We are all familiar with Murphy’s Law i.e. “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”. During events, it sometimes feels like this law applies to everything. It can start with a small incident, such as a ticket printer breaking down. Then everything starts falling like dominoes, until you have no power, no speaker, and no food for the attendees. You are already pressed for time when you plan an event, so how can you take the time to plan for the unexpected? How do you plan for a disaster?
Even though the word “disaster” makes things seem apocalyptic and overwhelming, we are mostly prompting you to prepare for what will not go according to plan. It can help you to organise the challenges you will face by level of seriousness. A printer fails? that’s a mild incident. Rain starts pouring during an outdoor event? this is a major issue. The only way to avoid serious issues is to plan for what you cannot control and, even then, to remain flexible enough to act and roll with the punches.
The main levels of consequence
Categorising issues by level of consequence can help you understand how to manage them before and during the event. The list below isn’t comprehensive — no list can account for all possibilities. However, it will help you think about the issues for which you must have a plan, and those from which you can recover quickly. Think of it as an exercise in pragmatism.
Level 1: easy-to-solve issues
Incidents that are easy to solve are either unexpected or avoidable depending on the system in place. Here are a few examples of easy-to-solve issues:
- Never-ending queues
- Shortage of walkie-talkies
- Change in venue
- Cancellation of a speaker and programme update
Level 2: Major change in the initial plan
These issues are a mix between lack of control and the unexpected. They can be:
- Shortage of drinks or food
- Damaged video equipment
- Faulty internet connection
- VIPs- or service providers-related issues
Level 3: Danger zone
This category is out of your hands. This does not mean that you cannot plan anything to take action if they do happen. By preparing ahead of time, you can prepare backup plans depending on the information you have. Here are a few critical things to monitor:
- Weather forecast
- Natural disasters
- Power shortage
- Medical emergency
- Flooding of the venue
- Caterer no-show
- Dragon attack
Practice makes perfect
Throughout your life as an event planner, you will come up with tips and tricks and will get to know by heart all the issues that can arise. Expert planners build up a list of — sometimes unwritten — rules to guide them through the planning stages. For instance, are you using volunteers? Plan to use as few as possible and do not expect the same level of expertise from them as you would from a professional. You are expecting VIPs? Give them the best treatment possible, and leave them time to prepare and travel.
One piece of advice: have confidence in yourself! If you are unsure about an element of your event, whether logistics‑, food‑, location‑, or weather-related, follow your intuition and prepare back-up plans. If you are using a caterer for the first time and you have a bad feeling about their reliability, find another. Listen to the concerns of your peers, listen to your instinct, and believe in yourself!
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