Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2023

5 Awkward, Awful Meeting Fails

Meetings — both virtual and in-person — can go off the rails in so many ways. In the spirit of “aren’t you glad this isn’t you?”, here are a few examples of meetings gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Online Oops

The swift rise in online events has caused more than a few cringe-worthy, embarrassing and downright horrifying moments, especially early on before event organizers figured out how to evade those who seek to Zoom bomb an online meeting with nasty comments and pornographic images. But often, the goofs are not so nefarious in origin. Many were — and may still be in some cases — self inflicted.

For example, remember the sad tale of the Texas county attorney who somehow let his inner cat out during a virtual court case? Apparently he used a cute, fluffy white cat filter and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off:

“I’m here live. I’m not a cat,” the lawyer said.

“I can see that,” replied the judge.

And, of course, it’s all living on in perpetuity on the Internet in this YouTube video. As is this video of another cat-induced fail, when UK Parliament’s John Nicolson’s cat Rocco couldn’t resist waving a fluffy tail on screen.

Another classic filter fail, which of course was captured with a screengrab and broadcast via Twitter: The case of the potato head boss.

The best part of that one, however, was the boss’s response: “I yam potato boss. You should see me in a crown, right @billieeilish? I yam glad this is making folks laugh at this time. Please stay planted at home and safe!”

We won’t even go into some of the over-share video-meeting issues, such as not muting during bathroom breaks, less-than-fully clothed family members wandering through camera range, and worse. By now, at least we all know enough to wear pants, use our mute button, delete a filter and corral the kitty in another room for the duration of the online meeting. Right?

IRL Blunders

But it’s not just online events that can go horribly wrong, as any meeting professional could attest. Fortunately, planners being planners, they usually fix whatever it may be before anyone even knows something went wrong, but every now and then, something slips through. Even pre-pandemic and all those Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings, there were the regular office meetings and conference calls, which are hilariously skewered by David Grady in this TED Talks video.

And who could forget the 2017 Fyre Festival, a musical fiasco-fest which could serve as a cautionary tale for any event professional on how not to put on an event of any kind. From site selection to marketing to security, food and beverage (remember that sad cheese sandwich?) and accommodations, the promised luxury villa/gourmet meal/hot live music event turned into people huddling in FEMA tents and pleading for escape — and the event organizers being hit with lawsuits for everything from wire fraud to defrauding ticket holders.

While nowhere near as dire as Fyre, on-site faux pas are still happening. The latest example of an in-person event whoops comes courtesy of the European Congress on Obesity, which had contracted with Nestlé as one of its major sponsors. Not surprisingly, this did not go over well. In addition to creating a virtual firestorm on social media, Christoffer van Tulleken, associate professor at University College London said to The British Medical Journal, “Nestlé’s sponsorship of a congress on obesity is precisely the same as a tobacco company sponsoring a congress on smoking related disease…Institutions cannot have a financial interest in causing a problem while simultaneously claiming to have an interest in effective solutions.” The Congress has since removed Nestlé as a sponsor for its May meeting in Dublin.

Do you have any tales of tragedy, narrowly averted or otherwise? MeetingMentor would love to hear your stories — and to learn how you resolved the issues before, during or after the event. Contact Sue Pelletier at to share your lessons learned from experience (and yes, you can do it anonymously to protect the innocent).


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About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, is a business journal for senior meeting planners that is distributed in print and digital editions to the clients, prospects, and associates of ConferenceDirect, which handles over 13,000 worldwide meetings, conventions, and incentives annually.

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