Change is inevitable. From unforeseen illnesses and job losses to pregnancies and engagements, drastic life changes can arise suddenly for better or worse. Leading up to an event, such occasions can create obstacles to your well-laid plans and often call for adjustments to the original course of action.
Of course, major life events are out of our hands—and, in many cases, even beyond our clients’ control. So, what is there to do but roll up your sleeves and adapt?
When unplanned situations push your clients’ events off-track, use these strategies to rein them in and stay on target.
Establish a backup plan
Contingency plans may seem de rigueur for an industry of detail-oriented planners, but too often, event pros are caught off-guard by unexpected circumstances in their clients’ lives. An unplanned pregnancy or a divorce in the family is enough to make everyone scramble to figure out a solution at the last minute.
Yet, Jacqueline Vizcaino of Tinted Event Design and Planning assures that “no matter how well you plan, there will always be the possibility of something going wrong or changing.”
“Have a contingency plan in place so that you know what to do if a major detail changes,” she urges. “This could be a list of alternate venues or a contingency plan for proceeding if the original venue becomes unavailable, having backup suppliers on hand, or having a plan B or even a plan C for the event venue.”
While you may have standard operating procedures in place for planning challenges, consider sitting down with your client to discuss any potential changes that may arise. Work together to develop solutions proactively, providing peace of mind for everyone!
Practice active listening
Event professionals are experts at finding solutions. So when a client notifies you of a major change in details, it’s natural to want to jump right into fixing the problem. But wait! Before offering input, step back and let them express their feelings and expectations.
“Stop and listen to what they are saying,” affirms Jen Sulak of Weirdo Weddings. “Listen in detail about what they are saying, how they are feeling and where they want to go next with services and solutions. Give them the honor of that time so you can hear their intentions and possible outcomes!”
The best solutions are crafted upon the client’s preferences, so avoid making assumptions about their wants and needs. Instead, allow them to work through their thoughts and how they see their event moving forward.
Do anything you can to adapt
There are certain situations where “no” is the only answer. However, such cases are few and far between. Short of health and safety risks, most problems have a reasonable solution—so whenever possible, find it and make it work for your client’s needs.
“As much as possible, try to be flexible with the changes,” Vizcaino recommends. “If your client wants to change the date of their event, see if you can accommodate them. If they need to reduce the number of guests, work with them to find a new venue to accommodate the smaller group; if meal service needs to be changed, look into alternative caterers who can provide the new menu.”
Event professionals are known for their innovative approach to problem-solving, so harness your inherent creativity and make the best out of a difficult situation!
Keep your team informed
Open communication is critical in times of change—not just with your clients but your team. Unless you run a solo show, you rely on others to help bring your clients’ visions to life. So keep them informed to support your client best while navigating the situation.
“They will need to be aware of the new details to be prepared,” Vizcaino notes. “You can avoid any last-minute surprises or scrambling to find a solution by keeping everyone in the loop. Your team is your lifeblood, so having them in disarray due to a lack of communication won't serve you after the client has had their event and all is said and done.”
When your team is informed and on your side, every challenge becomes a learning opportunity to collaborate better and become agile problem-solvers. So do everyone a favor and ensure everyone is on the same page!
Significant changes are usually difficult to swallow, but understanding your client’s perspective and treating them with empathy goes a long way. “There is so much going on (besides events) that we need to check our attitudes and filters at the door,” reminds Sulak. “Be open to having a raw, real discussion on the situations—but also know when to be quiet and [when to] speak.”
How you operate in times of chaos, crisis, and change speaks volumes about your company’s professionalism and integrity. Your clients depend on you for guidance and support, so always lead with kindness, compassion, and respect. Everything will work out if you maintain a calm and positive attitude!
Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.