Home > Slice of Life > High Level Chaos: How Not to Organize A Public Event

High Level Chaos: How Not to Organize A Public Event

September 8, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

It’s a Friday night, and I’m already lounging at my office desk, too lazy to go back to my dormitory, because the chair in the office is actually quite nice and the internet connection decent. I’m looking forward to Saturday: A trip to a city two and a half hours away to meet a friend, who’s in the region only for a limited amount of time. By all accounts, everything’s set, and I’m just waiting for the weekend to settle in.

It doesn’t take long for disaster to strike. The chief of my office, pulling overtime, tells me that there are two back-to-back events for the indigenous peoples tomorrow, and that my help is needed. Under any normal circumstances, this is the point where I tell my boss that I’ve already made plans, so I won’t be able to make it; after all, it’s the weekend, so I’m not obligated to work. This time, however, the chief informs me that my presence was explicitly requested by the office of the governor. I’m not going to be able to walk out of this one.

At the moment, I work as a contracted translator for a particular government of a certain nation, a department under the governor. For legal reasons – and obviously for my own privacy and protection – I cannot state explicitly where I am. My current work position is actually a bit of an oddity: My contract is technically with the national government, but they have placed me to assist translations with the government hall overlooking a particularly rural portion of this country. Realistically, however, this does not particularly distinguish me from Civil Servant #48, and – as a temporary legal obligation – I honestly would’ve been quite fine staying entirely out of the spotlight, except my arrival to the government hall somehow endeared me to the governor’s wife, who actively supports her husband in his political administration and governance; Hillary Clinton during the years of Bill would not have been a bad comparison.

Regardless of whether or not I deserved it, I somehow received the trust of the governor’s office where translation work was concerned, and over the course of my contract, I have been helping with the translation of documents, letters, and speeches. In fact, for both events on Saturday, I was responsible for translating two speeches and two press releases for the governor’s office. The request, however, for me to show up and co-host the second event is a left hook out of nowhere, and caught me off-guard. This wasn’t something I could easily push off, however, not without unspoken consequences. So, with my Saturday plans shelved, I promise that I’d show up at the event, despite the fact that it was terribly short-notice, that I have stage-fright, and despite the fact that I have been given little to no information on the contents of this event.

How bad could it be?


One of the things to understand right off the bat: I’m not entirely a native of the region I have been contracted to. I was put into the area because it was an area that was in dire need of translation services, not because I was familiar in any way with the locale. My command over one of the languages that my translations involved was above conversational, but not always at a particularly professional level. Furthermore, despite this being a festival representing the locale’s indigenous population, I actually knew very little about them, and no information packet was given my way. So, already, with the circumstances stacked against me, the situation was not helping my stage-fright at all.

With my boss giving me a lift, I arrived just after 14:30 at the event premises, which had been converted to a stage. Upon arrival, we expressed dismay: The site was supposed to have been prepared and ready at this time after months of construction and operation – the site was supposed to be a permanent structure – but clearly the months had not paid off. Construction was clearly only 70% complete; the surrounding field was still filled with mounts of dirt that had been dug up to support the construction, and mud was pervasive after last night’s rain. It looked like we were holding an event at the construction site, because that was precisely what it was.

Regardless, I was left backstage to overheat in the hot, humid summer to meet the three other hosts. One of them – also a translator – was also only informed last night that her services were needed; the other two were veterans of their own language, for whom this annual event had become something of a habit. This second translator was at least a local, so she was better informed about the themes than I was. However, to my astonishment, I was told that the hosts would not be using any scripts. The two veterans claimed to be good enough to ad lib the entire thing, and claimed that they’d be able to support the remaining two hosts, myself included. I sincerely doubted that, and made my case: I knew very little about the event, no information was ever provided to me, and I worked best when I at least had a script template to work off. But the veterans insisted that they could guide us through it, that we just had to co-host the event with them as if we were engaged in a conversation with them, and the event director backed their call.

This was the first of many times throughout the event that I realized my role in the whole thing was an extra, unplanned-for factor of an event that many of the organizers simply wanted to ad lib (which was, ironically, against the express wishes of the governor, whose office led the organization of the event). I was the extra third wheel added at the insistence of the governor’s office; everyone was nice and at no point did anyone show any signs of resentment or passive-aggressiveness at what might be considered as my “butting in” (I suppose my own visible nervousness clearly indicated that this was a development entirely beyond my control), but everyone evidently had their own plans, didn’t know how to fit me in them, and was trying to shove me into a dynamic where I didn’t belong because the “big-wigs” said so.

Organization was unimpressive on part of the staff. A basic schedule existed, but was clearly there only for a frame of reference; between the chaos of figuring out which groups were involved and who was going to show up when, from my arrival at 14:30 to the start of the event an hour later at 15:30, there must’ve been five changes made to the sequence of the event, most of which were not properly told to all of us because no system of communications was established. And when the event actually started, it became evidently clear the the director was not the only one calling the shots; when the bigwigs arrived, leadership had been compromised when everyone – leaders, representatives, aides from the national government, the city government, the regional government – was giving input to the event.

Was my part supposed to happen at 18:00? 18:15? Or 18:30? Which part was I supposed to do, anyways? I was told that I would co-host; five minute later, I was told that, no, I’d be translating the governor’s speech. Five minutes later, I was told by another person that the governor would be giving the speech in both languages himself. Another five minutes, there have been changes to the segment that I was involved in, so another was being handed to me. Five minutes later, sorry, that segment already passed, so I’m not needed anymore. Wait, no, belay that, I’m doing another segment now. It was already three and a half hours since I’ve arrived on-scene, and I still have no idea what part I’m supposed to help co-host. More frustratingly, I still had no script, no information, and no idea what I was supposed to do other than make noises on stage with a microphone. I was told I’d be help introducing a particular tribe of indigenous peoples. I knew nothing about them, and no information was given or volunteered.

Then, suddenly, protests. A group of indigenous people not part of the event suddenly showed up on stage with signs, loudly protesting what they perceived to be a great lack of government support for them since their lands were subjected to the age of colonization. This was unexpected, happening right in front of local leadership, ministers, politicians, and bureaucrats, and security was insufficient, largely because no one thought too much about the possibility of this kind of thing happening. The scene was surreal: A small crowd holding protest signs and shouting slogans while event organizers – in the absence of security – rushed on stage in an attempt to forcibly remove the protestors as the beginnings of a scuffle began to manifest, threatening to develop into a full-on fistfight on stage right in front of the audience. The hosts, caught unprepared and uncertain, politely thanked the protestors for “expressing their concerns in a democratic system”, even as they watched the chaos and the shoving escalate before their eyes.

Finally, the group was escorted off-stage, and the event continued on. Standing backstage, thirty meters away from the governor, I could already tell that he was completely unimpressed, even as the hosts continued to ad lib and otherwise ran their mouths on, continuing to speak even as the performers behind them were already ready and standing at attention. After agonizing minutes on my part – I was already given two false starts, and it was already 18:45, fifteen minutes past the latest time I was planned to co-host – I was suddenly unceremoniously rushed on-stage with another co-host – the other translator, who was as irritated and nervous as I was – with only five seconds between the organizers telling me it was suddenly my turn to my stepping on stage.

I somehow managed not look like a nervous wreck despite the fact that my legs felt like Jell-O. My mind, however, was completely blank: I had no idea what to say on-stage, largely because no one had ever told me anything. My co-host, too, was improvising as hard as she could as the next group of performers set up on stage behind us. And by “improvising”, it meant that she openly stated in front of an audience that we were going to “make conversation”. In a state of shock, I barely realized that I was automatically answering questions of what my name was, how I was involved in this event, how long I’ve worked here, and if I knew how many indigenous tribes were being represented today. Then as she led the audience in a recital of greetings in different tribal languages, another co-host showed up, interrupting by saying it was time for the next performance…which, of course, meant he needed to talk and ad lib for another sixty seconds. Naturally, with no idea what was going on, and with no cue given as to whether or not I could retreat backstage, I stood there, smiling like an idiot, wondering if I should be happy that I didn’t need to say anything else, or embarrassed that I’ve just been made a fool of. I tried to think positive, and did my darnedest to be happy.

When the next performance started and I finally retreated backstage, the organization had erupted into chaos. It was getting dark, but aside from the performers getting ready, it seemed that every second person was from some government office trying to pass on conflicting orders to organizers, to staff, to everyone under the sun. I soon began to suspect that this was the reason why the hosts were so adamant at ad libbing; even if a solid script had been hammered out, I suspected that – in such an environment – it simply would’ve been tossed aside. I once again expressed my incapability of handling my misplaced role, and how out of place I was in this entire dynamic. Someone apparently finally listened, and I didn’t have to help co-host the only other segment of the event I was given; I happily hopped off-stage in search for a drink.

Goodness, I needed it.


This is not the first time I was on the staff of the organization of an event. I studied and worked in the service industry, so this was hardly my first rodeo. I could therefore observe and evaluate the proceedings of the events in what I hope is an unbiased manner.

In defense of the organizers, the locale was honestly rural. This was not a metropolitan environment with a highly active events base, so experience from the government to the contractors were limited in scope, despite the fact that they tried to aim for a standard more consistent with the urban parts of the country. There were a lot of things this events wanted to be, but they were also probably the things that the event couldn’t be. It’s hard to fault ambition.

Perhaps more importantly, however, communication seemed to be an utter failure. Somewhere along the chain of command, orders were either misinterpreted, lost, or otherwise outright ignored during the organization process. The governor’s wife later angrily told me that there wasn’t supposed to be any mass improvising, and that the event should’ve followed a script. Preparation work was haphazard, and it was evident to government officials the moment the co-hosts started talking about everything under the sun. With channels of communication already weak, it was further complicated as government aides from seemingly every department on every level rushed backstage to try and micromanage the event to an already helpless director.

So despite the fact that I spent about four hours being excessively and probably unnecessarily nervous, and despite the fact that my five-minute appearance on stage basically amounted to making a fool out of myself, I was fairly glad to escape unscathed, and to learn that the governor’s office knew I was uninvolved in the makings of this mess.

That being said, I’ll still do my best to stay away from the governor’s office for a while. Administratively, I can already see a storm in the making.

Categories: Slice of Life
  1. grim
    September 8, 2012 at 23:07

    You poor bastard.

  2. Anne
    September 10, 2012 at 11:23

    God damn. O_O. It’s a miracle that went as sort-of-okay for you as it did. You have all of my sympathies and then some — throw in some empathy too, though I’ve never been thrown into an ‘ad lib’ as bad as that. x.x

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