”Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Nowhere is Murphy’s Law more true than in meeting planning. But things that don’t go according to plan don’t have to result in disaster, either. If there were a first law of meeting planning, it would be Plan for contingencies.
Contingency planning is a standard part of professional meeting planning, so as a meeting planner, you may have to spend some of your time trying to outfox Murphy. Generally speaking, the more important something is to the success of your meeting, the more likely you should have a contingency plan in place for it. Here are a few tips to help you plan for (and cope with) the unexpected.
Examine the key parts of your meeting or event. The venue, your vendors, your hotels and the presenters are all key elements of your meeting plan. As such, you should have contingency plans in place for them. Double-booking venues may not be in your budget, but you can work with the venue when negotiating space to identify weaknesses and options. For example, you may not want to book a venue along the Atlantic coast during the height of hurricane season. Instead, choose a location that’s less likely to be disrupted by hazardous weather. A sudden cancellation by a vendor may not be a disaster, if you’ve created a list of other vendors who can step in on short notice. Likewise, if your keynote speaker’s flight is cancelled, you may be able to re-arrange the agenda to accommodate him or her as a closing presentation.
Make checklists. Good checklists can help you sidestep errors. After each meeting, re-evaluate your checklists and modify them according to your experiences. Over time, your checklists will become an invaluable resource that can help you avoid errors.
Communicate! Establish good communication with your meeting planning team, your vendors, the speakers, on-site personnel and the venue staff, and make sure they know how, when and what to communicate to you. Making sure everyone is on the same page can go a long way toward eliminating mistakes.
Manage your time carefully. Meeting planners never wish for “less time.” The more time you have, the more options you have. Use the time you have wisely. Everything connected to a meeting becomes time-sensitive at some point, so use down time to complete non-urgent tasks. Arrive early at a meeting space to double check the venue, check in with the vendors and spot potential problems before they can do any significant damage.
Natural disasters. Try as you might, some circumstances are out of your control. In the case of a natural disaster, hazardous weather or other unforeseeable event, the only steps you can take involve mitigating your risks. Insurance, negotiating an alternate plan with vendors or venues ahead of time, and providing travel assistance to your attendees who may be stuck in an airport or at the meeting venue can help you manage unexpected events.