By Gill Daniell, Events Manager, AMRC

Published: 22 January 2020

Events are a fantastic way of bringing people together, networking, learning from each other and collaborating towards future goals. They are an essential part of our community… they can also be absolutely terrifying to organise.

Some of you might have whole event teams to look after content and logistics, and some of you might have events organisation as only a percentage of your overall job but no matter how many people are organising your events, the same problems can creep up on everyone when you least expect it.

So, to paraphrase the wisdom of Elizabeth Day, I’ve put together a list of things I’ve learned from things going wrong.

1) A speaker doesn’t turn up

This is probably the biggest fear of any event organiser. It’s fairly rare but it can happen so it’s good to have a plan of action just in case.

Firstly, make sure you have the contact details of all your speakers prior to the event (email/ phone/ PA’s phone number) so you can track them down and ask if they are still attending. PA’s are especially good in these situations, they know everything!

Most speakers will offer a substitute speaker if they’re unable to attend. If they don’t offer this, ask if there is someone in their organisation who can take their place.

Secondly, take a look at the agenda and see if you can push back the speaker’s presentation until later in the day to allow them time to arrive

If the speaker really cannot offer any substitutes and there is no way to fill this specific presentation let the other speakers know that there’s been a cancellation, so they know it's ok to take a bit longer on their presentations if they are running over. Also, allow more time for Q&A’s after sessions. If there are staff at the event, ask them to think of questions to ask to fill time.

Lastly, apologise to attendees that due to unforeseen circumstances the speaker could not attend, but let them know slides of the presentation will be shared (which you should have received prior to the event!) It may be possible to do a webinar or something similar with this speaker in the future for all attendees to make sure they don’t miss out on anything. Chances are the speaker will feel quite guilty for leaving you in the lurch and will be happy to make up for it.

2) The AV isn’t working

Another nightmarish scenario for a lot of people, especially as many of us are not tech experts. The key to overcoming this particular issue is all in good preparation.

It's extremely important to have a copy of all the slides being used during the day on your device (offline, rather than online so you can access them without Wi-Fi) during the event.

Most venues will offer either a technician or AV assistant when you hire a room, check the contract to make sure you know what AV support is provided. Find out who your main contact is for this and get a phone number/ radio contact for them at the start of the day so they can be summoned quickly if needed.

If AV is failing altogether, the presentations (which you have a copy of in advance) can be sent to all delegates to view on their own devices. You can also ask the venue to print off copies of the slides. It’s not ideal, but it keeps the day moving forward and provides the visuals that are needed with the presentations.

Make like Scouts and always be prepared... always bring spare batteries (for the clicker), a spare extension cable and a large storage USB (so you can transfer files quickly) these items are always needed!

When you run through speaker’s presentations make sure they have embedded any videos directly into their presentation. Otherwise it’s awkward and clunky when a web page opens to play the video... then they have to try and find the power point again to continue... then another video could start playing on YouTube that isn’t relevant… it's just awkward!

Embedding a video is very easy to do, full details can be found hear if speakers need instructions. The only downside to this is it makes the power point file very big so, if you can, make sure you are playing the file offline rather than via an online source.

3) Catering is wrong

This issue can, once again, be avoided with good preparation, but not everything can be within your control...

Have a copy of what catering has been agreed with the venue ahead of time and a list of all the dietary requirements which were sent as well. This will give you evidence of what was agreed, putting the onus on the venue to fix any issues quickly.

Check you know what food will be served ahead of time, it’s a good rule of thumb to order 70% veggie, 30% meat/ fish, as the meat eaters will scoff some of the veg too. Try and have some vegan options within the main dishes too as not everyone will let you know their dietary requirements, but they will still expect you to cater for them.

Some dietary requirements are not exactly ‘requirements’…

Responses I’ve had to the question, ‘do you have any dietary requirements?’ … provide hot sauce…don’t like watermelon… no spicy food…dislike fish… biscuits and cake…phobia of oranges…the list goes on! As long as you have a range of food available (hot, cold, spicy, plain, veg, meat, fish) you have done your job! Accommodating preferences can be a nice touch if you have the time but it shouldn’t be a high priority if you are busy.

4) Weather/ train issues – force majeure

We live in the UK, there are no tornadoes, hurricanes or typhoons but if there is a bit of snow or heavy rain you can guarantee disruption on public transport (especially in London!) You can't control the weather, but there are a few things you can do to avoid it affecting your event.

Make sure all delegates and speakers have access to information regarding transport to and from the venue when they register for the event. This provides all the alternative options of travel if there are delays on their usual route.

If you can avoid the winter months, that’s great but it’s not always possible. If the weather forecast is looking a bit dodgy keep your attendees updated. Make sure they know what conditions to expect, leave a longer time for travel and offer alternative travel solutions.

Can you push back the start time of your event to allow people extra travel time? Can you also bring forward the end time of your event to allow people more time to travel home? People will be grateful to have a little extra travel time and leave your event feel a lot happier.

Sometimes a freak weather storm hits, stopping everything in its tracks and there is nothing you can do about it. Make sure your event is covered by insurance when planning, which will cover costs of refunding delegates and paying the venue if you have to cancel an event due to force majeure.

5) You’re running over your schedule

In the grand scheme of problems this is actually a fairly easy one to navigate it just takes a bit of communication and forward thinking.

How long are your breaks and lunch? Can you steal 5 -10 minutes off each of these breaks to make up time? If you do, remember to inform your venue/ catering contact so they know when to serve food/tea/coffee.

Is there a Q&A section that you can shorten slightly? Offer delegates time and space to catch up with the speakers during the break or contact them with their question following the event. They can also feedback their questions during the feedback survey after the event.

Prep the speakers who are still to present during the day. Let them know that you are running over slightly so they definitely stick to time. Having a time-master sit at the front purely for time-keeping purposes is a must on larger events or if you have a speaker that you know will go over their time (there’s always one). If you have a larger event you will probably have a host, make sure they are well prepared for timings and who they may need to cut short if necessary.

My final top tip is, don't forget to enjoy the actual event! You've worked hard to make it the best it possibly can be, so use the time to chat and network with your attendees and remember to give yourself a huge pat on the back (or a small glass of something tasty) at the end of the day. You've earned it!