5 Things That (usually) Go Wrong at Events and How to Handle Them

Updated: Apr 3, 2020

Yep, sometimes, no matter how well organised or planned you event is, things go wrong. Whether it’s technology that fails or simple human error, from time to time, it just all goes wrong.

While you can't be across every little thing that might go wrong, the solution is to be aware of the obvious things (at least) and plan for what you want to achieve your event and to create a contingency plan in for when things do go wrong.

Here we list the top 5 things that frequently go wrong at events and what steps you can take in order to lessen their impact on your event in your planning and on the day.

Participant dropouts

No! This usually spells disaster! Your keynote speaker, headliner or special guest has been caught in traffic or worse, can't make it. Whatever the reason, you have a room full of attendees waiting and nothing to show them. What are you going to do?

When faced with this problem, the key is to

a) ensure you ask the participant to give you as much notice as possible if they can’t make it and

b) already have a back up in mind.

It's a great idea to insert a clause in the contract stating you need to be notified at least 24-hours in advance if the participant has any doubt that they might not be able to attend – that way, if they’re starting to feel unwell, they should let you know.

To be sure about getting them to the venue on time, ask for confirmation of their travel plans and ensure there is ample time between their scheduled arrival and slot on stage. It's also great to ask the participant to keep you updated throughout their journey, so you can be sure there are no delays.

It's important to have your back up guest primed and ready and make sure you communicate well with them on the day so they are as prepared as possible. You want it to look like you had it all planned anyway (because you do) and not leave your attendees feeling as if you simply dragged someone out of the audience to cover.

No one shows up!

The only thing worse than the main guest not showing up is a poor turn out on the day. A large room, with a few people aimlessly wandering about wondering where everyone else is, is enough to give most event organisers the heebie-jeebies.

‘No shows’ are a particular problem for free events, where people are not motivated to attend by the financial ‘investment’ they have made. It help alleviate this problem, it’s a good idea to make a charge for tickets, even if it's only a few gold coins and decide you donate all of the proceeds to charity. Attendees who make a financial commitment feel invested to turn up and this approach will dramatically cut the amount of no shows to your event.

However, even when people have paid for their tickets, there will still be a certain number who can’t make it on the day. It’s always safe to assume a 20% drop out rate. This way you can either oversell or create a stand-by list, depending on the nature of your event and venue.

For smaller events, where every person counts, be sure to send out a reminder or touch point to your attendees close to the event date. Provide all the details so everyone has a recent and updated version of what they need to get there and ask them to let you know if they now can’t make it.

Technology failure

When the speaker’s microphone won’t work, the video presentation won’t play or the internet has gone down at a vital moment it’s not only embarrassing, far worse is it can make your event look unprofessional.

You need an experienced AV partner or people working with you at the venue and it needs to be people you can trust. However, while you want to put your trust with your AV crew, you need to make sure you do a rehearsal. Not doing a rehearsal is one of the most common errors made with entertainment or speakers. You need to find out how they plan to use the space, work with the audience in order to sync with your AV and lighting equipment. Knowing when to raise the house lights, use a spot for special effects or video cues for presentations is as critical to the event experience as the catering!

Most presenters like to stream presentations from the internet, because it saves them valuable time, however a slow stream, glitches and broken links all spell disaster. It's ok to request hard files from all speakers and let them know in advance which formats are compatible. Similarly, if you’re planning a live link with another location and are reliant on connectivity, make sure your venue has the required capacity and the experience in doing this.

Rehearsals aren't just about sound checks and the internet. Make sure you trial all laptops, A/V systems and projectors that will be used and have your speakers/presenters operate them while they run through their presentation. They need to know how they work and feel comfortable with them enough to focus on their presentation rather than the technology. During a rehearsal you can also check to ensure the room is dark enough to view the projections and delegates at the back will be able to see/hear properly? Check roving mics for interference and consider how the sound will perform when the room is full. Will it be drowned out by chatter or keeping the neighbours awake? The key to mitigating this risk is to test, test and test and if something does go wrong on the day, have an appointed person who is proficient in being able to spot the problem and fix it quickly.

Unexpected weather

Not many people plan outdoor events because of the unpredictable nature of the weather, but if your event is outdoors, you will a plan for what to do in the case of a weather event spoiling your day. The most common contingency is for a back up indoor location or to go to the expense of a marquee. Many budgets won't allow for this, or for a convenient and seamless indoor relocation. However there are several factors to consider when deciding on your contingency actions when the weather turns bad.

Consider the large outdoor festivals that attract thousands. They have several large stages where festival goers remain exposed to the weather and then several smaller stages which are covered and more intimate. Festival goers can either remain in the rain or seek shelter in their own tents or cars or relocate to another smaller, covered stage. For a school fete, or church fair, this could mean you have some activities inside and some outside. This way, your attendees aren't forced to abandon your event should the heavens open.

For all outdoor events, at the very least you will need sufficient waterproof coverings for any technical equipment and ensure your team is knows how to quickly put them in place when needed. Similarly, furniture and decor should be weather proof and easy to wipe down. If a it's just a passing shower, people need to be able to wipe things down quickly and get on with enjoying your event. Avoid paper banners and things that might fly away and ensure items like bouncy castles are anchored correctly.

If you've worked hard at planning your event but you know the weather is going to be against you, you could consider providing disposable rain macs and umbrellas for rain, and fans, water bottles and sunscreen for sun. Make sure you communicate your efforts to your attendees - it will encourage them to come and they will appreciate that you have thought about their needs.

If you stand somewhere long enough...

Waiting in long queues is not something event attendees really want to be doing and they shouldn’t have to. During your planning stage, you should be considering the movement of people, their movement times and possible pinch points at toilets, catering, entryways and exits. Keeping track of attendee numbers in the first instance, will give you the opportunity to scale up operations and make sure you have enough on-site staff/volunteers to cope with the numbers and manage the movement of your crowd. This is also true of smaller events. Even groups of 100 people can get irritated when there are only two toilets to queue for.

These are fairly common problems, but they needn’t be. Adequate consideration about your event during the planning stages, will give you ample opportunity to make yourself aware of what is likely to go wrong in your own event. Planning also gives you the opportunity to put in place the measures to make sure that things either don’t go wrong, or if they do, what you will do about it and that they don’t negatively impact the experience of your attendees!


What else commonly goes wrong at events? Share your experiences below!

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