Contingencies Make for Better Events

It is easy to be left high and dry when something goes wrong with an event. A pipe breaks in the ballroom where 500 people are supposed to be in an hour, a bus breaks down on the way in from the airport or the caterer does not show up. It has happened to everyone. Unfortunately, it sometimes ends in massive disaster with far reaching repercussions (typically, someone’s head on a pike). Most times, it leads to an extremely uncomfortable situation between the planner, client, attendee or other people affected. I know, I have been the one standing in the lobby of a 5 star resort with something akin to egg on my face. Things like this should happen only once.

Always, always have a plan, a back-up and rip cord for your chute (and a bottle of wine back in the room for when the event is over).

There are things as planners we can and should do to make these situations survivable. Think about it, that pipe I mentioned bursts and you walk into a ballroom with 3 inches of water on the floor. What do you do? First thing (I am stating the obvious) do not panic. Act, act fast and act decisively – now is the time to be the boss. The most important thing you can do is have a back-up plan. A backup event plan is something OnSite Events has in place for every event, no matter what size, make-up or type. In fact, we sometimes have a C,D and E depending on the circumstances and location of an event.

Case in point, we had a client event in Washington DC a little over a year ago. It was an investigators meeting for a pharmaceutical client. On the first night of the event we were scheduled to have a brilliant boat event. Busses scheduled to pick everyone up, off to the dock to make the cruise and then a leisurely dinner and sightseeing, all while sailing the beautiful Potomac. This was during the busy 2005 hurricane season and the remnants of one was moving up the eastern sea-board fast. Our boat event had to be canceled and the entire event moved.

Luckily, our team had a plan B already in place. With the busses staged for transfer to the dock, we simply started making phone calls. The caterer we were using for the boat event started packing and event location B was notified that we were coming. We reallocated our staff to the new venue and they started the fast and furious task of decorating and getting a band in to entertain.

Now, I make this sound all calm and rational but these things never are. Luckily we plan back-ups to be as well thought out as the original plan and also make sure our back ups are available when we need them. Our back up was Top of the Town in Arlington Virginia and rather than sailing past the monuments, our attendees looked out across the skyline of D.C. The staff at Top of the Town was most gracious and accommodating, helping to make this event memorable for the attendees in a most positive way. The attendees never even knew that there was a change in venue (if all plan B’s could only be this way).

That night, we got back the hotel and breathed a collective sigh of relief. Then, we checked our messages and found out President Bush would be speaking in the ballroom next door to our meeting the following day……………………… Pass the wine.

Originally Published 3/22/07

Keith Johnston

Keith Johnston

Keith is the Managing Partner of i3 Events but is most widely known as the outspoken publisher of the event industry blog PlannerWire. In addition to co-hosting the Bullet List and Event Tech Pull Up Podcasts, he has been featured in Plan Your Meetings, Associations Now, Convene, Event Solutions, and has appeared on the cover of Midwest Meetings Magazine.

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