Frank Supovitz, award-winning event producer, Adam Wald, NBC’s director of production, operations and management, and Julius “Boomer” Esiason, former NFL quarterback and famed sportscaster, can’t hide when they make mistakes. They work in public in tough arenas, like the Super Bowl. In their Talks at Google video with host Mike Abrams, they share lessons from memorable mishaps, offering useful examples of how to regain control when a situation suddenly goes wrong and how to keep mistakes from recurring. Supovitz emphasizes five steps from his book, What to Do When Things Go Wrong: imagine, prepare, execute, respond and evaluate.
- To avoid or recover from crises when you run big enterprises or events, follow five strategic steps: imagine, prepare, execute, respond and evaluate.
- Former NFL quarterback Julius “Boomer” Esiason executes tight situations by being well-prepared.
- To deal with a sudden crisis, don’t react mindlessly. Instead, evaluate the unfolding situation and take action to keep it from getting worse.
To avoid or recover from crises when you run big enterprises or events, follow five strategic steps: imagine, prepare, execute, respond and evaluate.
In his new book, What to Do When Things Go Wrong, producer Frank Supovitz, outlines five steps for avoiding or recovering from a crisis when you’re leading a project or a team, or staging an event: imagine, prepare, execute, respond and evaluate.
Take the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan, an extravaganza run by panelist Adam Wald, director of production, operations and management at NBC Universal and NBC News. The parade, which requires imagination and visualization beforehand and during the event, also requires enormous preparation. It features numerous elements: massive airborne balloons, marching bands, floats and famous entertainers.
“We have cameras along the route should anything happen. We have eyes on it, we have a helicopter in the sky getting more of the same. So, we start big, we end big, and we cover the middle as best we can to showcase what an amazing event it is.” (Adam Wald)
Many components can go wrong. And when they do, Wald has to pivot quickly. Strategically, he treats each big event like a chess match: planning every maneuver tactically. This positions him to change course instantly if disaster strikes. The tough question, Wald says, is, “How do you balance being as thoughtful and prepared as possible and being quick at the same time?”
Former NFL quarterback Julius “Boomer” Esiason executes tight situations by being well-prepared.
The next step in Supovitz’s process is execution, even in difficult situations. Sports announcer and former NFL quarterback Julius “Boomer” Esiason learned early in his career that a quarterback has to deal with rapidly unfolding events where “a lot of things…can go wrong at a moment’s notice.” Since the quarterback leads the team, any sign of incompetence or lack of confidence is an execution failure that can undermine the team.
“Stop and work the problem…don’t make the problem worse by guessing…Let’s work the problem and then let’s fix it. And it’s taking that breath, taking that beat, to then be able to move forward with a clear head.” (Adam Wald)
At the start of his career, Esiason tried to fake confidence. But when he messed up a series of plays and a teammate asked the coach to take him out of the game, Esiason realized his confidence had to be based on real knowledge and skill. Humbled, he vowed to work to execute better, starting with being the best-prepared person on the field.
To respond to a crisis, don’t react mindlessly. Instead, evaluate the unfolding situation and take action to keep it from getting worse.
In 1993, Supovitz organized a 100th-anniversary commemoration of the Stanley Cup at a hockey game in Montreal. The event would feature several players holding up the massive trophy. When the start time loomed, the cup was missing. Locating it at a different event in Montreal, Supovitz got it delivered just in time. However, the tall, heavy trophy froze during its transfer in icy weather. The silver cup was so cold that the player who hoisted it out of its box dropped it. As Supovitz says, it embodied Murphy’s first corollary, “left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.”
The massive, world-famous cup took a set of thudding bounces on the arena’s ice, getting badly damaged in front of thousands of fans and a big TV audience.
“It’s one of those moments that start a great event off with a bang, because that’s the sound the Stanley Cup made when it hit the ice after he dropped it…and it bounced several times, you know, bang, bang, bang, bang…[we] picked it up. It was dented beyond all recognition on national television.” (Frank Supovitz)
In retrospect, Supovitz says he should have made the schedule more flexible to allow for unexpected turns – or bounces. He warns, “Don’t prepare for everything. Prepare for anything.”
Decades later, when he was managing events for the National Football League, Supovitz faced a greater challenge when the electricity failed during halftime at a Super Bowl game where Esiason was broadcasting.
Supovitz faced intense pressure to find an instant fix, with the 49ers and the Ravens on the field, 80,000 restless fans in the stadium and 115 million people watching on TV (where ads cost $5 million for a 30-second spot).
“So, we did get the lights back up and running…but we didn’t start the game right away. And I think that was, that was probably the best decision we ever made.” (Frank Supovitz)
Supovitz responded with deliberate action. After the lights came back on, he postponed the game for 28 more minutes, long enough to check the stadium’s essential systems to avoid any more failures in lights, electricity, communications or other services.
When Supovitz evaluated – the fifth step of his process – the Super Bowl afterward, he concluded that his staff members had been able to respond quickly and effectively because they had diligently practiced disaster-planning scenarios all year long.
About the Speakers
Talks at Google host Mike Abrams interviewed Frank Supovitz, CEO of Fast Traffic Events & Entertainment and author of What to Do When Things Go Wrong, sportscaster Julius “Boomer” Esiason, a former NFL quarterback, and Adam Wald, director of production, operations and management at NBC Universal and NBC News.