“Chance” is a fairweather friend of all event organizers. Sometimes she can really help you out and other times he just makes a bad situation worse. I would never leave Chance in charge of an event, because that would be surrendering control to the unknown and the preventable.

When I started out in event management someone once told me to think about the front page of tomorrow’s paper and make sure you get the picture (and story) you want – or at least not the one you don’t want. All event organizers should do everything in their power to plan how an event is going to unfold. There is an expression, the devil is in the details and we will be discussing logistical planning in another Golden Nugget. But events happen in real time, so the on-site manager needs to consider what to do when something doesn’t go according to plan or happens by chance.

There are some things for which you can have back-up plans ready and you can determine what falls into this category. For example, if you have a table reserved for dignitaries at a meal and they don’t all show up, you can have a few “reserve” attendees in your back pocket to fill the table(s) so the absences aren’t noticed. Plant some questions in the audience to ensure your question and answer session doesn’t fall flat.

Know where and how local resources can be called up on a moment’s notice (such as a 24/7 printer or how to contact your AV supplier after hours) and have contact information (both on-site and off-site) for all your key personnel and suppliers. The local facility can be one of your best resources for the un-expected as it may have happened to them before. Make sure you know how to access emergency services in your chosen facility (it usually isn’t 911 but rather the specific facility’s security department, because the emergency services will waste time contacting them before dispatching).

You can’t possibly plan for every contingency. The secret is to be ready for ones that have a higher chance of probability (lack of attendance vs a tornado as long as you are not in the US Midwest during tornado season). Risk mitigation is also about knowing what to do when something doesn’t go according to plan. Maybe your keynote speaker’s plane is delayed or more people show up for dinner than registered or event staff don’t arrive when expected. The first and most important thing to do is to stay calm. Then you have to find the most effective and efficient solution to the problem in the shortest time possible with the least impact on your participants.

Sometimes no matter how much time you have spent planning for the worst, the unforeseen happens. It may well be that how you handle the circumstance will save the event. At a conference a couple of years ago, I was heading to the conference office to start the day before all the participants came down for breakfast and the hotel lost power. It was on a special grid with redundant back-ups and no one knew how long it was going to be before the power came on again. Thankfully breakfast had already been cooked, so it was just a matter of keeping the buffet warm. Minutes became half-hours as we considered what to do about the program. After breakfast we were scheduled to have a keynote address and the speaker had arrived. We had about 50% of our attendees eating the buffet breakfast amongst the exhibits (which had some emergency and some natural light. Our plenary room, however, had no power and very little emergency light. We checked with the keynote speaker and he had just a speech and was comfortable addressing the audience without a sound system (he knew how to project his voice), so we moved the podium off the stage and into a corner under an emergency light and attached a flashlight to a pole so he could see his notes. The AV techs escorted the audience to their seats with flashlights just like ushers in a theatre. The keynote delivered his address to an audience completely in the dark and everyone loved it because the conference adapted to the adversity without panic and moved forward. Thankfully the lights came back on after the keynote and we were able to get all the systems up and running within minutes and the program carried forward.

“Chance” can make a vacation better by adding to the adventure, but you really don’t want him to be planning the entire itinerary or you won’t have anywhere to stay and won’t get the opportunity to do the things you want to. Don’t let her take charge of your event either, because, if you leave it to “Chance”, “Chance” will fail you.

Written by Phil Ecclestone, CMP

If you have an interesting risk mitigation story, please share it in the comments section.