How a rain event and late speaker arrival were overcome – and guests thrilled – at an outdoor event

Contingency Planning: How a rain event and late speaker arrival were overcome – and guests thrilled - at an outdoor event  Contingency Planning: How a rain event and late speaker arrival were overcome – and guests thrilled - at an outdoor event  By Jane Davies

As a long-time events planner, I know there is no such thing as a perfectly planned event – but I do my best to ensure that clients and their guests have a perfect experience, every time. Our firm, ZedEvents, draws upon a large roster of suppliers, venues, artists and performers to ensure that every one of the events we manage is produced with the best that the available time, client’s budget and our creativity will allow.

We start with a very simple process – identifying the core purpose behind the event, and then building everything to support this goal. Whether it’s the theme, décor, menu, talent or topic, everything has to work together to create the kind of success that brings clients back and sends guests away with great memories of time well spent.

This careful planning can all go sideways very quickly, however, when unexpected changes to the core pieces arise. Sometimes it’s a supplier who can’t provide the required item; sometimes it’s a presenter who is unable to perform, or sometimes it’s a discovery at the last minute that no one could possibly anticipate.

Creativity counts

Our team works hard to come up with contingency strategies for the most common problems, but for the issues that blow in from left field, creativity, great relationships with suppliers, and years of experience are what save the day – and sometimes make for a truly unique event!

At a recent event held in the Halifax area, we had a combination of several eleventh hour changes working against us, but with careful planning and creative thinking, we were able to provide guests with the event they were expecting, if not quite in the original format.

The event was a two-day fundraising initiative to support children’s health, partnered with a Canada-wide foundation and a local children’s hospital foundation. It included an exclusive sponsor’s reception for 200 VIP guests held in a large tent on the practice green at a local golf club, as well as a day of golf and a gala finale, all wrapped around a major Canadian golfing star.

Anticipating challenges

The contingency planning started from the word ‘go.’ The golf star not only had a limited timeframe for appearances, but was playing in a PGA tournament south of the border that could easily extend into this timeframe. Our team had to create the best possible scenario that would ensure a premium guest experience while maintaining tight control on expenditures in order to raise the most money possible for the foundation.

The sponsor reception set the tone for the event. A 4,200-square-foot white tent was erected on the lush green driving range, complete with a golf demonstration station so guests could test their skills. A three-foot high ice sculpture, designed to showcase the event logo, sat atop a fresh seafood display. Assembled at one end of the tent was a “Butler” cabin-style setup, famous for the annual interviews of past and present Masters Champions at Augusta National Golf Club. It was here that guests would get their first chance to see and hear our star for the weekend.

Rain delay

Just a week before the event, Halifax barely averted a hurricane but did sustain some rain damage – including damage to the golf courses we were using. As if that weren’t enough, throughout the night between the sponsor’s reception and the early tee off the next morning it rained again, flooding various areas of the course as well as causing the tent to partially come down – but we were ready with plans on how guests could avert these affected areas.

The real eleventh-hour crisis was truly that: When our golf star did well at his tournament and suddenly he was playing into our timeframe, we realized he would be arriving late for the sponsor’s reception and demo that evening. We had several contingency plans in place (including scripting and technical plans for all of them). Our star did arrive just before 8 p.m. when the sun had set – but we were prepared with massive lighting on the fairway so the demo and show could still go on!

In the end, our clients and their guests were thrilled with how the event unfolded over the two days, and we were delighted to be able to resolve these seemingly insurmountable obstacles on behalf of our clients. Simply put, this ability to make problems disappear is why I enjoy my work so much. After all, not everyone can truly say they make magic happen almost every day!

Helpful hints for contingency planning:

  • Make sure you have a strong relationship with your suppliers and /or have great suppliers on your team – they can be your new BFF if things go sideways.
  • Always assume the weather is going to be bad and do your contingency planning – just like a life insurance policy – good to have but you hope you never have to use it.
  • If you can, build some contingency time into the agenda (best case scenario is you end up not needing the time and the event ends a few minutes early).
  • If something goes wrong and you have done everything you could to mitigate it, don’t be afraid to just come clean and tell your guests (of course only what they need to know) and remember offering free booze is a great way to increase your chances of forgiveness!

About the author

Jane Davies is vice-president of ZedEvents, a conference and event management company based in Halifax, doing business across Canada.

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