Contingency planning: Preparing your event to succeed.
One of the most exciting, but also one of the terrifying aspects of event planning is that everything is possible, including the unexpected. No matter the amount of planning previously done, it is not possible to control everything, from the weather to the guests and suppliers. Therefore, the only certainty an event planner has is the uncertainty of the whole process. Although risks are an integral part of any event, not all event management agencies develop a plan B, which is a mistake. For disruptions to the original plan may occur, some at a small scale and others at a big one. Thus, you'd better be prepared!
Preparedness is a lesson we successfully applied last month in Rio de Janeiro. Rio de Janeiro has been hit by torrential rains which have been bad enough to sow chaos in the city. Last April, one of those storms hit Rio precisely on the days of our event, a Symposium for a German company. The municipality declared a state of emergency and every aspect of the Symposium was affected. Guests were arriving at the peak of the tempest. They had their flights redirected to another airport and times changed at the last minute before boarding. All 130 guests coming from all over Latin America and Europe had been given a phone number to call in case of changes. Due to the circumstances, very few did. That made it nearly impossible to predict arrival times and cancellations for the transfers we had so neatly planned long before. The heavy rain played havoc in the city and the 15-minute route to the venue booked for the dinner after the Symposium had been profoundly affected, making it unsafe and unreachable. Besides, a few suppliers were unable to travel to and from our location. Under such extreme weather conditions, the event could have been completely ruined, if it wasn't for the fact that we had been preparing for it months in advance, amid good weather and the promise of a dry April by diverse weather forecasts. Sometimes we may have come across as ‘a bit odd’, like ‘Noah’ building a large boat for a flood no one could see coming. However, the ‘Noah effect’ was a real saviour, and it paid off every extra hour we had worked putting in place solutions for what would become eventual disruptions.
The planning of solutions for potential problems is known as contingency planning, and it differs from risk management in that it covers a broader range of event planning aspects, not only health and safety. Contingency planning encompasses local knowledge, experience, problem-solving skills and a significant amount of ‘what if’ questions to deal with possible issues such as traffic delays and no shows. Contingency planning is a crucial but often overlooked part of event management, and although it is impossible to prepare for everything, organisations can think of things that could go wrong and prepare for these worse case scenarios. A contingency plan should be developed and improved throughout the preparation phase of the event and be open to inputs of the whole team.
Follow these steps to create an efficient contingency plan for your next event:
Think of the possible risks
Start by identifying the risks that may arise from holding an event, both internal and external threats, for instance, bad weather or low attendance.
Assess the impact on the event
It is essential to assess the effect these risks may have on your event. For example, if attendance is low, the big room you rented may look empty, which may harm attendees' experience and the impressions of the press.
Think of the possible solutions
After identifying all possible scenarios, it is crucial to develop a plan to lessen the impact on the event. For example, if attendance is low, why not move to a smaller room or invite those backup guests?
Document the plan and make sure you communicate it to the whole team. Planning for contingencies is a dynamic and continual process that needs to be reviewed at different stages since a change of circumstances may increase or lessen certain risks.
Dealing with unexpected circumstances may add to the total cost of the event. For instance, you may need to buy umbrellas or build a tent to protect guests against the bad weather. For this reason, having 5% to 10% set aside in a budget will ensure that you can cover any extra costs that may come up.
While there is no exhaustive list of risks that may affect your event, there are some issues that often come up. These are the weather, unusable venue, traffic disruptions, attendance and no shows, technical, problems with suppliers, emergencies and accidents. We will talk more about each of these potential problems on a future post, but for now, let's consider the weather.
In Brazil, we had a person responsible for checking the weather weeks in advance. Despite the sun shining outside three days before the event, we meticulously checked the weather forecast. Various websites were predicting heavy rain and thunderstorms. Knowing from experience how downpours affected the airports in Rio de Janeiro, we planned to have full-time coordinators at the arrival gates of both airports so that no matter the time of arrival someone could welcome guests and take them to their transfers. Indeed, many aeroplanes could not land at Santos Dumont Airport due to the wet runway, resulting in last-minute redirections to the International Airport. Such delays and last-minute changes happened to most flights that day. If we had not opted to have coordinators in both airports, most guests would have lost their transfer.
Besides, because many guests were late and missed part of the Symposium, shorter sessions with the speakers were offered for small groups the day after. In this way, guests could still get the information they were looking for, despite the challenges posed by the weather. To make things worse, we had to cancel the after-Symposium cocktail and dinner. It was planned to take place at one of Rio's best restaurants, but due to flooding and heavy rain the city was in a state of emergency, and the route to the restaurant blocked. Instead of sending attendees back to their rooms with a hamburger for a pyjama party, we contacted suppliers in the neighbourhood and were able to put on a buffet dinner followed by a disco at the hotel. It was an unexpected success. It was also a better closing to the Symposium, considering the age of the attendees, who danced nonstop until the very end.
As you can see, every minute spent with our contingency planning paid off. Success is no accident. A successful event is the result of hard work, effective planning and dynamic execution. If you are well prepared, even trials can turn into successes.
Are you interested in Brazil or Italy as a destination for your next corporate event? Eventus Manufactus DMC Brazil and DMC Italy organise bespoke corporate events, conferences and incentives in this exuberant countries. Please do not hesitate to get in touch so we can help you create the best possible environment and get your team ready to thrive.