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Event Tradecraft – Buffer Time

Seven years ago today, on April 1, 2007, Iceberg Publishing was in Mount Pearl, Newfoundland for the first Sci-Fi on the Rock convention. Co-founder Darren Hann had been a regular attendee at Polaris in previous years, and was determined to create the same sort of experience in his (and our) home province.

That first year was a relatively modest but hugely successful one-day affair. By 2008, under Darren’s and other founder Melanie Collins’ direction, it had moved to a larger venue and featured a weekend’s worth of programming. We participated for the first three years until other commitments made the April timing impossible. Since then we’ve watched with delight as it has continued to grow and thrive.

Most of the events we’d participated in up to that point were multi-day affairs, and those that involved air travel tended to be longer as opposed to shorter. When we agreed to participate in the first Sci-Fi on the Rock with Kenneth as an author guest, we initially planned to add at least one day on to the front and the back.

For a variety of reasons –– not the least of which being the fact that I’d been leveled by an intense bout of the flu in March, and was still what can best be described as shaky –– we decided we’d shorten the trip. The plan: fly in Saturday night, do the event on Sunday, and take off on the earliest flight Monday morning. Total time on the ground: under 40 hours.

So, how did that turn out? Pretty good, but with no margin for error.

It was somewhat later than we expected when we finally arrived at our hotel on Saturday night. Display banners, books, and all the normal event kit stowed in the SUV, ready to be unloaded and set up in the morning. We got a few hours sleep, then pulled the Iceberg shirts from the overnight cases and got ourselves ready, a little worse for wear. I don’t drink coffee (don’t like the taste of the stuff) but on such mornings, I kind of wished I did. Fortunately, events have an energy all their own, and you quickly learn to tap into it.

Arriving at the venue, set-up was accomplished on schedule, and the day went even better than expected. We were back in the hotel room, with everything repacked by about 7 p.m. Then it was room service for dinner (the Delta St. John’s has an outstanding hot turkey sandwich with french fries, dressing and gravy), a slightly longer night’s sleep, and up before 4 a.m. to check out and head to the airport.

Everything worked out fine, but we were lucky and we knew it. Any number of factors beyond our control ­­–– a flight delay due to fog, lost luggage, event gear damaged in transit –– could have thrown off our very tight schedule and negatively impacted our ability to meet our commitments. And we were exhausted by the end of those 40 hours –– if we’d needed to do any more business, we’d have been in trouble.

The Event Tradecraft lesson from that first Sci-Fi on the Rock was that wherever possible, extra time needs to be built into the front end of an event… a buffer against problems, and a chance to take advantage of any opportunities that might arise. While there’s a certain excitement and definite adrenalin rush associated with the kind of whirlwind trip we made in 2007, we’ve not since attempted such a tight schedule. Indeed, for the next two years we arrived at least a full day early.

It isn’t always possible, of course. At times competing demands mean you have to cut things very fine and hope nothing goes wrong. But when you can, build in some extra hours. If all goes well and you don’t have to use them, you’ll have the bonus of some downtime.

And if that downtime happens to be before Sci-Fi on the Rock in Newfoundland, just let us know; we’ll make you a list of places you’ll definitely want to visit, all within a short drive of your hotel.