Epic Axe Throwing and Other Dubious Conference Activities

15 Aug, 2019 Bob Wilson


I’m just back from the 74th Annual Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference produced by the Workers’ Compensation Institute. Held every year in Orlando, FL, it is without a doubt the biggest conference of the year. How big is it? Almost nine thousand people flock to the Orlando World Center Marriott, a 2,100-room hotel with a mammoth conference center attached to it. Overflow hotels include the large Caribe Royale and the Orlando Waldorf. There are over 500 speakers, and my sources indicate that despite the huge facility, the conference has likely outgrown the location. 

That is how big it is. It was a great conference.

Naturally, there are an abundance of hospitality suites and special events designed to draw the attendees and promote the various companies and firms that provide them. With competition for the attendee’s time and attention at peak levels, companies must get creative in order to lure their intended sales targets to their events. This sometimes results in what can only be described as eyebrow raising ideas.

One such affair was brought to my attention by the director of workers’ compensation for what I will only say is a very large employer. They had been invited by a law firm to a special reception which read, “We hope you can join us for Epic Axe Throwing.”

Epic Axe Throwing

I suppose the dwarf wasn’t available.

Now, before you get your undies in a wad over my ignorant use of a politically incorrect term, I must take the time to explain the prior sentence. The line refers to a trend in the 1980’s when some bars across the nation got in trouble for promoting what was then called “Dwarf Tossing Contests” (they were also called Midget Tossing Contests – today midget is considered a highly derogatory phrase). Those contests involved large drunk people tossing a little person across a room on to a stack of mattresses or foam. Alternate versions had them wearing Velcro lined outfits which allowed them to stick to the wall. I can’t imagine why that would be a problem.

I actually researched this and found that, according to the organization Little People of America, the word dwarf is still used by some in their community. I believe the preferred phrase is now “People of Short Stature.” The problem is, politically correct phrasing sometimes interferes with the cadence of a humorous interlude. For example, the sentence “I suppose the person of short stature was not available” sounds more like a punchline Bernie Sanders would use (admit it – you just ran that phrase in your head using Bernie’s voice, didn’t you?). Humor in a politically correct and overly sensitive world is a difficult job.

But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes, epic axe throwing as a go-to conference activity.

The initial image the concept produces in one’s mind is not pretty. There is a lot of alcohol consumed in Orlando during this conference. Loading a bunch of booze infused attendees onto a bus and taking them to a place where they are given sharp axes to throw certainly paints an alarming picture for the average risk manager. 

As it turns out, Epic Axe Throwing is a thriving and apparently responsible business. According to their website, they wisely do not serve alcohol, and corporate events may only have non-alcoholic beverages as part of their catering packages. The hosts probably had to serve drinks on the bus on the way over. The Epic Axe Throwing folks even poke fun at lawyers on their FAQ page, so they can’t be all that bad. I’ll bet they even have safety personnel whose job is to make sure participants are facing the right way before they let one fly.

I am always amazed to see the creative ideas that are spawned in the name of promotion at these conferences. Unfortunately, the imagery isn’t always completely thought through. I recall years ago at a RIMS conference; a large insurance company had an artist build over three days a huge structure in their oversized booth using nothing but playing cards. I asked a VP of their company if a “house of cards” was the best image for an insurance company to offer their visitors. 

He hadn’t thought of that.

The insurance industry isn’t the only one dealing with this dilemma, of course. An international liquor producer once held a pool party in Leon, Mexico, where someone thought it would be a grand idea to add a little atmospheric fog using liquid nitrogen.  Unfortunately, when liquid nitrogen mixes with chlorine, it displaces oxygen. This creates a teeny-weeny problem called asphyxiation. Attendees found themselves unable to breathe, and the fog made it hard to find those who needed help. Nine people went to the hospital, with one in a coma (You can read about other event disasters here). 

Ironically a few people at WCI were likely left in a coma, but they’ll be better by next week.

Bottomline, you should think those promotional ideas through. As for me, I have a great one for next year: Epic Axe Throwing in Atmospheric Fog. What could possibly go wrong? Just as a backup I’ll have the Person of Short Stature on standby.

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