What do you do...?

I had an interesting exchange with our public relations vendor, Gary Young (www.garyyoungink.com) the day before our Walk to End Hunger event last week.  He asked me how I could be so calm before an event that attracts thousands of people on Thanksgiving morning to the Mall of America, all wanting to end hunger in the Twin Cities.  My answer was simple, “What good does it do to freak out?”  Gary laughed and mentioned how many event pros he sees who lose it under pressure.  I try not to.  It doesn’t help any situation and tends to make things worse.

What do you do when your plans go awry, when a vendor lets you down, when what you thought was going on isn’t going on at all?

It happens.  In events, and in life.

Events are crazy things, fraught with tension, emotion and stress.  Expectations are out of control, and a ridiculous search for perfection is the norm, even when everyone has a different idea of what perfection looks like. 

When things go wrong, what do you do? 

- Take a breath. This, too, shall pass.  What is perceived as devastating in the moment is often laughed about 3 weeks later.  In the tension-filled environment of event production, everything seems so important, but really isn’t.  Even if it is truly devastating to your event (i.e. your world-class speaker doesn’t show), realize that what has happened is out of your control.  Don’t dwell on the terrible thing that has happened.  Concentrate on what to do to manage the fall out.

 - Be decisive.  Determine in your mind when a decision must be made to change direction and immediately  begin to develop your Plan B and plan of action for communication to your client and to their guests.  Don’t extend the decision making time if there is nothing you can do.  If a speaker calls 24 hours prior to the event saying they will not be coming because they are sick in bed, don’t wait to take action, hoping they will get better.  In other words - don’t be immobilized by your panic. 

Move on.  Once the horrible thing has happened, tackle the new challenge with relish and enthusiasm, and make something happen in the face of crisis.  Your clients will remember that their speaker didn’t show, but they will also remember how well you performed in crisis. 

Of course the best thing to have in case something goes wrong is a back-up emergency plan.  Have back-up information for everything from speakers, entertainers, caterers, etc., in a file that you can access at a moment’s notice.  This is where a good reputation and being a team player comes in handy.  A last minute call from an event producer with a good, giving reputation who has been there when others have been in a pinch will get a sympathetic response.  Just remember, favors should be paid back in the future.

And what if you’re the one who played a part in something going wrong?  Step up, admit your mistake and apologize.  There is no shame in making mistakes.  Just take responsibility, and show your professionalism in the process.




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