Kate Kassar’s top tips for managing an event that is not “all right on the night”

Events are live so by their very nature, subject to stresses and pitfalls that we can only imagine when we embark upon them.  Moreover, there is an expectation among executives that assistants should ‘just get on with it’ and produce seamless events, despite having no training in event management.  But, sometimes an event goes wrong.

I can honestly say that after 20 + years in the industry I still come across new challenges at each event that I run.. Things might go wrong at the project management stage.  Things might go wrong on the day or the night itself.  Always expect the best but prepare for the worst.

Project Management Stage

1. Fight for your rights

Don’t lie down quietly.  If it’s a supplier who has let you down for whatever reason, fight, either for things to be reinstated as originally planned, or if this is unrealistic, the best alternative.

2. See it from every angle

Put yourself in your boss’s shoes, in the client’s shoes, in the supplier’s shoes. From there you will collate a full picture of the situation and how to deal with it.

3. Aim high

If it’s a serious issue, go to the top.  (And when a European hotel double booked its conference room for one-night party in the middle of a 7-day conference last year, we went to the Managing Director).  You may not solve your problem completely, but you will get your problem heard, taken seriously and dealt with efficiently and quickly.

4. Talk

Don’t let email do the talking – it might feel less confrontational and obviously you will need to put the details into writing at some point – but meet face to face or pick up your phone to discuss the issue.

5. Admit defeat

Sometimes there will be nothing you can actually do about it.  In this case, note that you are fighting a losing battle and be prepared for compromise.

6. But ensure recompense

Where two parties have to compromise there may be grounds for compensation.  A gesture of goodwill, an alternative date, a discount – they all make a difference.

7. Don’t stop

Until you have done everything in your power to put it right.

8. Gather evidence

Ensure you have relevant documents as proof and for follow-up, take photos – hold the wrong-doer to account.

9. Present a solution

Your executive doesn’t want problems.  They want solutions so make sure you have one worked out, however imperfect, before you present the problem.

On the Night

1. Step away

Get away from the problem!  Have a colleague cover for you while you take time out.

2. Breathe

Deeply.  It will calm you and allow you to think through the problem logically and objectively.

3. Go under the radar

If a problem can be solved without anyone noticing, go for it.  If it can’t….

4. Communicate at the earliest possible opportunity

Once an event has gone live you do not have time on your side and once a client or your executive spots a pitfall you are in trouble.  So, go head-on, admit there is trouble and let them know that you’re working towards a solution.  You will gain respect for this honest approach.

5. Be a realist not a perfectionist

Time on a live event may not allow you to come up with the perfect solution.  Instead work towards the best outcome in the least time.

6. Use your evidence

Make sure you have documents or images to fight your case post-event.

7. Put your hand up

Don’t try to cover up by blaming others.  If it’s your blunder, admit it.

8. Ask for help

Ask colleagues, ask suppliers – you may need support in order to reach a quick solution.

Sometimes live events can feel like firefighting but remember that it is often your handling of a crisis that proves your worth.  The crisis might have been self-inflicted, it might have been totally out of your hands.  You may find yourself, short-term, the target of severe words but you may equally find that your working relationship gains significant respect following your successful handling of a challenging situation.

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Kate Kassar has worked in events & marketing for 20 years. As a language graduate, she first worked in continental Europe on events as diverse as trade shows, fashion shows and the Venice Film Festival. She moved to London and managed corporate ... (Read More)

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