Don’t Get Caught in Last Minute Madness: 12 Tips for Preventing Last Minute Changes at Your Event

In a previous post we had covered 5 of the reasons why event planning regularly makes the list of the top 10 most stressful professions alongside occupations like firefighting, military service, and police work that involve life and death emergencies. The frequency of changes, particularly last minute changes, was highlighted as one of the main factors adding to the stress levels of meeting, conference and event planners.

The good news is that many last minute changes can be prevented and, with careful planning, some changes can be anticipated and managed. Here are 12 tips that will keep you ahead of any curve balls.

1. Build in a Back-up Plan for Replacing Keynote Speakers and Entertainers. 

When booking keynote speakers through a bureau, include a clause that covers providing a replacement speaker or entertainer if there is a last minute cancellation. As the date approaches, the bureau can easily confirm availability and provide you with a list of speakers and entertainers on their roster who can pinch hit at the last minute.

2. Have regular check-point meetings with your event stakeholders.

3. Brainstorm and identify the areas that are most prone to last minute changes and move those items later in your project plan. 

For example, you can pretty well predict that there will be last minute cancellations by some event participants, delays due to traffic or late flights, particularly in the winter, and 11th hour changes Proactive Event Plannerin the agenda. Handle the need to pull outdated agendas from participant materials by accepting this as a reality. Book the printer to print and collate any handouts or other printed material that includes the agenda, on the morning of the day before the session is scheduled to begin. If you do it earlier it is guaranteed that there will be re-work. Have a team on hand to place and position this material late on the day before the meeting or event

Going paperless and providing the agenda through an app or online can eliminate the mad scramble in reprinting material when there are last minute changes.

4. Formulate back-up plans for every area of the programming and logistics that are prone to last minute changes.

5. Corporate event planners should make it a practice to include the sponsoring executive in key meetings.

Many clients will resist this but many meeting hiccups are created by executives who are brought into the loop at the last minute. The sponsoring executive should participate in the initial project meeting to communicate his or her vision clearly. He or she should also sign-off on content, the agenda, entertainment, and even the timing for catering service. Many times when an event planner has arranged to begin service when everyone has arrived, an executive will step in at the last minute and insist that service begin immediately. If you don’t have buy-in from the senior executive, everything is up for grabs and last minute changes are guaranteed.

6. Re-engineer Your Agenda. 

Build margin into your agenda, set-up, and logistics. Delays in arrival due to heavy traffic, inclement weather and flight cancellations or delays, are quite common. You will need that margin so that you can slide content to later time slots if there is a delay in the start of the meeting or conference.

How to Build Margin into Your Meeting
  • NEVER overpack an agenda. Add at least 15 minutes more than you think you need to each session.
  • Rope off a reserved row or set a couple of reserved tables near the entrance to ensure that latecomers are not disruptive or embarrassed.
  • Some participants will arrive extra early to be guaranteed a seat near the door so you also need to allocate space for them.
  • Set one or two extra tables near the door and mark them as as reserved. Some participants and dinner guests just show up so you also need to make a plan to accommodate them. Advise participants who arrive early that these are extra tables.
  • Provide an informal arrival lunch as an easy transition into the agenda. A buffet format can easily accommodate staggered arrivals.
  • Start your agenda early to mid afternoon on day 1 to give participants time to arrive, relax, and even get settled into their rooms if possible.
  • Instead of beginning with a general session or keynote, launch the meeting or conference with structured networking, cracker barrel sessions, brainstorming, or unconferences sessions in breakout rooms.
  • Before the closing keynote, schedule another session in breakout rooms for brainstorming, networking, or strategizing an implementation plan.

7. For corporate clients, confirm the final date for rooming lists and the penalties that apply if there are last minute cancellations.

Always build in a buffer and set the deadline a couple of days before you need it so that you don’t receive the rooming list at the 11th hour.

8. Set a deadline for receiving notifications of cancellations.

Stipulate that, after that date, the client is responsible for cancelling directly with the hotel and copying the event planner on the cancellation notification.There will always be last minute cancellations from corporate clients. Placing the responsibility for handling them with the client will eliminate what is a major source of last minute scrambling.

9. Send a communique to participants a week before the event and ask them to advise you immediately if there are any changes to their travel plans or the length of their stay. 

Remind them to let event organizations know about any special meal requirements. That way you can make adjustments at a less than frantic pace.

10. Bring the speakers in 2 nights before they are required.
Flying speakers in at the last minute is asking for headaches due to the inevitable flight delays.

11. Schedule the final checkpoint meetings with the entire team 1 week and 2 days before the event.
This will help you identify any hiccups and develop a strategy to manage them.

12. Form a SWAT team by allocating some members of the event planning team to deal with last-minute emergencies and come up with solutions.

This troubleshooting task force should be composed of members of your conference planning sub-committees who have been involved throughout the event planning process. Clear their calendars during the last 2 days leading up to an event and during the event, Their role should be to troubleshoot and problem solve and they need to be empowered to make fast decisions.

BONUS TIP – Take it in stride. Accept the fact some changes are unavoidable.

Keeping your Cool When Faced with Last Minute Glitches
  • Take a deep breath.
  • Alert the troubleshooting taskforce.
  • Brainstorm and implement solutions.
  • A member of the taskforce should contact and involve all directly affected parties.
  • Be honest with participants about the changes, why they are necessary, and  what you are offering as an alternative.

From the School of Hard Knocks

Magic Johnson, who was the advertised marquee speaker for MPI WEC 2017 conference, had to cancel at the very last minute. MPI posted a video on Twitter at 2 AM on the day he was to schedule to speak. They announced that headline entertainment and other content would fill the gap.