As we enter the season of holiday celebrations and service to our communities, I want to thank you for all you have done to make 2023 an amazing year.

Now, I’d like to share tips learned from dealing with glitches during events I’ve managed. I hope these tips will help you manage all your future events with grace and a sense of calm.

Managing common event catastrophes takes skill and just about every event will have something go wrong.

Creating contingency plans for the important components of your event is one of the best things you can do as a coordinator. Simply knowing you have plans in place will help you stay calm and keep your head in the game.

Catastrophe #2: The caterer doesn’t bring enough food

Whether more guests showed up than planned or your caterer miscalculated the amount of food needed to feed guests, there’s no doubt that not having enough food can be disastrous! Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the impact and salvage the culinary side of your event.

Immediate Actions:

  • Assess the Situation: Quickly identify the extent of the shortfall. Are we talking about minor shortages or a dining hall full of hungry guests?
  • Contact the Caterer: Immediately and calmly explain the discrepancy. Ask for their proposed solutions and estimated timeframe for resolution.
  • Transparent Communication: Inform your event staff and key guests about the situation. Honesty and proactive communication are crucial to managing expectations.

Mitigation Strategies:

  • Replenishment: If possible, urge the caterer to prioritize sending over additional food, even if it means a delay. Be flexible on menu options if needed.
  • Creative Reassortment: Work with your staff to redistribute remaining food strategically, focusing on filling platters and avoiding empty gaps.
  • Emergency Backup: Depending on the context, explore emergency options like ordering pizza, partnering with nearby restaurants, or utilizing kitchen facilities to prepare simple snacks.
  • Portion Control: If absolutely necessary, consider encouraging smaller portions to stretch supplies further.
  • Alternatives and Activities: Offer alternative refreshments like drinks and snacks to keep guests occupied while awaiting further food. Consider engaging activities or entertainment to divert attention.

Damage Control and Post-Event:

  • Documentation: Clearly document the food shortage, including photos, witness statements, and communication with the caterer. This helps with potential compensation or future contract negotiations.
  • Guest Apologies: After the event, personally apologize to guests for the inconvenience and offer gestures of goodwill, like discounts on future events or merchandise.
  • Debrief and Review: Have a thorough debrief with your team and the caterer (if responsive) to analyze what went wrong and implement changes for future events. This could involve revising contracts, communication protocols, or food estimation methods.

Remember, while a food shortage is stressful, focusing on possible solutions and guest satisfaction can help you navigate the situation.

When it comes to event planning, preparing for the worst can help you deliver the best

You might not be able to plan for every single thing that can go wrong as you plan and deliver an event, but here are some ways to plan for the big event fails.

As you read, you’ll notice a common thread throughout – crystal clear communication with vendors and guests is essential to your plan.

Catastrophe #1: The event wifi goes down

Most events rely on wifi in some form, but it’s especially important for conferences and corporate meetings. Imagine a venue filled with thousands of guests unable to get up-to-date event information because there’s no internet connection. Imagine a meeting hall full of professionals unable to connect with their team. Now that’s a catastrophe!

Here’s your plan when the wifi goes down:

Immediate Actions:

  1. Isolate the Issue: Check with event staff and attendees in different locations if your event is spread across multiple venues to determine the extent of the outage.
  2. Contact Tech Support: Immediately reach out to the venue’s IT team and your internet or wifi provider. The sooner they’re aware, the faster they can troubleshoot.
  3. Inform Attendees: Make a clear announcement to event attendees and vendors explaining the situation. Transparency is key to managing expectations.

Mitigation Strategies:

  1. Mobile Data Hotspot: Encourage attendees to use their own data plans as a temporary workaround.
  2. Offline Activities: If your event has offline components like workshops, talks with printed materials, or physical games, promote these activities. This outage also offers a great opportunity for networking!
  3. Paper Registration/Feedback: For events with ticketing or surveys, have backup paper forms ready. It’s old-school, but it works!
  4. Social Media Updates: Keep attendees informed about the situation and estimated restoration time through your event app, social media, or emails. Humor and updates on non-wifi related activities can go a long way.

Proactive Measures:

  1. Redundancy Check: In the future, consider having a backup internet provider or mobile hotspot ready for emergencies.
  2. Offline App/Content: Design some event features or information accessible offline, like speaker bios or event schedules.
  3. Contingency Plan: Discuss potential tech issues and mitigation strategies with your team before the day of the event. It’s always better to be prepared!

Even the best event will have glitches! You will get through the challenge gracefully if you show you’re actively solving the problem and you focus on engaging attendees with alternative activities.

Catastrophe #3: Your audio/visual system crashes


When your A/V system goes down during a big event like a conference, concert or festival, it can truly feel catastrophic. Some activities may be delayed, but all is not lost. Here’s your plan of action:

Immediate Actions:

  1. Isolate the Issue: Is it a complete A/V blackout, or are specific components like screens or microphones affected?
  2. Alert Tech Team: Immediately contact your A/V technicians or support team. The faster they’re on the case, the faster they can diagnose and potentially fix the issue.
  3. Transparent Communication: Clearly explain the situation to attendees through announcements, social media updates, or event app messages. Acknowledge the inconvenience and assure them you’re working on a solution.

Mitigation Strategies:

  1. Go Analog: If possible, switch to backup microphones, speakers, or projectors that don’t rely on the main system. Even a simple microphone and phone speaker can keep things going.
  2. Human Power: Use the power of human presenters! Encourage live talks, panel discussions, or impromptu Q&A sessions while the tech team works on the AV system.
  3. Audience Engagement: Get the crowd involved with interactive activities, games, or live music that don’t require A/V. Improvisation and audience participation can create a unique and memorable experience.
  4. Planned Breaks: Use the downtime for scheduled breaks and networking opportunities.

Proactive Measures:

  1. Redundancy is Key: In the future, consider having backup equipment or a secondary system ready for emergencies.
  2. Tech Team Onsite: Ensure reliable and skilled technicians are present throughout the event to handle any potential issues quickly.
  3. Contingency Plan: Discuss potential tech glitches and mitigation strategies with your team beforehand. A plan B can turn chaos into controlled action.

Keep calm, communicate transparently, and focus on engaging your audience with alternative means. While an A/V malfunction is disruptive, it doesn’t have to ruin the entire event.

Bonus Tip: Have some lighthearted pre-recorded video clips or music stored offline that can be played on spare screens in case of an AV crash. This keeps the atmosphere lively while the tech team works their magic.

Catastrophe #4: Service staff no-shows leave you short


Staff no-shows can throw a wrench into even the most meticulously planned event. And, bringing in staff at the last minute who have not been fully trained or briefed on the event can be tricky. Here’s what you can do to keep things running smoothly:

Immediate Actions:

  1. Assess the Situation: Quickly determine the extent of the shortfall. Are specific roles missing, or is it an overall shortage?
  2. Contact All Personnel: Reach out to everyone who might be able to help, including off-duty staff, volunteers, even friendly event attendees with relevant skills.
  3. Transparent Communication: Inform key personnel and delegates about the situation. Reassure them you’re working on solutions and prioritize clear communication throughout the event.

Mitigation Strategies:

  1. Task Reassignment: Redistribute existing staff to cover critical areas like food service, security, and guest assistance. Be flexible and creative in assigning tasks.
  2. Upskilling on the Fly: Briefly train volunteers or willing attendees on basic tasks like registration, food service, or directions. A quick crash course can go a long way.
  3. Prioritize Key Areas: Focus on ensuring essential services like food, drinks, and sanitation are covered first. Let less critical tasks like coat check or merchandise wait if necessary.
  4. Delegate and Empower: Empower your team members to make decisions and take initiative. Trust their judgment and ability to handle unexpected situations.
  5. Technology to the Rescue: Utilize technology like self-service kiosks, online ordering for food and drinks, or automated ticketing systems to reduce reliance on staff.

Proactive Measures:

  1. Overstaffing Buffer: Consider slightly overstaffing events to account for potential no-shows or emergencies.
  2. Incentives: Offer competitive pay, bonuses, or perks to attract and retain reliable staff.
  3. Clear Communication: Maintain clear communication with your staffing agency regarding schedules, expectations, and contingency plans.
  4. Backup Network: Build a network of reliable volunteers or temporary staff you can call upon in case of unforeseen circumstances.

While a staff shortage is stressful, it doesn’t have to derail your event. By staying calm, thinking creatively, and prioritizing guest experience, you can turn this challenge into an opportunity for teamwork, adaptability, and even building stronger relationships with your guests.

Event catastrophes are more common than you might think, but with the right plan in place you will make it through the toughest challenge. If you need help putting that plan in place for your event, I’d love to help.

Aurice Guyton

Author Aurice Guyton

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