“Can You Believe It?!” Event Planning Tips for Handling the Unexpected

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“Can You Believe It?!” Event Planning Tips for Handling the Unexpected

Villafane art

Original art by Ray Villafane

It’s busy season at Wilsonwest. We typically do about 60% of our business in Q4—and I’d estimate that this year is running about 30% busier than last year. In fact, we’ve had meetings, conferences, and events every week. 

Now, most event producers will tell you that the two weeks leading up to an event can get pretty crazy—and I agree. There are last-minute agenda updates, changes to RSVP and registration details, and more twists and turns than you can imagine. 

So, as I compare notes with peers from other corporate event companies, one question I hear a lot is, “Can you believe _____?”

For example:

“Can you believe our guest speaker canceled at the last minute with an illness?”

“Can you believe one of the VPs changed the agenda on the morning of the conference?”

“Can you believe the government shutdown left us with no venue?”

My answer is always the same: “Yes!”

Please don’t think I’m jaded when I say I’ve seen it all in event management. That’s why we at Wilsonwest don’t just react to unexpected change—we anticipate it and plan for it. That enables us to maintain our calm and sense of creativity even as we work intently to restore order to an event plan.

How can you plan for the unexpected? We realize the very concept sounds a bit paradoxical. But we recommend you follow these simple steps:

  1. Think about potential change scenarios well in advance of your event. Will your event happen during storm season? Does the event revolve around one or more special guests whose absence could derail your entire plan? Is there a chance you could attract hundreds of day-of-the-event registrants? Play out these scenarios and start to think about their potential consequences.
  2. Line up the resources you’ll need to respond effectively. That may mean booking a backup venue. Planning an alternate activity for a speaker’s time slot. Or having extra staff who can be summoned on a couple hours’ notice. This, by the way, is why it’s absolutely essential to maintain excellent relationships with your network of partners. You’ll want to be able to call on them for favors on the day of an event—and of course, you’ll want to return those favors whenever you can.  
  3. Brief your team in how to respond to the unexpected. This may seem obvious, but staying calm in a crisis won’t do you much good if your people are anxious and confused about their top priorities. Spend those last couple of weeks before the event making sure your team understands how to execute not only Plan A, but also Plan B.  

With just a bit of careful thought today, you can eliminate the need to panic sometime next month. In the process, you’ll also help your clients stay calm and focused on their business objectives and stakeholder expectations.

Do you have a favorite “Can you believe it?” story? If so, how did you respond to it? Please share your experiences and event planning tips below. 

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