“It is a bad plan that cannot be altered.”
Organizing an event invariably entails some risk as you can neither see into the future nor control everything. When planning your event, it is important to think about what may go wrong and have a plan for some expectable contingencies. Contingency planning is an important part of event planning. It is a process of asking yourself relevant ‘what if?’ questions and finding the answers to be prepared if something does happen. These potential situations could be related to a number of factors such as weather turning inimical or the star attraction not turning up. Having a plan B in place for such situations is what contingency planning is about. Owing to the more expansive nature of potential problems, a contingency plan is more a conversational document than a spreadsheet, where you rely more on talking through the scenarios with your team rather than on them reading the document.
These below are some steps that can help you approach contingency planning in a methodical manner:
Think of the Possible Risks. The unsavoury surprise that you reasonably fear can come to pass may be either inherent to the project, like lack of success in getting the desired audience, or external, like weather surprises. While it is not so difficult to think through the internal risks, it can be very challenging to gauge the plausibility of external factors that can go wrong, simply because the possibilities are more numerous and much less under your control. Once you have identified the risks you need to identify which ones are probable enough to warrant contingency measures. Some of the potential risks to consider may be:
- Physical events like fire, flood, or bad weather.
- Any illnesses or other surprises affecting your team for the event.
- Political upheavals like riots, demonstrations, or strikes.
- Technology failures.
- Legal issues.
Gauge the Impact of those Risks. Once you have identified the risk that merit having a contingency plan in place, you need to group them according to the impact they will have on your event. For example, torrential rainfall or a windstorm can wreak similar consequences. Once you know the impact of an eventuality, you will be able to judge its consequences for your event. You can then plan to avoid the consequences you most want to avoid. For example, if not enough people turn up at your event then the event looking a failure will be a more significant consequence to avoid then loss of money in extra food and drinks.
Make Plans B. Once you have determined the consequences you would most like to avoid, you need to create a plan for the situations that could unleash those consequences. This plan, of course, contains actions that you wish yourself to never have to take. In that respect, a contingency plan is a bit like insurance. Share your contingency plan with your team and make sure that they understand the actions involved. Also make sure that every action point has a person responsible for it. Preparation for potential risks early in the process leaves you with time to communicate with your team. It also gives you plenty of time to think while considering alternative solutions to choose from.
It is an ongoing process till the Event. Contingency planning is a dynamic process that needs to continue throughout the build up to the event. As the time elapses before the event you may be able to dismiss certain risks that are not relevant anymore. On the other hand, some new risks may become palpable enough to plan for.
Get Necessary Insurance Protection: Make sure you have adequate insurance to provide cover in the event of an accident. Some of the main insurance covers that need to be in place are: Employee liability insurance, Professional indemnity insurance, and Public liability insurance.
Even though each event has its own risks based on its size and nature, here are some of the more generic potential scenarios to consider.
Weather: Weather is generally one of the biggest areas of concern while organizing an event. Extreme weather conditions can not only cause you headaches in organization but can also undermine your event’s success. Sometimes, weather conditions in another city or country can also be a source of concern as they may cause delays in arrival of some people or goods. However, most weather situations can be anticipated and managed. While you cannot control weather, preparation can help you control the experience of your guests.
Backup Site: When faced with serious weather concerns, it makes sense to have a plan B in the form of a backup site. It will not be easy to move the event to another venue but it can sometime be the only viable option in a desperate situation.
Adequacy of an Indoor Site for Harsh Weather: Do not take the preparations at an indoor venue for granted. Instead do your homework. For example, if you are expecting unusually hot weather, check the air-conditioning of the venue beforehand. A room full of people in hot weather takes serious cooling for it to feel comfortable. Similarly, if rain is forecast then provide people with space for their umbrellas and raincoats. Also make arrangements to wipe their shoes clean before moving into the main areas of your event.
Non-Arrivers: To start with, have watertight contracts in place with your performers that make it very costly for them to not to show up. However, there will still be times when important guests or key performers at your event may fail to turn up with a very short or no notice to you. If that happens you have to think on your feet. Think of what else is in the program and how you can minimize the impact by reorganizing the running order or extend someone else’s slot to fill in the time. If the keynote speaker does not show up, then think if there is anyone among other speakers who you can promote as the keynote speaker. Do not worry about any no-shows that the audience is not likely to notice.
Shortage of Food: Sometimes the turnover may exceed your expectations and you risk running out of food. Stay alert as your event begins and try and ascertain from the flow of people, as they begin to arrive, if the turnover is likely to surpass your expectations. If you have that feeling, immediately discuss it with your caterers to give them time for possible solutions such as either getting more food or reducing the portions.
Structural Issues: To minimize surprises, make sure that a structural engineer signs off your structures. In the event a structure collapses at your event without anyone being impacted, ensure that area is made safe and the supplier is contacted. If the collapse happens during the show, then cover and seal off the area so that nobody can access it. If someone is in or on the structure when it collapses, then follow the emergency plan.
Delays in Supplies: It is possible that some of your items may not arrive on time and you may have to find solutions rather than changing the format of the event. For example, if the sound is inadequate, have subtitles running on the screen. If the projector goes missing, most screens can be run from smartphones. Consult with someone with an imaginative brain nearby and see how you can make the best use of what you do have. In most cases your audience wouldn’t even know that what you have resorted to is different from your original plan.
Time Over-runs: Always keep some margin, as some of the presenters will take beyond their allotted time. If that happens make sure that the performers to follow are able to wait as they may also have to go elsewhere. If the dinner is likely to be delayed because of the over-run, inform the caterer. Also consider if it impacts any transport arrangements you may have made.
Power Outages: Most venues have standby generators. However, a power failure can be a cause for concern in an outdoor event or in an event where too many technological contraptions, consuming high wattage, are involved. If that is the case and power failure is a perceptible risk, then it makes sense to have a UPS ready. Also devise a communication plan to implement if the venue is suddenly plunged in darkness and the public address system does not work anymore.
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