What to do (and not to) when an event goes wrong

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The sh*t hit the fan. Now what?

When we speak of events, we often jump to the fun stuff like the technology related to it, the personalised T-shirts or the prossecco we get to drink, but what happens when it’s not glamorous? What happens when the VR set doesn’t work or the drinks run out?

Speaker cancels at the very last minute. Heavy rain starts without a warning. The caterer’s truck gets stuck in traffic. There are COUNTLESS things that could go wrong on the day of an event. If there is a place where Murphy’s law can be applied is in the event planning industry.

But it doesn’t have to be a complete disaster. If you follow the following tips, in no time you’ll become a crisis-handling ninja.

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What to do when an event goes wrong

Do

Stay Calm
Let’s talk about the obvious one first. When everything is falling apart, it might feel like sitting in a fetal position and swing back and forth, but it is important to keep it cool. You’re the captain here, if you start panicking then everyone will know the ship is sinking. They might have seen the iceberg hit, but if the crew doesn’t panic then the passengers will assume it wasn’t so serious after all.

Stay in control
We’re not trying to reinforce the first point here. What we mean by ‘staying in control’ is don’t let someone else take charge. It might be easy in a tight situation to let your assistant do the job or for the speaker to inflate their ego by acting the hero, but never forget it is your responsibility. If they make things go from bad to worse, you’ll still get blamed.

Be flexible
When things go awry, we have to find a solution fast and, more often than not, the quickest fix won’t look like what we had envisioned in the beginning. As a perfectionist myself, I understand how hard it can be to change plans in a moments notice, but if the intention is to solve the issue then we must be flexible. Done is always better than perfect and not done.

Investigate
What went wrong? The million pound question. A doctor can’t prescribe a medication if they don’t know what’s the disease that is bothering the patient.

Word of advice: You may find out that someone made a huge mistake during this process. Save the reprimands for later.

Act fast
There’s no time to waste. The longer the speaker goes without a microphone then the more likely it is tat people will get bored or upset and in today’s age when everyone has got a smartphone that can upload a 140 characters critique to the internet in the blink of an eye, that’s bad news.

Communicate honestly and clearly
Time magazine’s cover of the first days of Donald Trump as president come to mind. Even if what’s going wrong is something that’s easy to cover up, don’t lie. It might seem like a cheap price to pay for getting out, but if the lie gets figured out then you’ll be charged twice. Simply put, nobody wants to work with an event planner with a reputation for lying.

At the same time, try to announce the solution along with the problem. Again, going back to Titanic, nobody wants to hear: ‘The ship is sinking and there are not enough boats.’ If the problem is a malfunctioning microphone, for example, try saying something like ‘The microphone died, but a new one will be here shortly.’

Finally, try to have a sense of humour about it
Again, easier said than done, but there’s nothing like a good sense of humour to take the edge off the situation. It will not only relax those around you, but it will also make you less tense. Don’t take things so seriously.

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Don’t

Start blaming everyone else
EVEN if someone is to blame for what just went wrong, going around the venue pointing fingers is never a good look. It’s just not the impression of yourself you want your attendees to leave with. IF someone is to be reprimanded wait till the event is over — or better yet, wait till the next day when you can think more clearly.

And whatever you do, please don’t…

Lose your sh*t
Following up on the tip above, it’s never a good idea to start yelling and swearing in front of guests. You want to be remembered, but not like that. At the same time it’s not a good idea either to try to calm your nerves by drinking or taking any drugs (trust me, I’ve seen it all). When you’re the organiser, you need to stay level headed at all times. Wait till the event is over to chug down that pint of lager.

Prepare for the worse

Is not what you do in that moment, but what you do before. Prevention is the best medicine. When planning an event, think coldly and ask yourself, what could go wrong? Write down everything that could potentially backfire and come up with possible solutions for those problems. Depending on the type of occasion, you’ll have different bottlenecks, but below you’ll find some of the most common.

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Test all of the equipment
We’ve all been there: the HDMI cable doesn’t work, the presentation won’t open, the colours of the projection are awful and we don’t know how to fix it, etc, etc, etc… The list of things that can go wrong with technology is so big you could probably write an entire encyclopaedia about it. The best way to prevent the headache is to simply test all of que equipment before the event starts. Look at it as a dress rehearsal, but with laptops.

Have a backup
A backup plan, a backup laptop, a backup speaker, even a backup venue if you can. There’s never enough planning you can do.

Have a protocol in hand
Does your team know what they’re supposed to do? Even when nothing goes as it is supposed to? This doesn’t mean taking a CPR course — although that never hurts — it can be as simple as assigning the person who will be in charge in case the smoke machine dies out or who’s going to be dealing with the angry attendee who can’t get a hold of a taxi (we’ve all experienced those).

Hire the right staff
A big part of taking care of a crisis rests on the people you have around. Hire those who know what they’re doing even if that means paying more.

Don’t assume anything
Check and double check EVERY. SINGLE. THING. I once worked with a person who assumed that because they were her friends, she wouldn’t need a contract for a popular band to play at her wedding. Guess who canceled at the very last minute on the ‘happiest’ day of her life? Yep.

Make sure you comply with emergency regulations
Do your homework. Make sure you follow the regulations in your area. There’s always the potential of someone getting hurt, even if all the precautions are taken, and you don’t need the potential legal consequences if that happens.

The website of the Health and Safety Executive has got great information every event planner in the UK should take into consideration.

Make sure your phone is charged
It might sound silly, but you won’t be able to address anything with a dead phone!

If you enjoyed reading this post, then you might also enjoy reading ‘9 of the biggest event planning fails ever.’


Printsome is a T-shirt printing agency based in London who deliver all across the UK, from printing t-shirts in Brighton to York and everywhere in between. So, if you’re after T-shirt or custom clothing, indulge yourself in some awesome customer service and get in touch for a quote.

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