Contingency Planning: Top Event Management Tips to Handle the Unexpected

Anyone who has experience holding events will understand that things sometimes just go wrong, no matter how well organized and planned the event is.

Even so, event managers are often poorly motivated to develop strong contingency arrangements and continue to err on the side of optimism, expecting that the event will just roll out perfectly according to plan.

They often forget how important it is to always anticipate disasters and to be prepared for the unexpected in every instance, no matter how ‘bullet-proof’ the plan is or how smoothly the event seems to be flowing.

In reality, there is no such thing as a “perfect” plan. There are always some threats lurking around the corner, waiting to wreak havoc if given the chance. This is why well-thought-out contingency planning is an oft-neglected but critically important element in event planning.

Here are some tips you can use to improve contingency planning for your next event.


# Identify and manage risk

Before planning adequately for contingencies, you should identify what areas are the most vulnerable and reinforce any known weak links according to priority.

This can break down into several subcategories, mainly consisting of:

  • Technological glitches: If your event includes presentations or entertainment shows—anything heavily tech-reliant—you should always:
    • Have AV partners ready.
    • Have at least one tech-savvy person on site.
    • Avoid any web-based files and have hard files. If you have guest speakers, state in advance which formats are compatible.
    • Have a full tech run-through before the event starts.
  • Attendance
    • Participant dropouts – What if the event is half-attended or falls short of expected attendance? To minimize the chance of massive dropouts, you can insert a clause in the sign-up form, ask for confirmation of their travel plans, and send out reminder emails.
    • No-shows – This is probably the scariest thing that could happen for an event. One way to avoid this is to charge for tickets. Asking participants to make a financial commitment is likely to dramatically cut the number of no-shows. That being said, the best way is to make sure you have enough time to market your event.
  • Guests – Have at least one backup guest that you can call in on a moment’s notice to cover for them. Alternatively, work closely with your speaker agency to have someone waiting in the wings.
  • Food & Beverages – F&B is pivotal to creating opportunities for participants to mingle and make connections during an event. Events are ultimately about hospitality, so why not have a backup caterer, just in case?
  • Security – Even if the event is invite-only, it does not always prevent gatecrashers. It won’t hurt to have someone volunteering to man the door. If not, pick a venue with security services.


# Establish clear responsibilities and a chain of command

Now that the team has a concept of what the contingency plans are, the next step is to equip them to execute those plans.

Any unexpected interruptions during an event are best managed with an established chain of command and a clear decision-making structure, with everyone on the team sure at what point a decision will have to be elevated to the next level of decision-making.

There should be a clear division of labor and responsibilities mapped out for each person on the team. Everyone needs to understand their role and what is expected of them in case of emergencies. Walk them through the plan to be sure everyone is on the same page. It must be clear to the team who should make the final call during a crisis.

Cross-train the team to implement the responsibilities if needed, and conduct disaster drills if time allows.


# Communication is key

To ensure an effective chain of command during a crisis, the team should communicate to one another on a regular basis and stay updated about the goings-on of the event.

In this way, if an incident does occur, they can act agilely, understanding who needs to be informed of what and how to go about informing the people concerned. This helps escalate decision-making and minimizes the damage.


# Double check, even triple check

Nothing will be too thorough in an event setting. Double-check or even triple-check everything. If possible, reserve some time for tweaking. Step back and see what it will be like when the event is in full swing and make changes if you spot problems.



Having solid contingency arrangements in place not only pays dividends in handling the unexpected quickly, it also means that you and your team can be far more confident during the event, with the comfort of knowing that there are contingencies to fall back on, ‘just in case’.

With extensive experience in hosting events, and staffed with personnel highly skilled in event management and flexible in cases of emergencies, we are always prepared for the unexpected at Eaton Club. Inquire now to learn how we can help you with your next event.