Whenever I had to plan an event at work, e.g., a three-day training session for a few thousand supervisors and managers, I always treated it as if these were people coming to my house. The food and accommodations had to be top-notch, the content of the training well worth coming for, and the opportunities for networking plentiful.
Needless to say, for me that meant weeks of obsessing over the minutia, loss of sleep, and constant fretting that it wouldn’t be good enough. Back then, I had a staff and usually a contractor working on the event. All I had to say was, “I want this,” and it happened. Boy, was I spoiled.
Last year, when I accepted the nomination to be the first vice president of the Virginia Writers Club, I knew one of my duties would be to plan and execute the annual one-day symposium, Navigating Your Writing Life. I’d attended three of those events, I’d put on symposia for thousands (see above), so this should be easy-peasy.
It should have been.
I took on the role of 1st VEEP in early November last year and started cogitating on the kind of symposium I wanted to put on. My vision was big, huge; then, by the end of December I was sick with the flu. As in hospitalized twice and down for the count for a solid two months, woozy and confused for another couple of weeks, and lacking energy to do much of anything through the middle of March.
Two and a half months of key planning time gone by the wayside. I was already way behind the power curve, but when I had a dozen volunteers sign up to be on the symposium planning committee, I felt much better about the loss of time. This was going to be the best symposium ever!
Because we were so spread around the Commonwealth, I opted to use telephone conferencing to hash over most of the details. Before every telcon, I’d email an agenda, a list of tasks from the previous telcon, and an update on accomplishments–pretty standard stuff for me. The government paid for a lot of good management training for me, and why not put it to use?
Long story short, by the third telcon, the committee had dwindled from a dozen to three, including myself.
In the ensuing months, I’ve reflected on this. A lot. Obsessively. I’ve been seeking some fault in my behavior that made people drop out. (I’m the child of an alcoholic; others like me will understand that in addition to trying to make everything right, we’re also right up front to take the blame for anything.)
I’m an organized, focused person who has high expectations of myself, first, and people who work with me. Work being the operative word. It’s very, very, very, very different with volunteers. Though I stuck to my guiding management principle, which is basically do unto others, etc., it doesn’t always work with volunteers. Likely I forgot that people have lives and obligations and not the same level of enthusiasm and drive (i.e., obsession) I have when given a task to accomplish.
What this meant was three of us, and a fourth who came in toward the end, had to do everything: contact and manage presenters (and OMG, writers are such divas, self included), arrange catering, put together a schedule, design and have printed a conference booklet, do name tags, do tent cards, do… You get the picture. It’s a lot of work for a one-day conference, and we got it done.
But things can and did slip through the cracks. At 1030 on the morning before the conference, I realized no one had done an evaluation form. No big deal, you say. Really big deal because feedback is crucial. I ginned one up in about a half-hour, stopped by Staples on my way to the hotel, and, voila!, evaluation forms. (I’ve yet to read the completed ones. I’m waiting for a good time to have my image of success dashed.)
And it all went off perfectly! I had seen or anticipated so many opportunities for failure, but the buzz around the venue was good and positive, people stopped me on their way out the door to tell me how much they’d learned, I’m getting emails and Facebook posts that make my heart swell with pride, and, oh joy, I get to do this again next year!
(Psst! I can’t wait.)
At least nobody found out about the snake who decided navigating its writing life was something it needed to attend, albeit briefly.
(Note to self: Next year, assign someone to snake duty.)