It was 4pm on a June afternoon in 2016 and I got the call all event planners dread…the last-minute disaster. We had a big event that evening, a fundraiser for 100 guests, comprised of a champagne reception, recital and auction.
That whole month we’d had record breaking weather - incessant torrential rain every afternoon and finally, the ceiling at the venue evidently thought ‘enough is enough’ and gave way to the elements. The only hope of continuing with the event there was to hold it in a boat.
Guests were due to arrive in 2 hours’ time at 6pm, and we had no venue.
My thought process and actions went something like this:
MUST NOT PANIC
Be a swan be a swan be a swan (note reference to popular event planner analogy here: the calm serene swan on surface with mad paddling underneath-gloss over fact that swans are surprisingly huge, terrifying and aggressive)
Go into high functioning multitask mode: We need a new venue, we need to tell everyone and we have 2 hours in which to do it.
Find new venue: Who do we know who can help? What are our options? What are the requirements (it needed to have enough space, decent catering facilities, a (tuned) piano and to be fancy enough for the very glam guests)
New venue found: Gah phew ok now what…tell the guests, tell the caterer, tell the performers and tell the auctioneer. Delegate all of those things to others except telling the caterer and do this myself, as they are arriving first and will need the most attention adapting to a new venue they don’t know.
Get to new venue: Suss out where things will go and begin setting up the space trying not to panic (swan swan swan)
Meet caterer: Try to stop them panicking (tell them the swan analogy, watch as they roll their eyes and hope they don’t hit you). Show them the facilities, let them know of any amendments to schedule and let them crack on with set up
Check on progress elsewhere: Do all the guests know? Any red flags/has anyone kicked off that we’ll need to make a fuss of? When are performers arriving? Who is bringing event collateral? Is the auctioneer ok?
Meet auctioneer and performers when they arrive: Make light of the situation. If you can laugh and say ‘well this was dramatic! We’re all ok though, and how exciting to now be based here, I’ve never worked in this venue before but always loved it! Isn’t this crazy! It won’t stop us though!’ it will spread and instead of a panicked and unsettled vibe, you’ll get an energy, a buzz. Never underestimate the power of PR and use it to your advantage. Weave the disaster into the narrative and rewrite it as an exciting and spontaneous thing that happened.
There was one last panic which was that the oven in the new venue’s kitchen was like nothing the caterer had ever encountered before and we couldn’t even turn it on! One last phone call established that by some miracle the head chef happened to be celebrating a friend’s birthday in a pub around the corner and was prevailed upon to come up and show us. Needless to say I bought him a beer next time I saw him.
It could have been a lot worse of course, but there will always be last minute issues. My main learning from this is that you just have to get on with it. When nature gets in the way there’s nothing you can do except adapt, make a plan and carry on.
Think about who you know that can help. Venues for example, or just anyone handy and useful. This is the time to call in your network and ask for/cash in favours. You need help and you need it now. You’ll make it up to them.
Delegate – you can’t do everything yourself, so make a to do list in order of priority, then decide what needs to be done by you and what can be handled by others. State how important it is, and make sure everyone knows the deadlines and what is expected of them. If you’re clear on what has to be delivered and when there is less chance of things falling through cracks.
I hope this never happens again for the sake of my blood pressure.