An ounce of prevention: Four strategies to prevent last-minute challenges

By Roni Feldman

Many meeting planners would describe themselves as type ‘A’ personalities and aim to control everything. However, there are times when the unexpected does happen. Here are some strategies to help you prevent a few of those last-minute challenges.
An ounce of prevention: Four strategies to prevent last-minute challenges1) Use your resources

Your vendor partners are your ‘lifeblood’ and if you are respectful when working with them, they will be there for you when you need them most. Over 34 years, I have been blessed with wonderful vendors that make it a joy to plan meetings and events.

I had been planning a conference for a regular client in another city, and there was to be one major off-site themed reception and dinner. The venue was chosen and they had a recommended caterer. Prior to the convention, I was in the same city producing another conference. Following the convention, I had arranged for a taste testing with the proposed chef. It was one of the worst taste testings that I had ever experienced. The food and presentation were neither current nor up to standards. I then contacted my favourite caterer who was a member of NACE (National Association of Catering Executives) and requested the very best caterer in the event city. We hired them instead of the recommended chef and the event was a success.

2) Experience the program first hand if at all possible

Meeting planners are responsible for the recommendations for all vendors and therefore must anticipate everything possible about what the attendee will experience. In order to do so, the planner needs to experience the program in advance.

For one program, we had a dinner and theatre package contracted for a client event. Fortunately, we were able to see the show prior to our program and realized the production was totally inappropriate for our client. We received a full refund from the vendor and immediately contacted another venue and a theatre production company and created our own show for the same price. When we contacted the client to advise them of the recommended change, they were not concerned as all was in place. We make it a policy to never call the client with a change to their program until we have an alternate plan in place.

3) It pays to use credit cards

It is difficult to be reimbursed for deposit cheques that have already been cashed. Credit cards, however, provide an avenue for dispute resolution if contracted services have not been provided. Just prior to a conference in the United States involving a significant amount of decor and entertainment, we were informed that the vendor partner had gone out of business. We had paid the initial deposit by credit card and the second deposit was due. I called my contact who informed me that the company was going bankrupt. I asked him for the names and contact information for all the vendors that had been confirmed for our event. When I contacted those vendors and explained the situation, we negotiated reduced rates that covered our initial deposit so that there would not be any additional costs. We then approached the credit card company and were able to receive a full refund of our deposit.

4) When dealing with speakers, always have a Plan B  

Travel can be a challenge due to weather, flight delays, etc., and therefore we may wonder what can be done to prepare for a speaker not arriving in time for their session. First of all, ensure that you receive a copy of all speaker presentations in advance of the program. This can often be a planner’s greatest source of frustration. If the speaker is a member of the corporation or association, pre-determine who might be able to step in as a substitute if necessary. If the speaker has been hired by a speaker’s bureau, the bureau may have a local speaker that can be substituted at the last minute.

On one occasion, I had just finished speaking at a trade show and I was literally taken by the arm and told that a speaker had not shown up. I was then asked to speak on a panel at one of the next sessions. Fortunately I knew the panel members as well as the subject matter and was able to speak without any preparation. We actually received great evaluations!

About the author

Roni Feldman has been involved in the meeting and special event industry since 1979. She is President of Roni Feldman & Associates Inc., a meeting and special event management company dedicated to servicing associations, corporations, special interest and incentive groups and non-profit charitable organizations. She can be reached at 416-408-0252 or by email at [email protected].

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