8 Event Disasters and How They can be Turned Around


Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.

Sure, that’s a pretty pessimistic way to go through life. Maybe a better way to look at Murphy’s Law would be to combine it with the Scout Motto: Always be prepared.

When you go into an event armed with the knowledge that anything with this many moving parts is going to have a breakdown or two – and the ability to react if (and when) something goes awry – you will be in the best position to turn a potential defeat into a victory.

Let’s look at some potential event disasters and how they can be turned around.

Security Risks

We live in a time when, unfortunately, you have to be aware of your surroundings. Places where a large group of people gather could be a potential target. That doesn’t mean live in fear, but you certainly need to be aware of the environment where you are planning to hold an event. From planned protests to terrorist threats, there are several reasons that could turn a previously benign area into a place with heightened security.

Be sure you are aware of the climate in the country or area when you plan to hold the event. You can sign up for security alerts to help you. 

If your company doesn’t have a security component, hire a security firm. Preferably one with experience planning for events and the 21st century risks that accompany them.

Have an emergency plan. Your security firm should either create this for you or assist you in its creation. Also, make sure you are familiar with the layout of your venue and where to go should a situation arise.

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Technology Meltdown

The wi-fi doesn’t work. A speaker’s microphone has an ear-ringing short. A presentation won’t play. There are a thousand little cuts of technological meltdowns that can occur at any moment during an event. And even though everyone at your event has dealt with technology and knows how temperamental it is, it doesn’t matter. They’re still quick to cluck their tongues and judge your event as unprofessional.

Make sure that you have a trusted AV partner you can work with. While they cannot guarantee that nothing will go wrong, they can be on site with the necessary equipment and expertise to get everything back up and running smoothly and efficiently.

Your partner can also help with the pre-show check and rehearsal, ensuring that every technical doodad is properly working before the first guest crosses the threshold. This not only includes checking that laptops, microphones, projectors, internet, speakers, etc. are working properly, but also that one piece of equipment won’t interfere with the others.

Speaker Dropouts

For whatever reason – illness, travel delay, unexpected conflict – speakers may have to cancel plans at the last minute. No matter how valid the reason, it’s not going to help you much when you have a room full of expectant attendees and nothing to entertain them.

First, you want to make sure that you have as much notice as possible. Put a time limit in the contract. If possible, arrange for the speaker to be on site a day before they are scheduled to appear. It may cost you a dinner and additional hotel room cost, but it will help avoid most travel complications.

Next, have a backup plan – and make it someone who will either be on site already or can be available with limited notice. If you booked your speaker though an agency, make sure it is part of their policy to provide a substitute should the primary choice have to back out.


Photo Credit: Event Makers

Low Registration

No matter how much you prepare, when you open registration there is no guarantee that tickets are going to fly out the door.

The last thing you want to do is wait until the week before an event and panic trying to fill the space. Create a marketing plan and carefully prepare a list to target. Slowly drip on these possible attendees with enticing content that is designed to turn a maybe into a yes.

Reach out and create relationships with influencers. Word of mouth is often the best encouragement for boosting attendance.

Finally, have a plan for what you are going to do if registration remains stagnate. You may be able to promote a sale or offer group discounts.

Low Attendance

“But they said they’d come,” is not an acceptable excuse when your featured speaker is about to go talk to a cavernous ballroom containing less than half the expected attendees just milling about.

First, you can expect about 20 percent of the people who said they would attend to not appear. You can offset this somewhat by overselling the event or creating a stand-by list.

No-shows are worse for free events because attendees are not motivated by a financial investment. Also, there’s a “get what you pay for” mentality that may not be valid but exists nonetheless. So, charging for tickets will not only help encourage attendance, but will add value to your event.

Venue Cancellations

Unfortunately, there are some shady organizations out there that take advantage of event organizers by either offering venue space that doesn’t exist or double booking the location. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself the victim of these practices, you may have to scramble to save your event or be forced to cancel.

The best thing you can do is your homework. Make sure that the person or organization you are communicating with is on the level. Carefully read – or, even better, have a lawyer read – any contracts before signing anything. You want to have right of first refusal or you may find that your contract is invalid because another organization booked your venue.

Weather Changes

There’s an old saying that if you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes and it’ll change. Which is fine until your outdoor event becomes a deluge.

Photo Credit: Raver Rafting

Again, have back up plans. If it looks like rain may drown out your outdoor fest, get some portable structures or tents ready to offer shelter for your guests. In fact, you may want to have these options already up, because, even if the weather is sunny, attendees will need a break from it. 

Also, all furniture should be weather-proof (which, as a bonus, makes it spill proof).

There’s an Overlap with a Major Holiday

In Chicago, the first Monday in March is Pulaski Day. There are parades, the public libraries are closed, and, until 2012, the public schools were closed, too. It’s a big deal and, in the area, people look at you like you have two heads if you act like you’ve never heard of it before.

Of course, most people have not heard of Pulaski Day. It’s just one example of the myriad of regional holidays that could conflict with a planned event. For example, if your Chicago-based event ends mid-day on the first Monday in March, your attendees may have a hard time getting to the airport due to parades blocking traffic.

Overseas events can be tricky, too. So, be sure to check for common and uncommon holidays that are specific to your event’s region.

The best advice is, should something occur during an event, don’t panic. If it’s minor, stay calm and take care of it. If it is major, be honest with your attendees. They my grouse a little, but they will respect your honesty. Remember to give Event Architecture a call at 972-323-9433. We’ll help you overcome the rough spots and put on the smoothest event possible.