When you’re juggling suppliers, ticketing, and attendees, it’s inevitable that you’ll run into some unexpected problems – even the most bulletproof event plan can experience mishaps. While unexpected changes can be stressful, it’s important to know how to handle them quickly and create practical solutions. In this post, we’ll show you how to create an event contingency plan so that you can stay agile and mitigate changes when things don’t quite go according to plan.

Types of contingency plans 

If you’re a skilled organizer, you’re probably wondering what could possibly go wrong with your event planning process? Here are just a few possible sticky situations you might find yourself in: 

  • A guest speaker or key supplier cancels at the last minute
  • A catering shortage prevents you from hiring enough staff for your event
  • Unexpected weather conditions deny you from using an outdoor venue
  • Significantly more or less people attend your event than expected 
  • A power outage leaves you without the AV equipment needed to pull off your event

So, how do you prepare for these potentially disastrous scenarios? You guessed it: by creating solid event contingency plans! We recommend starting with some base documents for wet weather cancellations, risk management, and staff training for your school events.

Wet weather

Rain is one of the most common culprits for event disruptions, so it’s essential to always have a wet weather contingency plan for any outdoor event. Your plan needs to include every supplier and vendor that you’re using, their cancellation policy, and how much notice they require for cancellation. 

This will give you a clear overview of the cancellation fees that will incur if you need to cancel your event and how much notice you need to give each company. For example, if the forecast says it’s going to thunderstorm on your event day and your supplier requires at least 48 hours notice to receive a full refund, it’s best to make the decision a few days before the event to avoid the cancellation fee and receive a refund.


Risk Management 

A risk management plan outlays all of the potential risks that may arise from your event and what you can do to reduce the identified risks. How do you determine what’s a risk and what’s not? Here are a few things to consider: 

  • Will it cause harm to an attendee? 
  • Can it damage equipment, infrastructure, or the event site? 
  • Is it a current risk, a new risk that the event might create, or an external risk that you have little control over? 
  • Would it be considered a low, medium, or high risk? 
  • What is the likelihood of the risk occurring? 

Complete a walkthrough of your venue before creating your documents, to identify any current risks on site. For example, a low-level risk that you might identify is an exposed extension cord. This may be harmful to attendees as it can act as a tripping hazard. To mitigate this risk you can purchase an extension cord cover that can be used on the day of the event. 

Other event risks can include; uneven ground, a body of water on the event site, suppliers moving equipment in and out of your venue, and the use of glass for catering. Write down all of your identified risks into a spreadsheet with the risk description, the severity, the likelihood of it happening, and what you’re going to do to mitigate this risk. This plan will allow you to see an overview of any potential risks that could arise on the day, which you can share with your event staff so that they can also keep an eye out for these risks. 


Staff briefing 

It’s likely that you’ll have other staff members and student volunteers helping out at your event. To avoid staff turning up late, confusion around the event location or their role, you can create a staff briefing document. This document should include the bump in time, what they need to bring, where they will be located on the day, their role, and what kind of questions they can expect from attendees. Be sure to email this document to staff a few days before the event. When your staff arrives on the day, review these logistics, and answer any questions that they may have. 

You should also provide them with a contact list that includes relevant mobile numbers they might need if there’s an emergency or any last-minute changes. For larger school events, it may be handy to set your staff up with two-way radio systems, for easy communication between the team. 

The importance of reliable suppliers

A common setback in events is when a supplier cancels, leaving you without a supplier days out from your event – stressful, we know! To avoid this, you want to ensure that you are hiring reputable suppliers. If you've previously used suppliers that showed up on time, provided a great service, and met the event requirements, always go back to these vendors as your first option.

If you don’t have a list of suppliers that you’ve used before, it’s best to do your research to find a suitable supplier. If you jump onto Google and do a quick search for ‘event catering companies in my area’ you’ll have an abundance of results pop up! But don’t jump at the first option, instead check out their website, social media accounts, read some reviews, and if you think they look like a dependable company reach out to them for a quote. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to get a quote from two to three suppliers that offer the same service. This way you can compare pricing and ensure that you’re getting a fair industry standard price. This also means that you've two other quotes to fall back on if your first supplier cancels. 

Dealing with unexpected change

If you do experience a supplier cancellation or any type of event change, there are three main things that you need to do to help you cope with the change, and that’s to adjust, learn, and implement. Firstly, you need to be ready to deal with the current situation at hand. This may require you to make a quick decision – whether that’s to find a replacement supplier, fix a misleading event communication, or find a new venue at the last minute.

Start by looking at your event date and see how much time you have to action the change. Is this something that needs to be done immediately, or do you have a few weeks to work with? If it’s the latter, spend this time researching and re-organizing the event elements that require attention and rectify the situation as soon as possible. If you’re cutting it close to your event date and are finding it difficult to solve the problem, consider whether this element is crucial to your event delivery? If the change will not majorly affect your event, go without it, but if you think the event can’t successfully go ahead, it’s best to postpone or cancel the event. 

Once you've attempted to adjust your event, the next stage is to learn from the experience. Any problems that occur during your event planning should be documented in an event report. The report should include a section on what worked, what didn’t work, and where you can make improvements in the future. For some scenarios it’s difficult to rectify the situation at all, for example having a lower than expected number of attendees or over catering for food, is hard to change on the day of your event. In these scenarios, you need to just accept the error and learn from the experience. After the event, you should collaborate with your team to see why you may have not received as many attendees and what you could do in the future to prevent this from happening again. 

The final stage of coping with unexpected event change is to implement your learnings into your next event. Check back into your event report to see where you can make improvements, this may remind you to avoid specific suppliers or even to use a venue that worked particularly well. 

Published January 11 2021