Event managers are typically highly organized, which is crucial to managing complex events. Organization is important, but how you deal with issues as they arise is just as, if not more, vital. As event managers, we are familiar with Murphy’s Law: “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” We are highly organized and prepared for our events, but how do we react when crisis strikes?

The Panic Sets In

If I told you that your entertainment canceled two days before your event, or that you lost twenty exhibitor booths days before a Trade Show, or that a major sponsor of your event will not be returning this year, how would that make you feel? For most people, there is always going to be a moment of panic when an issue arises. We all know from experience that going into full-out panic mode will not help you solve the issue!

What Does It Mean To Be Adaptable?

Being adaptable means that the “moment of panic” is truly only a moment; it’s enough time to recognize that something is wrong and that you need to do something about it. The definition of adaptable is “the ability to adjust to new conditions”. An important trait to have has an event manager is the ability to adjust to new conditions. As event managers we are always prepared, but no matter how many checklists and spreadsheets we create, we cannot be ready for every situation that arises.

Practising Being Adaptable

Here are some helpful steps to follow when you have encountered a crisis or problem situation:

1. Assess the situation. The first step is to figure out what has happened.

2. What are the implications? Next you need to determine what this situation will affect.

3. How much time do you have to solve the problem? When we hit crisis mode, this is where panic sets in and we may not be thinking straight. Is the problem something that needs immediate attention? Does it affect other aspects of your event? Referencing your critical path and tracing back often helps.

4. Ask for support. Often in crisis situations, it is best to work together with your team to solve the problem. The type of crisis or issue will determine who you involve, so be sure to think about that before approaching any of your team members. Perhaps a teammate has run into a similar problem before and can offer a quick solution. As it is often said, “two heads are better than one.”

5. Create the solution. Create a solution that solves the problem, the implications of the problem and is able to be completed in the time frame you have with the support you have.

6. Implement Solution

Real Life Examples

We have all had situations where we could apply these steps. Here is an example of a crisis situation and how to apply the techniques discussed above.

Example One: Trade Show Booth Cancelation

You are organizing a large trade show with 200 exhibit booths. It is two weeks before your event when you receive a call from a major exhibitor and they tell you that they need to cancel all of their booths. Their exhibit takes up 10% of your show floor and is at the entrance of the show floor. You also need to send your show guide to print in a three days and you can’t send it to print with an empty space. What do you do?

1. Assess the situation. You have lost 10% of your show floor. You need to send your show guide to print in three days.

2. What are the implications? You have an empty space on your show floor which will not look very attractive to your attendees. You need to re-organize your show floor so that it is appealing and accurate in your show guide. You have a significant revenue problem.

3. How much time do you have to solve the problem? You have three days to solve the problem.

4. Ask for support. You go to your two co-workers to ask for their advice or if they have ever encountered this problem. You first explain the situation, the implications and how long you have to solve the problem. Your co-workers are supportive and drop their tasks to help you brainstorm a solution.

5. Create the solution. You and your co-workers determine that you do not have enough time to fill the 20 booths with brand new exhibitors, as you do not have enough man power to do so. Instead you decide to rearrange the show floor, filling the space with exhibitors at the back of the show floor currently occupying the least desirable booth spaces. You will not use this area and will drape it off, so attendees do not have access to it. You will need to call all affected exhibitors to confirm that they are aware of the change in booth placement and ensure those changes are reflected in the show guide. You inform the client that there will be a 10% drop in booth rental revenue so budget adjustments can be made in other areas if possible.

6. Implement Solution. With this solution you only need to call a handful of exhibitors, rather than trying to connect with dozens of brand new ones. You start by creating a report of exhibitors at the back of the show floor and split the list between yourself and your co-workers. You begin to make phone calls, giving the exhibitors a firm deadline of the next day at noon, emphasizing that the switch would put them in a prime location. The deadline ensures you have enough time to make the changes in the show guide. You hear back from all exhibitors you have contacted by 4:00pm the next day, as they understood the urgency of the matter. You make the adjustments in your show guide and send it to print on time.

Rather than making a decision from a place of panic, taking a step back and understanding the crisis allows you to determine and implement a reasonable solution. In this example, if you had not stepped back to reflect with your co-workers you may have just begun to try to find brand new exhibitors.

Manage the Panic

Take a minute to reflect on your own experiences. Have you been in panic mode and felt like you were frozen in time? How could you have done things differently? Use these techniques for all problems, big and small, when planning your next event. Not only will you be an extremely organized event manager, but also an event manager who is prepared to take on any issue.