As an event manager I spend months and months planning an event, but no matter how much time I spend planning there are always things that happen onsite that are completely out of my control. In these instances, I have to make in-the-moment decisions. Have you ever had a speaker’s flight canceled, despite booking it months in advance? This blog article is about just that and how I got the speaker there just in time for his presentation.

Thursday, April 20

6:06 PM It was the set-up day of an association’s annual conference where 300 people would be lined up at registration the next morning. The opening reception for our exhibitors, sponsors, and volunteers was wrapping up and I finally opened up my email after a busy day of set up. I immediately saw the following email, flagged with high importance:

“Hi Rachel, My flight from Toronto to London has been cancelled. I may have to get a taxi”

6:07 PM Moment of panic, as I frantically check the program to remind myself when he was scheduled to present the next day.

6:08 PM I called the speaker on his cellphone to inquire where he was and if he had left the airport yet. Once he informed me he was still at the airport I let him know that I would immediately look into some options for him and call him back right away.

6:09 PM I start to think about what I know:

  • He needs to be there for 10:15 AM for his presentation the next morning
  • There are no connecting flights available today or tomorrow to get him here on time
  • A taxi, as he suggested, would be ridiculously expensive, as the distance would be approximately 174 km (from Toronto to London, Ontario)

6:10 PM Once I wrapped my head around what I already knew I started to think of options. If he can’t get there by car or plane I have to find another mode of transportation. I think back to my site visit to London in the summer and remember that I took the train first thing in the morning from downtown Toronto to London. I quickly head to the Via Rail website to see if he can catch a train tonight, but there was nothing available that evening. I look at the next day and to my luck there is a 6:00 am train that is scheduled to arrive in London at 9:00 am!

6:15 PM I dialed the speaker and let him know that I am booking a train for him first thing the next morning. I advise him to take the Union Pearson Express to the Via Rail station in downtown Toronto and by the time he gets there I will book him a hotel room and let him know where he is staying.

6:20 PM Immediately after I hung up the phone I booked the Via Rail ticket for him and forwarded it to him via email. The ticket needed to be printed out, so I made sure to flag that for him so there were no issues when he arrived at the train station the next morning.

6:25 PM Once that was all booked I googled the Via Rail station and searched the closest hotels. I knew that there were several hotels in the area, but it was just a matter of choosing one with a reasonable rate and within walking distance to the train station.

6:30 PM I completed the hotel booking online and then called the hotel immediately after to let them know the guest was already on his way and that he would require a document printed when he got there. If that train ticket wasn’t printed my plan would be ruined!

6:32 PM I called the speaker back and let him know the name of the hotel he was staying at and also emailed him a map of how to get there from the train station as well as his confirmation from the hotel.

6:35 PM Crisis averted…..but what if he slept through his alarm and missed the train or the train went off the tracks?!?!

6:36 PM Due to the possibility of the above, I decided I would benefit from a back up plan (and so that I could sleep that night). There was a speaker who was scheduled to do a 45 minute presentation directly following his presentation. I got in touch with the second speaker and asked that if he wouldn’t mind presenting a slot earlier, if the first speaker was delayed.

7:00 PM I receive an email back from the second speaker agreeing that he would speak earlier if need be. I asked him to check in at registration with me in the morning before the first keynote and I would confirm his time.

Friday April 21

5:40 AM Email from the speaker:

“I’m on the train so hopefully things will be fine”

9:15 AM The speaker let me know he arrived and went to check in at the hotel to prepare for his presentation.

Learning From A Crisis

From start to finish the solution took under an hour to implement. If you follow my train of thought through this situation you will notice that I was able to quickly and efficiently solve the problem with the following steps:

  • Remain calm, You aren’t going to solve the problem running around like a chicken with your head cut off.
  • Accept the situation and remain solution focused.
  • Be adaptable.
  • Ask for support!