August 20, 2019
By Madison Layman

We all know Murphy’s Law – anything that can go wrong, will. During events, it can feel like that law is in full effect. It can start with something small, like one of the badge printers isn’t working, and then things continue to fall like dominoes until you find yourself without power, with a delayed keynote, and no food. So, when you’re already strapped for time when planning an event, how do you add in the time to “expect the unexpected?” How do you plan for disaster?

While the word disaster makes the whole thing seem apocalyptic, grand, and unable to be overcome, we really just mean how do you plan for things not going according to plan? It can help to categorize issues by level of intensity. A printer breaking? That’s a low-level problem. A torrential downpour during an outdoor event? High level. The only way to truly avoid major problems is to plan for the things you can’t control, and even then, be flexible enough to think on your feet and roll with the punches.

Common Problems Level of Impact

Categorizing problems by level of disaster can help you better assess how to handle them before and during the event. This list is in no way complete – there isn’t a list long enough to encompass everything. This is a short list to get you thinking about potential issues as ones you have to plan for versus ones that you can recover from quickly. Think of it as an exercise in pessimism.

Level 1: Quick Fix Problems

Quick fix problems are either unexpected or could be avoided if different systems were in place. Event management technology can alleviate a lot of small issues and make the event run seamlessly.

  • Long lines
  • Not enough walkie talkies
  • Sessions or talks run over
  • Room changes
  • Speaker cancellations and schedule updates

Level 2: Wrench in the Plans Problem

These problems are a mix of out of your control and plannable.

  • Not enough food and drink
  • AV issues
  • Spotty WiFi
  • VIP and entertainment issues

Level 3: Entering the Dangerzone

These are largely out of your control. That doesn’t mean you can’t plan for some. If you think ahead, you may be able to make backup plans based on known information.

  • Weather
  • Natural disasters
  • Power outage
  • Medical emergency
  • Venue floods or breaks in some way
  • Caterer doesn’t show up
  • The sky is falling

Time Will Tell

Over the course of your career, you’ll pick up tricks and know what kinds of issues to be on the lookout for. Seasoned planners gather rules throughout the year that they may never write down, but that guide their planning process. Is the event staffed by volunteers? Plan to have less than estimated and don’t count on the same level of quality you’d get when working with paid staff. Have VIPs? Expect transfer issues and allow time for that.


Finally, trust yourself. If you’re hesitant about any part of the event, whether it be technology, the venue, the food, the weather, and so on, act on that gut feeling and make alternate plans. Using a caterer for the first time and have a stomach dropping feeling that they might not be reliable? Find a new one. Listen to the concerns of your peers, listen to your gut, and trust yourself.

For more information on how to handle those danger zone problems, check out Safety First! Best Practices for Duty of Care in Meetings and Events.


Madison Layman

A graduate of the College of William and Mary, my passion for writing began before I could read, with a nightly verbal diary dictation transcribed by my obliging parents.

When I'm not writing, you can find me binge-watching TV shows, baking elaborate desserts, and memorizing pop culture facts.

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