5 Event Planning Lessons from Oscars 2017

5 Lessons on What to Do When Things Go Wrong at Your Big Event.

Did you see the Oscars this year? What a doozy! An entire awards show leading up to the moment when they announce the best picture of the year and then the biggest gaffe of all time–the presenters announce the wrong winner! It made for great television, but for all the people behind the scenes and the winners and losers involved it must have been terrible. But there are things to be learned from this blunder. Here are five life lessons Utah Live Bands suggests you keep in mind as you’re planning (and executing) your next big event.

Mistakes Happen

The Academy Awards is probably the most produced event that happens every year. It attracts the most talented and competent planners in an industry known for producing big galas. And yet they blew the big moment. It’s a great reminder to us that no matter who we have planning a big event, mistakes happen. People are human. Things aren’t perfect. If we accept that premise, then we can take the steps necessary to minimize the impact of those mistakes when they happen.

Plan for the Worst

The Huffington Post actually ran an article three days before the broadcast, asking what would happen if a wrong winner was announced. The accounting firm of PriceWaterhouseCooper responded that they had a plan in place in case that happened. One of the two supervisors charged with preventing a mistake commented in that article, “we do [checks]  against each other to make sure that when we leave and are ultimately handing the envelopes to someone, we’re very confident they’re getting the right envelopes and the contents in them are accurate.” Oops.

When the worst happened PWC shifted into their emergency plan which was to notify a stage manager. As we all witnessed, that plan worked…sort of. At the end of the night, the right people went home with the award, but they walked a tremendously embarrassing path to get there. Poor Warren Beatty knew something was wrong, but didn’t know what to do in that moment. In hindsight, it might have been appropriate to tell all presenters that if they thought something was wrong, they should get clarification before proceeding with handing out the award. I’m guessing that going forward that they’ll brief their presenters on what to do if they’re handed the wrong envelope.

But the life lesson here is that while mistakes are going to happen, we can try to make them less noticeable or less awkward by planning for what to do if there’s a problem.

Be Gracious

Can you imagine a moment more surreal and awful then to get up in front of all your peers, and a broadcast audience of millions, to accept an award with a heartfelt speech honoring your accomplishment only to be told a few seconds later that you didn’t actually win? Kudos to Jordan Horowitz who went through that and emerged as a model of grace and elegance.

It was Horowitz who stepped up to the podium and told the world that he hadn’t actually won. He wasn’t bitter. There were no recriminations. And most impressively, he gave another heartfelt speech honoring the real winning film’s accomplishment. Classy.

When things go wrong at your event, you can run away and hide. You can blame everyone else. You can cry. You can yell. Or you can be like Horowitz.

Apologize Promptly

After the big mistake of ‘17, lots of people were quick to blame the presenters, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Luckily, PWC quickly put out an apology. They accepted full responsibility for the mix up, explaining that they had given the wrong envelope to the presenters.

With a mistake of this magnitude it would seem only natural for those at fault to downplay their culpability in an attempt to save face. Yet, we have to give credit to PriceWaterhouseCooper for issuing such a bold acceptance of their responsibility in the mix up. People are probably going to be fired over this, but PWC made no attempt to blame other people and that’s worth emulating.

Do Your Best to Set it Right and Move On

So the unthinkable has happened. What next? I love what Jordan Horowitz said in an interview on Good Morning America, “I wanted to make sure that the right thing was done because, at that point, it was not about me; it was about making sure that ‘Moonlight’ got the recognition it really deserves…That’s when I sort of jumped to the mic and made sure everybody knew what was going on and then kind of showed the card because I think people needed clarity at that moment.”


In that most awful moment, you do what you can to set things right and then you move on. There were still moments to be had, good ones. And parties to attend. And press to talk to. After all the second guessing and back seat quarterbacking (including my own here), nothing changes the fact that the event accomplished what it was supposed to. Given the enormity of the mistake, that can’t be forgotten.

Even the biggest mistakes don’t have to keep your event from accomplishing its goals. We can learn a lot about how to handle the unexpected from this most public stumble. At Utah Live Bands, we pride ourselves on being able to plan for the best and to handle the worst, Horowitz-style. Let us help you keep your next event on track–even when it looks like it’s headed off the rails.