How to Turn Last-Minute Event Problems Into Opportunities to Shine

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There are many steps you can take to prepare yourself for success in the lead-up to your event. But sometimes a problem somehow presents itself that no one could have seen coming. The event you spent months planning is facing an unforeseen issue. Becoming a master of handling unexpected challenges at events will help you prepare for these situations and find solutions to fix them — and fast.

Last-minute scenarios can be a headache for event organizers, but they don’t have to be the end of the world. Our experienced team of event insiders has seen it ALL. We asked them to share their stories about working through a crisis and got their top advice on overcoming event challenges.

1. Use a crisis situation to create an event that exceeds all expectations.

Senior Account Manager Maddy McPeak, DES, has received every kind of emergency call on her cell phone. But McPeak believes these situations allow for the most creative problem-solving.

Senior Talent Booking Agent Maddy McPeak

Whatever the reason, if a client has found themselves in a bind, it’s not only possible to find a last-minute speaker, it can be a great opportunity! I had a client who had a speaker pull out a few weeks before an event for medical reasons. Once we assured them that it wasn’t the end of the world, we got creative on how to make the most of an unfortunate situation. The client announced the speaker lineup change by teasing a ‘surprise guest’ and creating a little pre-event buzz that no audience member was the wiser about! The day of the event couldn’t have gone better and the “silver lining” for the client was more than just saving the event.

2. Before addressing the crisis, meet and establish how to work best as a team. And never be afraid to ask for help!

Debbie Shannon, Senior Logistics Manager, has worked with clients facing emergencies for over nine years, but no two situations have ever been the same. Her philosophy is to work through a crisis as a team, no matter her counterpart’s experience level.

Senior Talent Logistics Manager Debbie Shannon

The first thing I do when we get an event with a quick turnaround is to hold a meeting with the person I’m working with on the sponsor’s team. When we meet by phone or Zoom, I’ll get an idea of what they need and how organized they are. If they’re very organized, we make a list of what needs to be done, then we work together to decide how to divide the tasks. We’ll keep in periodic contact with our results, and assist each other if we have any roadblocks. However, I’ve seen lots of people put into the position of planning an event with little to no experience. If I’m working with someone where I need to act more as a guide, we’ll review what their expectations are and figure out a plan from there. Along the way, I need to gain their trust and keep them posted each step of the way. You have to always be quickly available for any questions or possible changes. These situations can be very stressful for the client and we want to keep assuring them that we have the know-how to execute what is expected.

3. Rely on what you know for support in a crisis.

Account Executive Sarah Angry’s cool head puts her clients at ease while she assists them with any unexpected challenges at events or with their speaker needs. Not all speakers are interchangeable. Angry has to lean on her knowledge of the AAE speaker directory to figure out who will best fit the client’s needs.

Talent Booking Agent Sarah Angry

It can be very stressful if a speaker is unable to attend an event at the last minute, but our team specializes in assisting when this issue arises for any event planner who reaches out. We’ve had numerous clients contact us when a speaker drops out of their program, and whether it be a couple of months or a weekend, we’ve been able to find a replacement that our clients are extremely happy with! The key is understanding the personality of the client, and then figuring out which speaker will mesh with them the best. We want to help each client by putting them at ease, and we’re happy to provide swift customized speaker recommendations that will be a great fit to our clients’ programs!

4. The first step in a crisis should be to already have a plan in place.

Director of Event Logistics Edie Boan, DES knows that while you can never predict what will happen in the event industry, you can never be overprepared. Her advice is to prevent hasty decisions you’ll regret later by having a plan to stick to during a crisis.

Director of Event Logistics Edie Boan

When a client calls us with an emergency we already know exactly what to do! Part of this comes with experience, but mostly it comes from planning. The benefit of having a crisis management plan is that when an issue arises you know at least what your first couple steps will be. For my team, the first step is engaging and communicating with the client quickly. This enables us to recognize immediate needs, be sensitive to deadlines, and take over quickly to execute the event when contracts are finalized. Event planners we work with love this seamless transition.

5. Embrace opportunities when they come along.

Because McPeak is a believer in taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves, she has one more tip for you. The timeline may end up being tight, but when your gut is telling you to act, do it.

Sometimes the truth of the matter is that events simply don’t come together on a more formal timeline. After George Floyd, companies were eager to respond to the cultural and political movements in real-time. This meant that to honor the importance of the discourse happening, we needed to identify, book, and host an event within a couple of weeks. AAE has an expansive reach with our directory of over 100,000 speakers alongside our top-rated, full-service team. For many clients, we were able to find content experts who were timely and relevant, while also taking away the logistical and contractual burden by offering equally timely and relevant event planning services.

When a crisis arises while you’re planning an event, a change in perspective can help you turn it into an opportunity to try something new. Applying these tips in a challenging situation can help you overcome obstacles and build trust with your audience. Of course, we all want our events to go exactly as we planned, but AAE will be here for you in those times when you find yourself handling the unexpected at events.

For some additional ways you can prepare to host the ideal event, visit the AAE Speaks blog or our resources for event organizers.