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The RGI Blog

Five Annual Conference Nightmares

In the spirit of the Halloween season, we want to take a look at conference nightmares. What can we learn from past scenarios and how can we prevent them from happening again? Though “nightmares” typically happen because we never thought they were a possibility, below are some scenarios we can use to improve future events.

Natural Disaster Before Annual Conference

The Scenario: You’ve booked your annual conference site a year or two in advance. Leading up to your event, a devastating natural disaster hits leaving the city to try to rebuild and recover.

The Solution: There are a couple options available depending on the extent of the natural disaster. The first is to pay a cancellation fee and move the event to another location. If the damage is severe enough this may be your only option. Another avenue to take is to use your conference to help rebuild. To do this, utilize local vendors and emphasize philanthropy from your members and exhibitors. Book local speakers to talk about the effects of the natural disaster and educate attendees on the area. This is an opportunity to give your membership a voice and an opportunity to make a difference. If you are unsure on what to do, send the decision to a vote.

Emergencies at the Venue

The Scenario: Your conference is going smoothly. Attendees are happy and each session has gone on with no complications. As the afternoon session begins, an emergency situation starts to take shape. It could a severe weather situation or the smell of smoke creeping into the meeting room. What do you do when no one from the venue reaches out?

The Solution: Contact someone from the venue immediately. If someone can’t be reached on the phone, send someone to find a venue employee. Even if it’s not someone who can directly help, they should be able to connect you to the correct person. In the future, include emergency situation planning on the agenda in meetings with potential venues and share the venue’s emergency procedures and the chain of command with attendees through email or the conference app. Have the venue notify you if anything is happening that could affect your conference. Also, have the venue provide direct contact information to someone who will be on-site during your event. Even if the situation doesn’t turn into anything serious, it is crucial event staff know what is going on so they can continually weigh options.

Board Members Going Rogue

The Scenario: It’s the day before your annual conference – an event you have been working intently on for months. When you arrive, you find out a board member has scheduled an unexpected opening ceremony event requiring multiple permissions from the venue and coordination with the A/V team.

The Solution: Take action immediately.  Reach out to the venue to gain the necessary permissions and clearances for the given situation. Next, get with the A/V team and anyone else the new addition may affect to get on the same page. For the future, be sure all members of the board know all changes to the event need to come through the meeting planner. When everyone communicates through the correct channels, there won’t be any surprises the day before a conference.

Key Items Gone Missing

The Scenario: You are hours away from the opening of your annual conference. Last-minute tasks are being completed for the preparation of the first attendees arrivals when you find out you are missing some key items required for your event. Maybe it’s the keys to a closet holding extra chairs, or an important stage prop, or a speaker is missing their computer with their presentation on it. Any one of these could negatively affect attendee experience, so what do you do?

The Solution: Plan B and improvisation. Meeting planners are problem solvers by nature and this is where they can really shine. Is there an opening event that can be extended while issues are worked out? If possible, add extra time to an opening breakfast or networking session to allow time to come up with a new plan. With extra time, a lot of issues can be solved without attendees even knowing something was wrong in the first place. More time to contact the venue about keys, to locate or replace a prop, or to contact someone about sending the presentation or re-creating another version of it. The solution you find may not be as perfect as the original plan, but odds are attendees won’t even know something went awry.

Unexpected Venue Construction

The Scenario: You arrive at the site of your conference to find out a portion of the venue is under construction. It will re-route attendees outdoors and includes construction to one of two elevators at the venue. There’s only a couple hours before attendees begin to arrive.

The Solution: Do a walkthrough of a new route and determine what changes need to be made. You may need to adjust the conference schedule to allow for more time for attendees to travel within the venue. Work with your venue contact to make sure there is a handicap accessible route throughout the conference, even with construction going on. In the future, send a local member to do a site check a week or so before the annual conference. This can put you at ease that everything is as it should be, or give you enough time to plan for unexpected changes.

There will be things that come up at conferences that need a quick response. These scenarios can help plan and prevent things from happening (or escalating), but there will always be a need to adjust and adapt on the fly. Use these annual conference nightmares as a precaution to what can happen and be ready to problem-solve at all times during your event.

To learn about taking your events to the next level, download our free e-book: Step-By-Step Event Marketing Template.