Planning a special event of any size requires the ability to manage many, many details.  As event planners, we are required to manage all the details – small and large – not dropping any balls and making decisions on the fly under extreme pressure. 

With that said, mistakes happen – whether our fault or just happenstance – and it’s our job to manage these situations throughout the event, and preferably unbeknownst to participants.  Below are specific examples that outline the process for identifying an issue, developing a solution, getting resources in place and communicating the solution.

What happens when you realize a few hours into the event, all of your main parking lot exit lanes are blocked with parked cars?  A few weeks ago we managed a mud run in Boston. A vendor was handling the on-event parking, and we marked out parking spots and exit lanes in each lot.  Unfortunately, our vendor allowed exit lanes to get blocked and participant vehicles were blocked in for a short time. 

  • To correct this, we quickly created an exit path for each car.  The exit path was identified by placing a volunteer or parking attendant at each turn to direct exiting cars how to leave. We also communicated to participants as they entered the lot to leave. 
  • Following the event, this information was captured and communicated to the vendor so changes could be implemented for the next day of the event. Giving feedback after the event is a best practice to help ensure mistakes do not happen twice.

What happens when arrows marking the route have fallen down and participants go off course? Every Command Center dreads getting a call that participants are off course.  Whether the wind knocked an arrow down, the local neighborhood punk plays a trick or a critical spot was merely overlooked, the fact of the matter is that the problem needs to be resolved ASAP.

  • First, locate the problem area! Figure out where participants are going off track and “patch the hole.” Make sure proper signage is put up immediately and is clearly visible to participants who haven’t reached that point yet. Secondly, deploy a team to lasso in the participants off course. If possible, determine how far off course the group has gone and roughly how many participants are involved.
    • Reroute the participants by foot with the help of volunteers and arrows to link them.
    • Send out some vehicles stocked with water and snacks to scoop participants up and drive them to the next safest drop off location on route.
  • Customer service is going to be key at this point. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge the mistake. Participants don’t necessarily care whose fault it was, they just want acknowledgement that an error was made. Be sympathetic and do what you can to turn their experience around. By the end of it, hopefully this will have been a minor slip up and not define their entire event experience.
  • Ways to avoid this in the future:
    • Provide Route Marking Training: Be sure the team marking the course knows how to correctly install signage. They should be secured tightly and be highly visible.
    • Complete a Quality Check:  Before the route opens, have a team go out to double check everything is marked correctly.  The most effective route marking generally happens hours before the event, if not the day before.  

What happens when you run out of food/snacks and water for participants? All event planners have their preferred equation or method for projecting the number of participants expected on event. Spending the appropriate time calculating these numbers is super important, especially when it comes to feeding your participants and keeping them hydrated. Sometimes the math may be off. We get it. But, handling a situation like this is pretty straightforward and can be explained in three easy steps:

  • Don’t panic!
  • Quickly assess the need
  • Deploy a team to pick up the resupply at the closest location.

Here’s some of our favorite prevention tips to help avoid supply issues:   

  • Just before your event, double check  your food and beverage orders  based on current projected participation numbers. If allowed, make adjustments as needed.
  • Take into account the weather forecast. Warmer weather is going to require greater hydration needs and more salty snacks to keep your participants safe.
  • Keep an eye on your supply throughout the day, taking into consideration how many participants have not yet passed through. Don’t wait until the end to assess your standing.
  • When you start to get low, reach out to other locations on event to see if they have an influx of food/water they can share. For example, Is your first water station ready to close and have some to spare?
  • Have a plan to replenish! Know where the nearest store is and what their hours are. The more time you spend on the internet looking up options is more time wasted.

Planning a special event requires managing many, many details, and sharing a ton of information with your staff, volunteers, and vendors.  While it’s impossible to foresee every possible mishap, proper planning and rechecking are your best strategies for minimizing mistakes and mishaps. 

The golden key is to remember, at the end of the day, you are never alone!  When happenstance occurs, quickly assess the situation and begin communicating with your team. Working together to manage any situation will allow you to quickly resolve any occurrence, most likely before your participants are aware that anything happened behind-the-scenes.

Jennifer Ricker and Kendra O’Donnell are Event Production Managers for Event 360.

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