Events: How to plan for every eventuality

Creating a plan B can seem daunting, time consuming and a waste of time – that is until you need to put it into action. Planning doesn’t have to be a chore!

Common problems with simple solutions

Here’s how you can avoid disaster when the unexpected turns into the inevitable.

‘Speaker cancels event’

How likely is it that your speaker won’t turn up?

If they’re a politician with a busy and changing schedule, or a celebrity flying in from the States, there’s a higher risk of them getting held up compared to a local speaker.

Talk to their PA – how busy is their diary? Can you ask them to attend (at least) half an hour before they are due to speak so there’s still time for them to make it should they get held up?

Have a back-up. If there’s a high probability that they may be late or cancel last minute, have more than one speaker lined up. That way, you can extend the keynote speeches or the Q&A if there’s going to be a gap.

Most people are understanding and welcome honesty. If your speaker does cancel at the last minute, be honest with your audience but positive about the opportunities this has created. For example, more time to hear their views and participate.

 ‘Weather stops play and wreaks travel chaos’

With extensive floods over the last month and an annual snow storm that brings Britain to halt year on year, this can’t be ruled out.

Check news reports and keep up to date on twitter for any changes to the weather or transport routes.

If your event is going to be held outside, have a bad-weather plan.

If it looks likely that roads and train lines will be closed, phone your entertainers, speakers, caterers and as many of your guests as possible to find out whether they’re likely to cancel as a result.

If it’s important enough, people will go out of their way to be there, but you may have to consider postponing. Make sure you have event insurance to cover last minute event cancellations and be apologetic to those who were looking forward to attending.

 ‘The food is a disgrace’

The quality of the food often dictates the success of an event for guests.

Get to know your audience – put yourself in their shoes. Ask for dietary requirements when people book to avoid surprises. The last thing you want to hear is that they’ve run out of vegetarian options…

Ask to sample your venue’s menu before the event. If there’s something you don’t think your guests will like, ask them to change it. Most good venues are very accommodating – they want you to book again next year!

Consider over-ordering if you think there’ll be big appetites. Food wastage is not ideal, but hungry guests don’t make happy customers.

 ‘Guests fail to show’

‘No shows’ can be a big problem if your event is free to attend – expect an average drop-out rate of 15%. This is particularly true of evening events that run during the week, but this could be drastically different if your event has a famous celebrity or act that people are really keen to see. Remember, the time, date and content of an event can also affect the number of people who show up.

Work out your average number of ‘no shows’ and over-book next time. If you’re nervous about over-booking, but you don’t want the room to be empty, invite staff  but let them know if it’s full they might not get in – staff are more likely to be understanding than your guests.

To minimise the risk of ‘no shows’, send out regular reminders to delegates. Give people who you really want to attend a phone call beforehand to reinforce the message. If you want “bums on seats”, let guests know they can send someone else in their place if they can’t make it.

You can’t think of everything

The principal solution behind each of the problems is the same: assess the probability and severity of the problem, and plan, plan and plan again.

Remember – don’t over complicate things, don’t panic and learn from your mistakes.

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Sarah was the marketing and events officer at NCVO. She managed our flagship Annual Conference and Trustee Conference.

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