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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 Part 2/2

By: Aleen Kilislian | Published by MPI Toronto Chapter | Sep 25, 2020

Committee Note: The much-anticipated part two of this two-part finale to our firefighter 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!

SPOILER ALERT!  Did you miss part one?  Check it out HERE first!

MPI 1It was around 9:30PM on Friday night and we were executing the “Welcome Event”  exclusively at Sassafraz in Yorkville.  Everything was going well until that point 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 FOLLOWING MORNING, which was less than 12 hours away! My Director and I went into a single bathroom on the second floor where it was quieter and called his assistant on speakerphone to understand why he was cancelling at the last minute. I was furious and assumed he got a better gig and that’s why he was cancelling. What she said still gives me chills 10+ years later and is forever etched in my memory…

She said, “I’m sorry but Brian’s son just had a fatal car accident. Please don’t share any information with the attendees”.

For a bit of background, this was his son Brandon who had just come out 6 months earlier, which was a very commendable and difficult thing to do, particularly because he was in the hockey industry and among the first to ever share this very private matter. He did it to open the door for others in the community. He had full support from Brian, the entire family and the hockey community.  Brandon was clearly brave. He was very young. He was a leader. He had a very bright future ahead of him. 

MPI 2I instantly felt like the biggest jerk after the wave of chills had subsided. I felt sad and instantly regretted the feelings I had prior to learning WHY Brian was cancelling.

My Director at the time, Lisa, was one that I learned a lot from and I am very thankful for her early in my career. She immediately devised our plan for how we are going to handle the situation, while respecting Brian’s wishes of keeping the matter confidential.

Here’s what we did:

1: We sent out a global email indicating that the meeting would be starting an hour later and that breakfast would be extended by one hour

2: We asked the hotel to send a voice-message to everyone in our room block to indicate the schedule change

3: We stayed cool and calm and didn’t indicate that anything was wrong (following Lisa’s lead)

4: We did not speak of the reason the schedule had changed, but instead we highlighted that people would have more time to sleep in in the morning

The plenary session the next morning went perfectly fine. There were a lot of questions about what happened to Brian but we simply said he had a family emergency and wasn’t able to attend.  Brian and I kept in touch after. He felt bad about missing this speaking engagement – can you imagine?!!! He lost his child and he was concerned that he let us down and wanted to make up for it. I’ve never forgotten that experience and can honestly say it taught me a lot – A LOT!

It taught me:

1: Never assume – make sure you know the facts.

2: Don’t panic or show panic. Stay calm – everything is solvable and that is our job as Event Planners: to solve issues.

3: Worrying, panicking and stressing do not help you in any way and whatever happens, you can figure out a solution and handle the situation.

4: Family matters more than anything!

MPI 3These experiences shape who we are as people and professionals. No matter how prepared you think you are, something always goes wrong. Stay cool, stay calm, have a contingency plan, and handle the situation – you can do hard things!

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 EventsSpecial Event Planning & Delivery. She can be reached at



Aleen photo
Aleen Kilislian | Published by MPI Toronto Chapter

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