How to plan an event so that you are prepared for last-minute changes
So you’re organising an event and you think that you’ve got everything sorted. Then, the day before, you get several requests that seem to throw all of your best laid plans up in the air. Just as you’re feeling prepared and thinking, ‘what could possibly go wrong?’, you find yourself with 10 extra guests to find seats for. Plus, the key speaker can’t make it. And the coffee machine is out of order.
What do you do now? Panic? Get angry? Scream?
It’s all in the planning
While screaming might seem like the cathartic option, there are a few things that you can do during the event planning stage that will make these last-minute changes seem less terrifying. Being over prepared for all situations is your secret weapon as an event planner. If you’ve already planned for what could go wrong, then you are one step ahead and ready to solve any issues as they arise.
You can never plan too much! For example, if you’re booking a speaker for your event, ask yourself who else could step in to give the talk if the speaker drops out. If you’re organising a conference for 100 people, order 120 chairs – just in case.
It sounds a bit “doom and gloom”, but allow yourself a few minutes to think about all the things that could go wrong at the event. Then think of solutions for them. It’s much easier to “fix” a few imaginary problems while you’re calm and collected instead of being forced to think on your feet during a busy event.
What if something happens that I haven’t thought of in advance?
Sometimes you spend ages planning for an event, and then something happens at the last-minute that’s completely out of your control. Let’s say there’s a power cut across the whole venue, or a local road closure means that half of your guests and speakers can’t reach the event. In these situations, it’s important to remain calm and work towards a solution.
Communication is key to managing last-minute changes. Even though things might not be going as you planned, with strong communication you can save your event from being a disaster!
- Communicate to your team – Use radios or group messages during the event to keep all of your staff in the loop. If there’s a last-minute change everyone needs to know about, send round a message to everyone and ask for help if needed.
- Communicate to your guests – no one likes to be left in the lurch. If the problem is obvious, be honest and let your guests know what’s happening as soon as possible. For example, make an announcement to let them know a speaker is running late, or that the schedule for the day has changed. If your guests know that you’re actively solving the problem, they’ll feel reassured and willing to wait for a solution.
Using event management software such as Ensemble makes it easy to stay in touch with guests or colleagues when things don’t quite go to plan.
Learn as much as you can in advance
Being knowledgeable about the venue, suppliers and staff will make you more confident and relaxed about solving problems on the day. Do your research so that you can step in if needed. How does the AV equipment work? How do you dim the lights? Where are the spare mugs kept?
These things might seem simple, but big venues often have complex systems in place that require a mobile app just to turn the lights on or the volume down! If you’re planning on serving coffee, check the machine is working in advance. Find out how to change the filter and also if there is another machine anywhere in the building.
Think about the questions that attendees might ask you and your team, too. Where are the toilets? What’s the guest Wi-Fi password? Brief everyone to have the answers ready and rehearsed so that you don’t feel flustered by anything that comes your way!
Work with people that you trust
One way that you can feel more confident about last-minute changes to your event is to choose suppliers, speakers and staff that you can rely on. When searching for a caterer, it helps to work with someone who has worked in the venue before and knows your company well.
If you need to bring in a brand new supplier, make sure that you meet with them before the event and give them a full tour. Show them the access routes for unloading, how they can power their equipment, and where their staff can store their belongings.
Have a full event briefing and get your team prepared
About a week before the event, it’s a good idea to gather everyone involved for a briefing. This doesn’t need to be a long meeting unless your event is very complex, but you can prepare everyone to carry out their role on the day.
Put together a timetable, send it round to everyone and let them know when and where you need them to be. If your team is fully prepared in advance, you’ll be able to focus on solving last minute issues on the day.
In your briefing, you might also want to share some of your contingency plan with the team. For example, let the front of house staff know that if they need extra chairs, you have arranged for some to be stored backstage. That way, your team can use their initiative to solve problems on the day and won’t need to trouble you with every issue.
Debrief and learn for next time
Sometimes being an event planner can feel a bit like putting out fires! With proper planning, it’s likely that your event will run without a hitch, but there are often situations beyond your control that lead to last-minute changes. After your event, put together a list of everything that didn’t go to plan and think about how you could improve things for next time. Were the queues at the cloakroom too long? Maybe next time you could get an extra staff member helping.