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How to Plan for the Unexpected During Live Events

Controlling chaos at an event requires incredibly detailed processes.

The slap heard around the world: it was shocking, polarizing, and dominated the news cycle for weeks. When the incident between Chris Rock and Will Smith transpired at the Oscars, commentators around the globe instantly began to formulate opinions: what should have been done, what could have been done, what can be done now?

As a professional event management company, the idea of controlling chaos at an event is something that we have built incredibly detailed processes around. We thought it was worth sharing some insights since it has been top-of-mind for many of us. 

1.     Make Sure You Trust the Talent 

Someone on our team was working at a top three consulting firm as part of an event planning group. In the first meeting with a prestigious speaker, it became immediately clear there was a grave ideological disconnect. The whole team laughed uncomfortably, and within a week, it was announced that this speaker would not be headlining at the event. 

What would have happened if initial vetting hadn’t occurred? Most corporations use in-network individuals, referred to you by other businesses or colleagues. Make sure to do your due diligence and have virtual video calls with them. Get to know them and see how they act and react. It’s essential that you only put someone front and center that you can trust, and you aren’t left having to jump in if a speaker conveys a message your company disagrees with. Most of the risk undermines the brand authority and message you want an event to present. The risk is reduced greatly by adequately vetting talent. 

2.     Use Technology to Institute Protocol 

Whether you need to cut the microphone, cut the video feed on a webinar, or call security, technology is your friend. Control the chaos of live events by implementing a streamlined system of total connectivity. Use headsets, closed circuits, or walkie-talkie apps to stay in communication. Most corporate events take place in large convention centers, which means that you can’t be physically present everywhere at once. It’s essential for everyone on your team to be plugged in and communicating throughout the whole course of the event. This is also a valuable tool for quickly updating everyone if something goes wrong. 

3.     Remember That People are Unpredictable 

We agree that one of the most surprising things about the Oscar incident was the “who.” No one would have predicted that things would play out like they did. This is an important tenet of effective event management: people are unpredictable. They don’t always react how you think they will. 

This underlying principle informs everything from how we use signage at events to how we format follow up. Make sure that you are paying attention to people in the moment. We don’t make best guesses: we gather as much information as possible, then stay in a state of heightened awareness throughout an entire event. 

4.     Have Backup Plans for Your Backup Plans 

As event managers, we are well conditioned to expect the unexpected. Everyone at the Oscars went from chuckling to disbelief within seconds. The instant audio disruption tells us there was some behind the scenes scurrying. For any live event (in-person or online) the stakes are high. You must have a plan in place and backup plans. 

Here are the key areas to have backup plans: 

  • Have a backup plan for presenters. If someone chokes or makes an inappropriate comment or even does something unthinkable, is someone ready to jump in and take over? 
  • Have a backup plan for security. Most corporate events don’t need high level armed security personnel. But you do need to have a plan for coordinating with onsite security or contacting local law enforcement in case something happens. 
  • Have a backup plan for sessions or breakouts. If something goes wrong with a keynote speaker or main presenter who is also leading breakout sessions, signing books, or doing additional appearance-related work, have a backup plan to replace them. 

The Wynning Experience is a full service, live, virtual and hybrid event planning agency with more than 20 years of experience. 

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