Sarah Coniglio and Patrick RileyWe know first-hand that planning events is hard work. We’re human and have made our share of mistakes. What we learn from mistakes is hugely important, and applying this knowledge to improve the event experience for participants and volunteers is crucial. Last year, Sarah Coniglio participated in an event that went awry. Here’s what she learned, along with her and Patrick’s suggestions to event organizers on how to make things better next time.

Two major fundraising events took place over 2,000 miles apart late last year. Each was a logistical nightmare that involved overcrowding, safety concerns and a miserable participant experience.

Each was also a cautionary tale for those of us in event development and production. In this age of social media, after all, word travels fast when an event doesn’t go well. The reaction can quickly snowball and exact significant brand damage.

Both events represent what seems to be a disturbing trend: event organizers greedily registering as many participants as they can to maximize revenue.

On the Streets of D.C.
The first offender: a 5K/15K run in Washington, D.C. Traffic problems (perhaps exacerbated by unorganized parking and lack of public transportation) caused many runners to show up late, or not at all. The narrow course and frequently empty water stations made life difficult for those runners who did show up.

How bad did things get? Disgruntled participants launched a Facebook page, where recent posts continue to bash event organizers.

On the Scene in Vegas
That same weekend, a race was held on the Las Vegas Strip. One participant detailed the countless problems in an article, including dangerous overcrowding on the course, inadequate supplies of water and energy drinks and much more.

“It was the worst put on marathon that I’ve ever toed the starting line for,” the participant wrote. “I’ve run 42 marathons/ultras and this one took the cake for futility by a long shot.”

Sarah took part in the Las Vegas race and doesn’t have fond memories:

  • Forty-four thousand people ran, which is a lot for the Strip to hold. The route was packed, with very poor visibility. People were pushing and shoving, and often tripping on objects like dividers. Many runners were forced to walk at times to navigate through the mass of humanity.
  • The timing of the event was also a problem, as the Strip was filling with evening revelers by the time most runners were finishing. Worse yet, the race emptied out into an area where another hotel event was taking place.
  • After I finished my race, I tried to wind through a nearby convention center and casino to get back to my hotel room. The entire area was jammed with people. Some passed out; others looked visibly ill. If there had been a fire, I have no doubt lives would have been lost. It was a scary situation.

Planning Is the Key
We hate to come down so hard on these two events, but we’re confident proper planning would have prevented such troubling scenarios.

It all starts with never over-registering for events. Determine how many participants you can realistically accommodate, and then plan accordingly. This means carefully looking at staffing, parking, public transportation, registration, route conditions, water supplies, etc. — in other words, all the factors that collectively determine whether or not participants have a positive experience.

Resist the urge to fulfill the short-term goal of maximizing event revenue. After all, a failed event can seriously hurt your brand. Worse yet, participants who have a terrible experience aren’t likely to sign up for your event next year.

In short, always remember your primary goal as an event production professional is to create a meaningful participant experience. With that as your guide, you’ll avoid a repeat of the disasters in Vegas and D.C.

(If, however, your next event does turn into a disaster, there are ways to contain the damage. In next month’s post, we’ll offer guidance on what to do — and what not to do.)

If you can’t wait until next month to hear what they have to say, please email Sarah or Patrick today. 

“Patrick and Sarah’s Experience Hub” blog posts are featured monthly. Director of Event Production Sarah Coniglio and Director of Event Production Patrick Riley have many years of hands-on experience in almost every aspect of event operations and production.

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