Time is the most valuable commodity for all event coordinators - TICK, TOCK

The managers of the ChicagoNow blog site challenge all bloggers on a monthly basis to write a meaningful blog post within one hour’s time.  The topic is sent out at 9pm and we have until 10pm to complete the post.  It’s a fun and interesting way to encourage bloggers to generate ideas and work quickly.

The topic that was issued approximately 15 minutes ago was, “Write about a great challenged faced.” 

How can I pass up an opportunity to tell readers about a challenge?

The greatest challenge of working in the special events industry is TIME.  It never stops.  Money doesn’t get you more of it.  Hiring more people doesn’t get around it.  There isn’t a computer program that can reverse it.

Time is perishable much like a hotel room.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone and there’s no getting it back.  Would you be interested in purchasing a one night stay at the finest 5-star hotel in Chicago for TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2013? I’m pretty confident the answer is no.  Time has made that opportunity extremely invaluable to you.

In 2006, I was responsible for managing sponsorships for the Tall Ships Festival.  The clock began a year out but the crucial moments came down to the day of the event. Tick, Tock.


It rained the night before and it continued raining all Thursday morning.  The ships were coming into the Chicago River.  They needed to tie up and docks needed to be built from the water’s edge to the ship so people could safely board them.

The event was open to the public on Friday morning but we were holding our sponsor preview event Thursday evening.  The event site was along the Chicago River below Michigan Avenue.  This extremely unconventional event space was intended to be a unique and creative setting for the Tall Ships and subsequently the sponsor parties that were to begin at 5pm.  Tick, Tock.

As the rain poured throughout much of the morning the event team struggled to get banners hung, tents staked, ticket booths built and the Tall Ships in place.  We moved quickly.  There still wasn’t enough time.  Tick, Tock.

There were 9 sponsors of Tall Ships all of which were hosting individual hospitality parties with approximately 200 guests each in front of the respective ships they sponsored.  We were responsible for food / beverage distribution, tents, tables, chairs, flooring and signage.  We were also responsible for managing the check in and registration process at the bottom of the Michigan Avenue stairs.  Tick, Tock.

There was one caterer that would service all 9 parties.  The caterer arrived to set up the make-shift kitchen.  We realized because of the rain the caterer would need to set up on concrete.  We pulled back part of the steel fence and roped off a section outside of the City’s Auto Pound for the caterer to set up.  Clearly this wasn’t part of the plan.  As tow truck drivers whipped in and out of the lot they quickly had to turn away from the space we had now designated for our caterer.  The 4 pathetic orange cones we set up were not enough to alert them.  Tick, Tock.

The caterer took it all in stride and began preparing the food.  The crew was having a hard time getting the docks for the ships built because of the weather.  Tick, Tock

At about 3pm the rain stopped and the sun came out.  We were now moving at full speed.  All of the work we needed to get done throughout the day now had to be complete in 2 hours.  Approximately one thousand eight hundred people were arriving in less than 2 hours and we were very behind schedule.  Tick, Tock.

We staked, we drilled, we cooked, we set up, we moved, we arranged and we hustled.  At 4:45pm we were frantic.  We still needed to get portable flooring in many of the areas that the rain turned into mud.  Tick, Tock.

Guests began lining up on upper Michigan Avenue.  Directions over the radio were clear, “DO NOT LET GUESTS IN, WE’RE NOT READY!”

Guests continue to line up, we continued to move and shake.  We were running out of time.  Nothing we could do was going to get us any TIME back.  The event needed to open, “WE’RE NOT READY; DO NOT OPEN THOSE GATES” continued to be yelled over the radios.  Tick, Tock.

At 5pm there were close to one thousand people lined up.  The sun was out, the City looked beautiful.  We were VERY BEHIND SCHEDULE.  We weren’t going to get any more time.  At 5pm the site manager said one more time over the radio, “Hold the gates we need a few more minutes!” At this point we were out of time.  Guests needed to get in to their VIP parties and we had to pray nobody noticed the details.  Tick, Tock.

Someone responded on the radio…”NO MORE TIME, OPEN THE GATES.” And guests began to pour in.

Was it perfect? Nope. Was it exactly what we wanted? Nope. Did everyone have a blast? Yes. Did we hear any complaints? Nope.  Did we run out of the one thing that you can never get back once it’s spent? HECK YES!

TIME is ultimately the greatest challenge any event coordinator will face.

Sort of like tonight’s blog post … I did the best job I could do with the time that was allowed. TICK TOCK.

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  • Great article Neal! Well actually, I only read the first couple of paragraphs because I did not have enough time. Just kidding...

    Keep up the great work!

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