From the Beauty: I was asked to design an event around the launch of a new prestige beauty product that worked by applying it before bed. It was my task to design the room AND the entire guest experience.

Our audience included the top beauty editors from around the world. Their experience would start by checking into a five-star property, where they would enjoy cocktails and dinner, see a presentation and then retire to their well-appointed rooms to experience the products firsthand. We called the event   “Overnight Success.”

In order to create the “overnight” experience, the presentation room walls were draped in hundreds of yards of navy blue fiber-optic fabric, so attendees were seemingly surrounded by thousands of twinkling stars in a midnight sky. Six video walls were used to showcase time-lapse images from around the world that transitioned from night to day. Chairs were covered in midnight blue spandex, echoing the modern, streamlined look of the product’s packaging. Special lighting bathed the room in “moonlight,” and scent technology gently filled the room with the soothing aroma of lavender, one of the product’s ingredients.

The CEO arrived for rehearsal and commented on our remarkable ability to bring the product to life. We felt confident that we’d hit the mark and breathed a deep sigh of lavender-scented relief as rehearsals began. Suddenly, the entire room went black. We entered emergency mode and started searching for the cause. It took only a moment to discover that all of New York had gone black!

Crisis management plan to the rescue! I immediately armed by team with cash and sent them to a nearby hardware store, where they purchased every flashlight and battery in stock. I spoke with my food & beverage director and devised a plan on how to feed our guests not only dinner, but breakfast as well. A safety letter was drafted to include an agenda for our “blackout party!” That evening we sent guests to their rooms, two by two with flashlights and retired to our rooms knowing that even in darkness, there can be light!

From the Brain: For most, the blackout of the century would be a reason to cancel a program and go into crisis mode, which usually entails getting through the situation with as little collateral damage as possible. If you’re an event strategist, you have a backup plan ready to go, and instead of enduring the situation, you make the best out of it and create an experience that may last longer than the one you originally planned.

James’ event people came together, enjoyed a moment and bonded over a common experience. The event was different than expected, but due to his quick thinking and creativity, a new experience was created that brought attendees and the client together in ways that could only happen in that circumstance. No one will forget where they were that night and, thanks to James, the memory is a bright one despite the darkness.

Make sure you’re ready if the lights go out — or if any crisis, large or small, hits. With every city you visit, get the address and phone number of the closest hospital or 24-hour walk-in clinic, Staples, hardware store, taxi company and police station, and keep copies at your registration desk and in your event binders.

While handing an emergency is a critical skill, knowing how to prevent crisis is equally important. Imagine this: The CEO and his family are attending your conference. They are staying in the Presidential Suite and housekeeping has just released the room. The time for prevention is at hand. When you advance the room, beyond checking to see if lights are working and toilets flush, take the time to check the reading materials and all the draws and cabinets. The last guest may have had a liking for spicy pictorials and kept them hidden among the hotels cocktail-table books and magazines for safekeeping. Don’t overlook the possibility that a prior guest may have purchased a few “nonmentionables” and left them behind in the drawers. Just imagine the crisis at hand when 7-year-old Johnnie gets his first glimpse of the bluer side of life! Don’t laugh; it happens!

So remember: Crisis management is not just handling what happens that you don’t expect, it’s making sure you prevent surprises from happening whenever you can.

Watch this space for more on crisis preparedness and how to create a plan.

Until then, remember, “Brainy is beautiful!”

For more: See all 33 skills you need to be an effective planner.