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5 Planning Tips for Unwelcome Surprises

You planned your event down to the last detail. Then, the unexpected happens. What now?

Sometimes those surprises are completely out of your control. Weather and illness are perfect examples. As meeting planners, our value comes from how we prepare for the things that may not go our way. This skillset can take a meeting from potential disaster to successful outcome.

But how do you plan for the unexpected? Making time to think about and anticipate potential surprises goes a long way towards calming and reassuring everyone.

Here are 5 planning tips for those “unwelcome surprises” that are bound to happen:

1. Be Flexible, Open-Minded, and Roll with the Punches

Man speaking in front of a group of people sitting at a table

It’s been said that the only thing you can truly “control” is yourself: your thoughts and how you respond to situations. Acknowledging that fact up front will help you manage anything that comes your way.

We constantly remind our meeting clients that the number of potential issues is equal to the number of attendees at their meeting or event. You will help manage expectations for yourself and the meeting stakeholders by discussing this fact at the beginning of the planning process.

Bottom line: Problems are guaranteed to happen. Stay calm, be flexible, and keep an open mind to allow you to roll with the punches.

2. Have an Experienced Onsite Team

4 people working at a table with two laptops and a cellphone

Whether your meeting is in-person, virtual, or hybrid, having an experienced onsite team will set you up for success. Their past experiences dealing with challenges will inform present circumstances. In other words, you want to have people who can draw on those past learnings--both positive and negative-- to respond in the best way today.

Most experienced onsite managers also have training in CPR, among other things.

Bottom line: Experienced onsite managers know how to keep a cool head when problems happen.

3. Create Alternative Plans for Known Possibilities

4 people working around a table pointing at color options

Does your meeting use a lot of high-tech equipment? Knowing there may be tech failures is something you can plan for by having backups for all equipment.

What if your keynote speaker gets ill? What if the caterer, florist, or décor company cannot get the exact items you ordered? You can plan for that.

You may get several unexpected cancellations or walk-ins on the day of the event. Create a plan for those situations and be sure to have lots of extra supplies on hand.

Bottom line: anticipating potential challenges and preparing back-up plans will make a big difference to your meeting’s success.

4. Have a Contact List Ready for Emergencies

A man holding a phone with the email and phone icons

What will you do if an attendee gets hurt and is brought to the hospital? How will you contact their family or employer?

Getting emergency contact info for all participants should be a standard practice for every event. Be sure to print copies of the emergency contact list for the onsite managers and client contacts.

In addition, keep a binder filled with important information including staff and vendor contacts, an overview of the day, a registrant list, etc. This helps keep everyone on the same page while also being a resource for when things aren’t going as planned.

5. Weather Back-Up Plans for Unwelcome Surprises

Four columns each representing one season

Weather is something we can’t control. However, we can plan for possible weather issues.

Are your attendees travelling from areas that may be affected by winter or summer storms? You should have plans in place for weather delays and flight cancellations. Then, be sure to share the process with the travelers and your planning team before travel begins. If something happens, everyone will know what to do.

Is your big event being held outside? What will you do if rain, high winds, or scorching sun threaten to ruin the event? Most venues have back-up plans and are happy to discuss the options with you.

Bottom line: preparing back-up plans reassures everyone.

"There’s no harm in hoping for the best as long as you’re prepared for the worst.”

- Stephen King

Making time to think about and anticipate potential surprises goes a long way towards calming and reassuring everyone.

Here’s to your success --and the planning and preparation that will make it happen!

The LaClare Group logo

The LaClare Group, headquartered in Minneapolis, MN, is a corporate meeting planning company specializing in meeting strategy and management. We have been bringing meetings & events to life (virtual, hybrid, and in-person) for over 25 years. Wherever you meet in the U.S. and beyond, we've got your back and we'll make you shine.

We’re offering you a free 30-minute consultation on anything related to meetings & events -virtual, hybrid, or in-person! You can schedule your consultation today by email ( or by phone (952.737.6980).


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