by Kaitlyn Wallace
There’s something thrilling about pulling off a complex meeting or event without a hitch. Watching your plans fall into place, scheduled events chugging along like clockwork, attendees appreciating every well-polished detail— it’s a feeling that keeps planners in the profession for years and even decades.
But what happens when a wrench is thrown into those plans? When, at the last minute, our plans begin to unravel and our tidy agendas start to fall apart?
Whether we like it or not, day-of challenges can occur during even the most well-planned meeting or event. However, there are plenty of strategies that can keep your painstakingly planned meeting or event on track in the face of any spontaneous challenge.
Strategy 1: Plan B Planning
Though we can’t anticipate every problem that can occur the day of a meeting or event, we can plan for the more common scenarios. Every outdoor event, for example, will require extensive “plan B planning” in the case of inclement weather. Chasley Bradbury, partner and producer at Cosmopolitan Events & Experiences, describes her strategy to minimize the impact of unexpected weather: “We plan every detail of our events to a T and then reframe those details with an intricate risk management, rain, and weather plan. This means having additional staff, rain gear, tents, flooring, and a solid weather safety & attendee communications plan prepared and ready to put into action.” Keeping these strategies in your back pocket will minimize the impacts of last-minute challenges and ensure that your attendees have a great experience regardless of inclement weather.
Strategy 2: Transparency and Teamwork
In an ideal world, we would be able to draw up our own plans and keep our own records. But in reality, our notes, our agendas and contacts, and our backup plans to our backup plans all need to be accessible and easily comprehensible to everyone on your team. Tracy Orpin, senior meeting and event planner at the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, emphasizes the importance of a team-based approach: “The lead planner can go down. That is an unplanned but foreseeable thing. Always have a backup person that is well-versed in what’s going on. Make sure that additional person goes into your pre-con meetings. Make sure the lead planner has a notebook that’s completely filled out. People try to get away from paper— that’s a bad idea. If somebody needs to jump in, you have to go by what’s on paper or on a shared drive, and there are lots of notes that a planner would know that may not be in either of those places.”
Our events are our babies— we imagine them, shape them, bring them to life, and then watch them take on a life of their own. It can be difficult to relinquish control. But implementing transparency and team-based approaches are essential to ensure that your event continues to grow and thrive when you need a little bit of extra help.
Strategy 3: Anticipate
The days leading up to a complex event are always stressful. There’s always something to be done— fixing problems with vendors, finalizing agendas, sending reminders, and drafting communications. It’s easy to get lost in the details. But it’s important to take a step back and visualize any overarching problems that could occur as your event draws closer every day. Chasley Bradbury emphasizes the importance of keeping an eye on your location’s local news and potential disruptions: “It’s important to always be aware of potential rising tensions in the cities where we produce events. These issues may present a challenge for timely attendee transportation, safety, and setup of the event itself. We recently produced an offsite tented event with an elaborate, multiple-day setup and encountered a strike and picketing. We avoided disruption and setup delays by placing ‘NO TRESPASSING’ signs around the perimeter of the event site. Although the protests were peaceful, this helped draw the line for what both parties were trying to achieve.”
Strategy 4: Creativity and Communication
Unfortunately, all the planning in the world can’t account for every potential problem. In planning for the unplanned, it’s vital to construct a structure that makes communication and creative problem-solving as easy as possible. “In this day and age,” Tracy Orpin explains, “with COVID, people get sick, people don’t come— all of those items are a huge deal and can make a huge difference. We’ve also had situations where events end early and need to do the reception early. Your best friend when you’re having those situations is having an app where you can do push notifications, having human arrows that can be there to guide people, answer questions, show them that there has been a change.”
“Communication is the biggest thing… it’s about asking all the right questions. I think number one is knowing who’s in charge at your location, who’s your CSM and their backup. Get the schedule of the catering managers. Know who you’re dealing with, and if there’s a change. Arm yourself with all the important people and their schedules. Have everybody’s phone number. Make sure you have all of that information on hand because the reality of it is, if you don’t, you’ll be scrambling.”
Though solutions to day-of challenges may seem instantaneous, they are in reality the cumulative effect of long-term “plan B planning” and constructing a team structure that allows for potentially stressful last-minute pivoting. With a calm and creative team behind you and a roster of management strategies, there are few challenges that you can’t anticipate, address, and solve— all before your attendees are any the wiser.
Kaitlyn Wallace is a contributing writer from St. Louis.