Planning an event can cause some hardcore stress even on those who have take-charge personalities. But the stress factor can hit the roof when something goes catastrophically awry. You’ve taken the utmost care to plan everything out meticulously, the custom event t-shirts printed by DesignAShirt.com have arrived on time as promised, the DJ is setting up his equipment, the tables and chairs are being setup, your bar tenders are shining the wine glasses, and then boom, the caterer calls and tells you the freeway has been closed down due to a serious accident, they expect they’ll arrive at least two hours later than planned. However your guests are arriving in less than ½ an hour and they’re expecting to be wined and dined.
When something as disastrous as a two hour delay for anything that concerns your thoughtfully planned out event happens, the true measure of your fortitude will come to light. Here are some pointers on how to handle things when the best planned events go bad.
The most obvious thing is not to lose your cool, maintaining a level head in the face of adversity is your best defense and option to smooth things out quickly. As commander of the ship, keeping a cool head will also inspire others that are assisting you with the event to do likewise. Stress can be very infectious especially when working with a novice team or personal friends and family. Make a point to project an air of confidence and serenity. People will happily follow a leader when they have confidence in that leader’s ability to handle the unexpected.
Maintain your authority. If someone else is compelled to take control because you’ve noticeably lost your ability to cope, at the end of the day, the disaster still rests on your shoulders and it will come back to haunt you particularly if the event is work related. Hold on to your initiative and provide directions and stability to your assistants whoever they may be.
Flexibility is crucial in crisis mode. Having a meltdown and stubbornly not accepting alternative solutions is not how a leader maintains control. Depending on what exactly the crisis is, in this example, the caterer, there probably are no true dining alternative options. But with some flexibility, you can send someone to a nearby store with a list to empty the deli of prepared snack plates, cheeses, chips, and fruit trays. It’s far better to serve something inelegant at the beginning of your event than to have a bunch of “hangry” event attendees glowering at the empty dining tables. This is known as making the best of it.
Before playing the blame game, find out if there were circumstances that could have been avoided for when you’re planning future events. In the case of our extreme example, there is likely nothing anyone could do without the use of a crystal ball. However if someone miscommunicated the time frame for which your event would be taking place, this could be avoided in the future with confirmation calls and verification. During the heat of a crisis is not the time to berate people that may have failed in their given task even if that person is you. Wailing and pulling your hair (or theirs) will not accomplish anything.
Whatever you do to mitigate the disaster, do it in a timely manner. Society in general has grown very intolerant of delays even if it was unavoidable. Don’t give your guests time to simmer and stew and tweet about their ruined evening. Diversionary tactics come into play here. If you planned on starting the music or serving alcoholic beverages midway into the event, start now. Even if it costs you more, it’s better than having disgruntled people. If you’ve ever experienced a substantial delay in a flight, you may have noticed that flight crew cheerfully offers a two for one on drinks calling it a happy hour special, *wink, or they may give you your choice from snack offerings that usually go for a substantial fee during a smoothly running and on time flight. There is some wisdom there.
Be transparent in your communication with event attendees what the issue is and how it’s being resolved. Making up excuses as you go is a terrible way to handle the event. It’s hard to be blamed for something outside of your control but it’s substantially worse for people to find out that you lied about the timeframe for when things might be resolved or what the next steps will be. When in crisis mode, we often want to deflect or make people feel better instantly but momentarily removing yourself from the hot seat during the heat of the moment using deception will come back to bite you when they realize your deception. This will also impact your credibility for future events.
So what can you do to prevent disasters in the future? Always expect the unexpected. Write a checklist of critical aspects that are required to make your event a success. Then write a 2nd checklist of alternative options should something go awry. For example, if your food provider isn’t able to fulfill the function they were contracted for what could be an alternative? Are there gourmet grocery stores nearby? What kind of options do they offer for premade platters? Can you quickly locate dinnerware?
If your event requires the use of technology for a slide show or presentation, make sure to test everything well before guests are due to arrive. Have a tech savvy person on call should something not work. Keep customer support numbers handy and review what type of support is available so you’re not blindsided by the requirement of a contract. Do you have a backup charger for your phone? In the case of an event gone badly, you’ll likely be using your phone heavily. Having a simple portable bank charger could save a situation from being bad to really terrible.
Finally, not all disasters are limited to something going wrong with the event; you might have something go badly at the event in the form of a guest being hurt or needing emergency services. Is there someone in charge of this? Have you researched the legal ramifications for an injury? Do you have special event insurance to cover the costs if you should get sued?
Hopefully whatever type of event you’re planning will include attendees that will be gracious and forgiving should your event not go off as planned, but if mishap does occur, keep calm, keep level headed, and keep it up until the issue is resolved in the best manner possible.