassured them the dangerous herbicide was needed "to fight the Medellin Cartel." He must have been having an LSD flashback: The notorious gang of drug lords was wiped out over 10 years ago.
It Was A Good Cause, "Butt" . . .
A member of the Asian American Journalists' Association was raising scholarship money at a New York City event last year by selling temporary tattoos of the association's logo for 50 cents each. At the Tavern on the Green closing reception, one attendee kiddingly asked how much for the woman to tattoo her boyfriend's bum. "Twenty dollars!" the woman said. A tattoo frenzy broke out in front of a thousand people, with many pants dropped and much scholarship money raised.
Execs at Warner Bros. don't get too surprised when starlets have special requests when coming in for a meeting with studio heads. But when Heather Graham recently asked if her boyfriend -- 10 years her junior -- could accompany her, the silver-screen honchos were slightly nonplussed. Heather's conference-table boy toy turned out to be none other than Cher's son, Elijah Blue Allman.
Let's Not Forget The Classics
Puffed-up meeting promo: In 1999, New York City's Park Central Hotel held a "Renovate Yourself for the New Millennium" day, which offered attendees free consultations with hypnotherapists, nutritionists, hair stylists, and other "renovation experts." They also raffled off a free "boob job" (their words, not ours).
May day! Food fiasco! Las Vegas conventioneers were delayed over an hour in 1999 when their Northwest Airlines pilot rejected the meal he was served, left, and took a cab to get fast food.
They'd swim 90 miles for a Camel: Six passengers, who'd each paid between $1,200 and $2,500, got thrown off Carnival Cruise Lines' smoke-free ship Paradise for sneaking cigs. Left ashore at St. Thomas, the castaways were told to get home on their own.