As planners, our job is to plan for the expected and to always have three versions of the unexpected (plan A, B, and C). This year, our planning, and more specifically our crisis management abilities, were put to the test.
In the last few months, we dealt with two different client events where the event venue changed at the last minute (between 6 weeks and 3 months in advance of the event). In one case, the venue suddenly closed down and the other, due to a senior level executive changing their mind. Ironically, both events ended up being held at the same venue (the silver lining).
In the first case (where the venue mysteriously closed down mere months before the event), the event program also changed dramatically 24 hours before the start time as a result of external circumstances that were deemed too important to ignore. We cut out the networking breaks and completely redid the schedule. Talk about a whirlwind! Nevertheless, we picked up some key learnings along the way and are ready to tackle the next event crisis that comes our way.
These situations happen to test us, and while they can be overwhelming and stressful, the lessons you take away from them are invaluable. Here are a few things we learned:
- Be nimble, flexible, open-minded, creative and always strategically problem-solving. This goes without saying, but if you aren’t any and all of the above, you’ll struggle in the event planning industry. Understand there are things that will always be out of your control. However, what you can control is how you approach and navigate these challenges.
- Never take your team for granted. From both crises, we learned a great deal about team support, relying on each other, and the true meaning of dividing and conquering. It’s during these crises that you truly value and appreciate your team. At the end of the day, no matter how strong, professional, and experienced you may be, one person can’t navigate the task on their own.
- It takes an army. Speaking of teams, you could be the world’s best event planner, but it ultimately takes the time, dedication and attention of not only you and your internal team, but the volunteers and suppliers (AV, venue staff, print house, etc.), to make the client’s vision become a reality.
- Be grateful and appreciative. The little things do matter. Say thank you, feed your crew, and make sure they take breaks when they are able to. In our first example, when our agenda shifted and we lost some of our breaks, our staff went long periods without eating. If you’ve got five minutes to spare, bring them a small plate of snacks. They’ll really appreciate it and will remember your kindness.
- Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. By the time your event gets turned upside down, chances are that all the contracts have already been signed with AV, caterers and other suppliers. Some venues have landmark fees and preferred suppliers. Changing venues comes with fees like reprinting materials, possible furniture rentals, cancellation fees, etc. Your relationship with your supplier will become critical as you work to minimize these fees.
Despite the disruption leading up to both events, they were executed with precision, clients were happy, and guests and stakeholders had memorable experiences. No matter the size, complexity, or length of the planning cycle, our team proved to be strong and experienced enough to deal with whatever hand we were dealt. We look forward to tackling our next challenge and coming out bigger, better, and stronger than ever before!