Death at a Conference

Meeting planners have stories to tell, running the gamut, from dull to downright scary. One of my whoppers nearly put me six feet under. It was an annual conference of about 1,500 and the setting was a brand-new hotel (so new that the carpet fibers clung to our pant legs).

From the first day of planning, it was a nightmare. Speakers weren't confirmed, printing production was delayed and we had 150 workshops to schedule. Every morning in theSkeleton mirror I swear I could see new gray hairs.

Once on-site, things couldn't have gone better - from the attendee point of view. Like a magician's smoke and mirrors, we were putting on a really good show while we went from one crisis to another, putting out small fires. Until . . . .

Two days before the meeting, I had had a premonition I would die on site. The stress had gotten so bad I envisioned my own heart attack. I even saw myself clutch my chest and fall face forward on the brand-new hotel rug, getting carpet fibers all over my mouth.

My premonition did come true, but not for me (duh, I'm writing this). On the last night of the conference, at the closing dance, a 53-year-old man having a blast collapsed on the dance floor. He never regained consciousness and died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

I've managed meetings and conferences for nearly two decades and this was my first attendee death. The following morning at the closing ceremony we offered a moment of silence.

In the end, we concluded it was the most difficult meeting we've ever managed. I just hope my premonitions phase is over. And if not, at least I pray I can go while dancing.

What's the worst situation you've ever encountered at a meeting?
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