One could argue it wouldn’t be a meeting or event if something didn’t go wrong, but what about when the unimaginable happens?

While it may be one of those stories you share a laugh about with your colleagues once there’s a little distance between you and the calamity, sometimes people are put at significant risk.

However horrific the incident, in all the stories that were sent to me there was one takeaway that was recurring: Be prepared for anything.

In this first installment of “Meetings Horror Stories,” we heard from planners and industry veterans about what can happen when animals are involved, when things fall from above and when both happen at once!

Wild Horses on the Loose!

Horse Rearing Up on Its Hind Legs SilhouetteAndavo Meetings CEO Brenda Rivers shared her horror story of what happens when wild animals are added to an event...

The CEO wanted to ride in for the gala in the hotel … on a horse into the ballroom on the final night. They had done something similar on a horse before, but obviously not a stallion.

Basically, they had two horses, in case one didn’t work. The first horse was just too spooked going inside a hotel ballroom, so they couldn’t use that one. The second horse on hand broke loose and was rearing and jumping!

Even though we advised against this whole idea; people were in cocktail attire—what if the horse pooped? It wasn’t dangerous from the standpoint of any major crises, but it was a near, near disaster.

The CEO never even got on the horse and we were in the entry to the ballroom trying to tame the horse and get him on. We had no backup plan for the grand entrance.

It ended up being a joke.

[Related Content: How to Avoid Disaster When Incompatible Groups Are In-House]

Later on, also in a big Western state, they wanted to bring a live a steer in, but at least they didn’t want to ride it. At that point I kind of put my foot down.

Not only do I not recommend it, but we can’t do it.

It’s way too risky, and when they asked about insurance, the broker said they wouldn’t insure it because it was a wild animal, not a domestic animal.

This Is What It Sounds Like When Doves Die

Three Doves Flying SilhouettePatti J. Shock, academic consultant, The International School of Hospitality, professor emeritus, UNLV, relayed a horror story told to her by a speaker in one of her classes...

There was a black-tie dinner being held in the atrium of a museum that had a high dome ceiling. The planner decided to have white doves released after the people were seated.

The doves would fly around the room and then back to their cages. Simple.

They rehearsed it before the guests arrived and it worked perfectly.

[Related Content: Atypical Associations Raise Unique Planning Challenges]

The attendees began coming in donning tuxedos and ball gown dresses. They were then seated for dinner, but unfortunately the service was delayed because some of the VIPs had not arrived.

The heat in the room began to rise. By the time the doves were finally released, they were dying because of the heat and fell like lead bricks onto the tables. The doves that were still alive were flapping their wings, knocking over the crystal glasses. Pandemonium ensued.

The planner’s classic comment was, “But it worked in rehearsal!”

It’s Not Quite Goat Cheese

Standing Goat SilhouetteA corporate meeting planner from Chicago, who declined to be identified, shared her story of how a nice lunch took a bad turn...

I was holding a meeting for about 50 people in St. Pete Beach, Florida, and the group was seated for a three-course plated lunch. I joined a table (these were my co-workers) and looked at the pre-plated salad. It had “goat cheese” on top of it.

I was just thinking to myself, “That’s funny, the menu description doesn’t show goat cheese on this salad.” Just then, a man two people to the left of me yelled, “LOOK OUT!!!” and grabbed the woman to my left and pulled her away.

A huge chunk of the ceiling came crashing down on to what would have been her head.

I looked around and saw the banquet staff just standing there doing nothing and not offering to help. They noticed I saw them, and they all ran to the back of house area.

I followed them and the back of house was empty—they had scrammed out of there! I called my conference services manager and my sales manager, but they were out to lunch.

[Shattering Conventions: Don't Fear the Sasquatch]

I called security, the banquet manager, the GM and the DOS, and they came to the room. By that time, lunch was over and our guests were headed to their next session.

As it turns out, the “goat cheese” in the salad was actually part of the ceiling!

Apparently, a condenser for the HVAC system was leaking on the roof and caused the popcorn ceiling to become saturated, take on the consistency of wet toilet paper and disintegrate.

The banquet manager tried to blow it off as no big deal and said they would comp the woman’s lunch and bring her a new one in our next session.

I, of course, would not settle at that and the hotel wound up comping the entire lunch.

Do you have any meetings horror stories to share? Contact Kate Cripe. Your story could make it into a future issue of Meetings Today and/or be featured on the website.