How to handle unexpected challenges during your event.

It’s the hard truth of the event planning game. You’ve organized everything for the big day and then—BAM—catastrophe strikes. An unexpected challenge has arrived to put your events in jeopardy (and not the game show)! 

Whether it’s a last-minute cancellation or a truck full of hor d’oeuvres has crashed, spilling mini burgers over the highway, solving unexpected challenges is about putting the right strategies in place. We’ve outlined key pillars to a flexible, challenge-proof approach to planning. If you pay attention to these factors, you’ll maintain a seamless experience for you and your attendees, no matter what comes your way! 

Prepare Get Ready GIF by Rosanna Pansino

Anticipate and prepare.

As the age-old saying goes, expect the unexpected! Successful event management begins by anticipating what could go wrong before it does. Think of it like this: you aren’t just putting together one plan for your event, but several. Have a back up plan for each main area including catering, speakers, power, travel, and more. What is your “exit strategy” if things go wrong in any of these areas? 

This wisdom goes back as far as civilization itself! In fact, the Romans had a fancy name for it that we’re still trying to pronounce: premeditatio malorum. It means to imagine what might go wrong so you’re emotionally prepared to deal with whatever happens. Being emotionally prepared is just as important as having a back up plan. No matter how good your plan-B is, you can’t successfully implement it if you’re having a panic attack. 

Don’t just do this on your own. Brief your team on the potential issues you might face, from weather to cancellations. You may even want to rehearse what to do if certain big-ticket issues take place, such as an unexpected power outage. Not only is anticipation important for successful events, it’s vital to planning safe events, too.

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Build a resilient team.

If superhero movies have taught us anything, it’s that we’re stronger together. There’s no need to carry the weight of the whole event when you’ve got an ace team that can divide and conquer. Build a resilient team so if and when things go wrong, you’ve got several people you can turn to for a solution. The good news is that resilience is a trait that can be learned and practiced. 

Make self-talk work to your advantage by practicing reframing. When confronted with a problem, frame the situation in a more helpful and hopeful way. Instead of thinking “how will we ever find a replacement speaker?” try reframing it as “who do we know who may be available last minute?” This puts you in a solution-oriented mindset as opposed to catastrophizing. It reduces unhelpful stress and gets you to your solution quicker. 

Keep your team resilient by distributing pressure equally. Don’t just rely on your strongest soldiers who may grow tired sooner by having every problem put on their shoulders. Create a well-rounded team by reaching out to members whom you may not initially think of, but may have ideas that no one else would’ve found. Resilience is maintained by sharing the workload, which reduces the strain on everyone, including you! 

What resilience comes down to is having strong relationships. If you and your team trust each other, help each other reframe problems, and share the pressure, there’s nothing you can’t handle! 

Nathan Fillion The Rookie Abc GIF by ABC Network

Effective communication.

An open dialogue is another key to proper event management. Keep those in your inner circle up to date with changes to the event or any problems that pop up. This will build trust between you, your stakeholders, team members, vendors, and attendees. Also, it’s easier to handle issues when everyone is on the same page and can contribute. 

If challenges arise that may affect your attendees, let them know immediately. Most people are willing to be flexible if they know why something is happening. Maintaining a smooth, enjoyable experience for your attendees is not about preventing problems from arising, but ensuring that your attendees know what that issue means for the experience. If they know you have a plan, they’re more likely to roll with the changes. 

Keep clients informed of any changes so they won’t be taken by surprise, should you be unable to solve a given issue. While unwanted challenges are never fun, what’s worse is an unwanted surprise due to unclear communication. Direct, honest discussion will prevent further confusion throughout your event, especially when problems arise.

Napoleon Dynamite Technology GIF

Utilize technology.

Successful event planning is about minimizing friction wherever possible. That’s where technology comes in. Enhance event coordination by utilizing tools to gain insights and streamline communication among your team, vendors, catering, and attendees.

Slack is one of the best tools for efficient communication. It allows you to create different channels for different topics, projects, or teams. Create one for your inner circle, your vendors, your sponsors, and even for your attendees. Hop an attendee concern to the channel with the people who can solve it in a second. Now that’s what we call efficient! 

Okay, time for the shameless self-promo. At Expo Pass, we’ve created a variety of digital tools that you can use to improve communication, track attendance, support virtual experiences, manage registration, and more. Even better, we’ve got a dedicated team ready to provide support when needed. Trust us, we’ve seen it all. We’ve designed these tools to meet your needs when things go right and especially when things go sideways. 

The more information you have about your event, the better you can solve issues as they come up. Collect and monitor data throughout your event to stay one step ahead. Even better, you’ll have more information for your next event, increasing your ability to prepare and plan. Tools like Tableau and other data analysis software—including some of our own—will help you collect and understand the vast amounts of data available during an event. 

Movie gif. Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire pleads, “help me help you.”

Seek support and resources.

When in doubt, ask for help. This can be the hardest part of event management. We don’t want to seem inexperienced or like we can’t handle an issue, but sometimes, the strongest choice is admitting you need help. Remember, what makes the event planning world so fulfilling is the relationships you get to create. Seeking support is one of the most-effective means of forging strong bonds. 

Don’t hesitate to ask for help from members of your team or even fellow event planners. The best place to find help or advice is from those who’ve been there before. Seek out mentors and planner friends who can offer support when it’s needed. Even better, they’ll celebrate with you when the challenge is overcome. Drinks all around! 

Let’s throw it back to preparedness. When anticipating potential conflicts, make sure you know where you can secure extra resources if needed. There’s nothing worse than a last-minute grocery run because you ran out of coffee beans and now you’re lost in the produce aisle! Part of knowing what you need is knowing where to get back ups.

Planning to improvise.

It’s funny, isn’t it? We’re called event planners when really, the best of us are event improvisers. It’s what we love so much about this life. The twists and turns that make each event a one-of-a-kind experience to plan. You never know where things will lead, and by falling in love with the unexpected, you’ll ensure a more enjoyable experience for you and your team. 

Practice reframing by choosing to look at challenges as opportunities for growth, innovation, or a pathway to forging strong bonds with team members, vendors, and sponsors. Lessen the strain of unexpected challenges by preparing for them ahead of time, putting strategies in place, and using tools to maximize efficiency. The final ingredient in successfully managing unexpected challenges? Have faith in yourself, your team, and your imagination. 

Planning to succeed means planning to improvise!

Ready to conquer the unpredictable twists and turns of event day like a pro? Check out our webinar recap: Contingency Planning at Events: What to do when things go wrong?

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