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I put out many fires, but I'm not a Firefighter: My most memorable event ‘fire’ that still gives me chills

By: Aleen Kilislian | Published by MPI Toronto Chapter | Aug 28, 2020

Committee note: A two-part finale to this series, which was started last year, we hope you enjoy this final memorable event recap that only those in our community can fully appreciate. Enjoy!

It was early February 2010. I was part of an internal team of four in the process of executing the AGM in Toronto for a corporate law firm with approximately 460 attendees. We each had our list of responsibilities for the 3-day weekend program. Given that it was happening around the same time as the 2010 Winter Olympics, we decided this would be our theme for the event. I was in my 4th year as an Event Specialist and the most junior on the team.

As we were only a team of four, we had plenty on each of our plates, and as you can imagine had a lot of pressure to produce a great event. Two of my main responsibilities were the “welcome event” on the Friday and the keynote speaker for the main “plenary session” on the Saturday morning. I inherited the Keynote as one of my responsibilities as I recommended him based on a few meetings at prior events. Understanding our AGM goals, I recommended the speaker based on a few details, some of which I have indicated below:

• He was high-profile for Toronto at that time, so a big draw for the lawyers and something to look forward to and to be excited about;

• He tied in with our “Winter Olympics” theme as he was going to be involved in the Olympics that year;

• He worked for a large organization that we had an important 3-year sponsorship agreement with, so this was an opportunity to strengthen our partnership; and

• He was an engaging, straightforward, confident, and interesting speaker (I had been invited to two events where I had heard him speak in person and seen countless interviews in the media).

It was around 9:30 p.m. on the Friday night and we were executing the “Welcome Event”. We had done a buyout of Sassafraz in Yorkville because it was close to the hotel our delegates were staying at and could accommodate our numbers for a stand-up event. Our guests had arrived, had eaten at the food stations on the ground floor and were now up in the second floor, which we had made into a club-type atmosphere. Everything was going well until that point at around 9:30 p.m. when my blackberry buzzed and I looked down to see a message from our Keynote’s Assistant. I opened it to read that he is NO LONGER SPEAKING AT OUR EVENT THE NEXT MORNING, which Finalewas less than 12 hours away! I started freaking out (not what you’re supposed to do) and ran to tell my Director. I didn’t hide the way I was feeling. She calmed me down, told me we need to chat with the Assistant, told me to stay cool and not to let our lawyers see me freaking out. I responded to the email asking for a call to understand why he wasn’t coming and convince her that he should. I thought he just got a better gig and was being a prima donna (again, not what you’re supposed to assume, you should always give people the benefit of the doubt). My Director and I went into a single bathroom on the second floor where it was quieter and called his assistant on speakerphone. What she said still gives me chills 10 years later and is forever etched in my memory…

Stay tuned for Part 2/2 to find out what happened next….

About the Author:
Aleen photo

Aleen Kilislian is the Founder & Corporate Event Producer at Spark it Events. When not in planning mode she is an Instructor at George Brown College, teaching Meetings, Conference & Special Events; Special Event Planning & Delivery. She can be reached at



Aleen photo
Aleen Kilislian | Published by MPI Toronto Chapter

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