Mr. Speaker – Lessons for #Eventprofs from Political Conventions

“Mr. Speaker, the great state of Maryland, known as America in miniature, from the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, through the great bounty of the Chesapeake Bay to the rolling mountains of the Appalachians, cast all of its delegates for the next President of the United States…..”

Image Gallery: U.S. PresidentsSometime during the summer of 1976, I first became introduced to the Presidential Nominating Conventions of the two political parties.  Actually, it was hard to miss them – the three major television networks, as well as PBS, offered gavel to gavel coverage and there were no other channels to watch at that time. (C’mon Greg, next you’ll be telling us you watched it on black & white television.)

I have two great memories of watching these conventions.  First, was the roll call of states to announce which number of delegates was supporting which candidate, along with a self-promoting message to visit that state or support such and such candidate.  It was great theater and I ate it up.  Then there was the balloon drop on the last night of the convention, after the nominee gave his acceptance speech and riled up the delegates to a fever pitch.

I freely admit that I am junkie of the political process.  I am disappointed that today’s coverage of these conventions is a highly-stylized public relations piece that may get one hour of airtime on the networks.

This past week we have been able to watch the Republican convention and next week will be the Democrats turn.  Earlier in July, the Green Party had their convention in my hometown of Baltimore (Don’t feel bad if you missed it – I learned about it the day after…) This got me thinking about the other times Baltimore hosted political convention. Baltimore has hosted 18 political conventions over the years.  The last time, before this year’s Green Party, was in 1912 for the Democrats.  Some of you may recall, that year the Dems nominated New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson as their candidate on the 46th ballot.  Now, that is political theater!

Over the years, I collected a few postcards commemorating the 1912 Democratic Convention and from time to time I would bring them to meetings with the local Fire Marshal when I was trying to squeeze a few more chairs into my events. 

Baltimore conventions

This postcard shows the convention floor set for 12,000 attendees.  As a point of reference, this hall in 1912 was approximately 200’x300’.  I brought this picture out once to the Fire Marshal as I was trying to squeeze 3,200 chairs into an area 180’x360’ by having the aisles cut down from 10 feet to 8 feet.  I was quite proud of myself to point out that all of my staging and chairs were metal, rather than the wood versions shown in the picture.  Anyone else notice the row of chairs along the edge of the stage without a railing to keep the press from falling off?

Twelve thousand people will pack up a convention hall!  You might want to consider having air conditioning.  To this day, the Fifth Regiment Armory does not have air conditioning for the great hall.

You also need to have a good crowd management plan to make sure that the entrances and exits do not become a mass of people.

In 2008, I found myself on the other side of table representing Public Safety and not the interests of the event organizers.  Both political parties were being represented at a general session being held during the convention of an industry association.  Reps from the two parties were there to get the best possible conditions for their candidates, but they refused to be in the room together to help facilitate some of the challenges.  At one point, one handler wanted to have 60 chairs linked together in a row without breaks (the local code was 15 chairs max).

Remember the balloon drop?  Here is video from the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston where the balloons did not dropped as planned.  CNN featured the audio feed of the production manager calling the cues for the drop and around 1:50 of this video, this man was a little frustrated and dropped a bad word.


2 Responses to Mr. Speaker – Lessons for #Eventprofs from Political Conventions

  1. You’ve outdone yourself on this one Greg–Love It. You always make me laugh in between your poignant advice and observations…More balloons…more balloons…can we get some more balloons?!

  2. I’m always thrilled to pop over to the blog of someone I respect and find that we are on the same wavelength. It jumped out at me when it first came out. I wish I had taken the time to comment earlier.

    Greg this is really well researched. Love the photos and the historical background.

    For what it’s worth I wrote about the other side of the coin a few months ago:

    Corporate Event Planning: 10 Lessons from Political Events & Rallies

    Traci, I am in agreement re: balloons and I mentioned them in my post. I wonder why we don’t do balloon drops at Canadian political events. I hope a client lets me do one for their corporate events in 2013. What a great way to build excitement.

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