The Importance of Contingency Planning
Someone once told me that “events are 99% last-minute changes.” Make no mistake about it, this can be a terrifying statement.
Event planners are typically pretty Type A. We have a plan in our minds and we like to stick to it, which can be difficult when the unexpected happens. Yet, as all event planners know, you can’t always plan for everything and there are some things—a speaker who takes twice as long to deliver their message, technological failures, and yes, inclement weather—that are beyond control.
While natural disasters have implications for home and work, there is a new set of questions and concerns when you have worked for months or years to plan an event, whether in-house for an organization, an association management company, representing a venue, or an event vendor.
Here are some ways to plan for the worst, while still hoping for the best:
Have a backup plan: If you are planning with a team, have discussions beforehand about ‘rain dates,’ cancellation preferences and the hit(s) your budget may take as a result. Outdoor space? Make sure you have a tent and heaters on stand-by. Make sure your indoor venues have a generator if power outages are a concern. If you know the full scope of what you’re dealing with, you’ll feel more comforted no matter what the outcome.
Lean on your allies: If you’re planning a national conference or event in the Northeast in the middle of February, you should discuss the Force majeure/weather plans with the representative(s) from your local venue(s). What are their cancellation/rescheduling policies, and at what point do they go into effect? What happens if there are circumstances beyond your control and who is responsible for the decision-making if these things occur? Make sure you are clear about your options before you move forward with your agreement(s).
Communicate to your attendees: Keeping communication open is key, especially when there are so many uncertainties surrounding the status of the event. If you have a rain date, communicate it early to minimize losing attendees due to weather. If that isn’t an option, make sure someone on your team is managing direct email, social media and general email correspondence in the hours leading up to the event and the decision.
Consider arrival times: If possible, have your main speakers and VIPs arrive on the earliest side of your hotel block to account for any weather-related delays. This will help give them time to settle in, and also help to maintain your peace of mind.
Embrace technology: What are some ways that you can still deliver attendees the same or a similar experience without them being on site? Consider live streaming your keynotes and workshops so that attendees who were unable to make it onsite can watch and participate in real time, or recording and offering them as webinars and content for your event’s social media and website later on.
Have a little flexibility in your timeline: If possible, have your main speakers and VIPs arrive on the earliest side of your hotel block to account for any weather-related delays. This will help give them time to settle in, and also help to maintain your peace of mind.I can’t tell you how many 2 minute speeches turn into ten minutes, and how long it can take to move a group of 500 people from cocktail hour to dinner. Allowing for some flexibility in your timeline can free up space for more networking, and allows the program not to feel rushed if things go over.
Philly Free Streets, undoubtedly my favorite event to work on while I was at Snap Kitchen, took over 6 months of planning with dozens of people and organizations, and was a 10 mile, open streets, outdoor event. When we woke up that morning, the forecast was grey, light rain, and not ideal in any sense. However, we went forward with the event and still managed to have 40,000 people experience the course and the event that we had worked so hard for. It wound up being perfect September weather for all of the activities, and the event was planned again for the following year.
What are some of the ways you and your team plan for the 99%?