For the last 15 months I’ve worked on the planning committee for the Association of Legal Administrators (ALA) Annual Conference. The long awaited conference was April 14-17, and I’m left with a bittersweet feeling of relief because it’s over and a twinge of regret because of my newfound knowledge of my peers.
Legal administration is not for the faint of heart. Bravery, fortitude, selflessness, masochism and alcohol abuse are the hallmarks of a successful administrator. All of these traits were on display at the annual conference.
One of my jobs at the conference was to run a Hospitality Booth. That’s me, hospitable to a fault. In order to capture my colleagues’ attention we devised games and prizes and giveaways and clowns and ponies and ice cream and paper hats…oh wait! That was a birthday party for a three year old. The booth was much more sophisticated and professional. We nixed the ponies completely for lack of liability insurance.
The first issue wasn’t even attributable to my peers. The booth had signage that said “Welcome to National Harbor.” This understandably caused some confusion among the 8,000 guests attending 12 different conferences who decided we were the general information booth for the hotel, convention center, travel, accommodations, babysitting…you name it.
On Sunday afternoon I was berated by a gentleman for not knowing the location of the Magnolia Ballroom. I said I didn’t work at the hotel and he rolled his eyes. He said that since I was so unhelpful as to not even point him in the direction of the ballroom, at least I could tell him where he could find a house phone. I explained again that I didn’t work there. He was thoroughly disgusted with me and announced he was going to find the hotel manager immediately to let him know that the information desk was worthless. I hung my head and told him I accepted my fate. I may have made an inappropriate hand gesture; I was so upset I really can’t recall.
When the ALA attendees began to flood in I had bigger fish to fry. Our grand prize was a helicopter ride, and that’s why we had a big sign that said “Drop your card in to win a helicopter ride!” Lots of people wandered by and tossed their card in before reading the sign. “Oh, I hope I don’t win. I’m terrified of helicopters.” I smiled politely. That’s when we decided to stop people before they put their card in and ask if they were willing to go on a helicopter ride if they won.
As it turns out, an informant told me that 5 minutes after the first group of lucky winners were in the air one of the passengers announced that she was claustrophobic and needed to go back. In my opinion this is the time to strap someone into a parachute and shove them out, so they can have plenty of room and fresh air. Maybe it will permanently cure their claustrophobia issue. Perhaps that’s why I’m not in charge of stuff like this.
The helicopter prize was not nearly as difficult as our duck game though. Remember when you were a little kid and one of the boardwalk games was to pick a duck out of a little bucket? The number on the bottom corresponded with the prize you won for being a dumb kid who couldn’t do anything but grab a duck. I’m slow, but I’m pretty sure that even I caught on to this game pretty quickly.
“Pluck a duck and check your luck!” People who seemed perfectly intelligent meandered over, “wait, what do I have to do?” I explained slowly that if the bottom of the duck said YOU WIN, well…you win. Without fail those who chose a duck that said Oriental Trading Company on the bottom would show me the duck and ask if they won. I started to sound like a 2nd grade teacher. “Does that say ‘you win’ on the bottom?” Contestant number 283 shakes his head no. “Well then you didn’t win!” Puzzled look.
But here’s the bottom line: people love free stuff. Any kind of free stuff. By the second day of the conference we had a line of people waiting to pluck a duck. Every time someone picked a YOU WIN duck they screamed and we clapped and said“big money!” just for the hell of it and it drew even more people to the booth. Most of the people had no idea what they had won, but they were unbelievably excited to win it. We would hand them a little box, with no clue as to what was inside and they would walk away shouting to their friends that they won something.
The fact is, we could have been giving out rat poison and people would have been excited. The skill and mastery involved in the duck game, along with the promise of a valuable and glamorous prize, was just enough.