7 Things That Can (And Will) Go Wrong at Your Event

Apr 3, 2019 7:19:00 AM Julia Sousa Tips for Event Planners, Strategy

No matter what kind of event you’re running, how many attendees you’re expecting, or what industry you operate in, something will go wrong at your event. Outside of a one-in-a-million (and probably mythical) “unicorn” event, some unexpected contingency or unlikely eventuality is going to throw you off your carefully-laid plans.


How you respond to issues that arise influences how successful your event will be. To help you be as prepared as possible, we’ve rounded up seven possible issues you’re likely to face - as well as how to respond to limit their potential or lessen their impact.


Parking Will be a Problem


To keep this list as relevant as possible, we’re not going to talk about acts of god or catastrophic weather that could shut down your event (though you should certainly still have contingency plans for those). We’re also going to skip mostly avoidable circumstances, such as choosing the wrong venue size or underselling your event (fix it with a better marketing plan).


With that in mind, we’ll start with parking, as parking problems abound at major events:


  • Attendees can get lost in confusing parking structures, starting off the event on a sour note
  • The lots you expected to use might fill up due competing events you weren’t aware of
  • Structures can shut down unexpectedly due to repairs
  • Attendees may have to walk longer than expected - an especially big issue for female participants wearing heels
  • Local transit services you’d hoped to alleviate parking stress can shut down routes for maintenance - or may even go on strike

To a certain degree, you can limit potential problems by visiting potential venues in person before signing your contract to get a complete understanding of their parking situations. As National Event Pros explains, “If your event space only has an entrance on one side of the building, and the parking structure sends pedestrians in the other direction, your ‘one block away’ assumption could actually be more like three or four.”


However, taking this step won’t prevent all possible parking problems. Limit the potential disruption caused by others through clear communication. Over-communicate what options attendees will have for parking at and getting to your venue. Then, watch the news. If any issues arise that impact the information you’ve shared, notify attendees using every channel at your disposal.


On-Site Registration Will Take Longer Than Expected


Even the most efficiently-designed on-site registration flows will hit roadblocks. Some of these, you can account for with advance preparation by using a central event management system like Attendease together with an on-site check-in tool, like Boomset. That will help you to design a seamless check-in experience. However, no event management system can fully eliminate user error.


Users will arrive on-site without the registration information needed for check-in, slowing the process down. They’ll try to proceed directly to sessions or presentations without registering first. Your best move here is to make sure you have the right technology while accounting for enough staff to support the check-in process. Having extra team members at the ready may seem unnecessary, but remember that even small issues have the potential to grind registration to a halt.


You’ll Lose a Key Participant


You’ve signed on a high-profile keynote speaker. You’ve plastered their name and face all over your event’s promotional materials. And then, on the day of the event, they’re sick. Or stuck in traffic. Or unable to get to your event at all due to weather and/or transportation closures.


It isn’t only speakers whose no-shows can disrupt your event. The absence of a featured exhibitor could leave a major gap in your floor plan. A key attendee being unable to make it could mean their entire staff stays home as well.


Since there’s no real way to avoid this issue, your best move is contingency planning. Who could you tap last minute if your lead speaker bails? How else could you fill the floor space from a missing exhibitor? If attendance dropped unexpectedly, should you combine sessions so that the remaining slots don’t feel sparsely attended?


Communication is also critical here, especially in the case of an absent speaker. Use every tool at your disposal - from social media, to monitors, to print signage and more - to inform attendees about the change of plans as soon as you’re able to. Surprising guests with the change of plans when they arrive for the session could cause negative feelings - especially if they attended specifically to see the speaker.


Your Venue Will Have a Weakness (or Weaknesses) You Didn’t Foresee


No venue is perfect - and the cracks in your plans may not show through until your venue is stress-tested by the actual event. It might only be after you arrive that you notice:


  • There aren’t enough restrooms in the right locations for attendees to move efficiently between sessions
  • The coffee carts you set out at strategic locations are actually causing traffic jams outside of your meeting room doors
  • The free wifi signal you promised attendees is weak or non-functional in some areas
  • The A/V available to you will be different or perform differently than you expected
  • Demand for bag or coat check will exceed the space you’ve allotted for it

Planning ahead only gets you so far in the case of “unknown unknowns.” Think through as many circumstances as you can, then prioritize making it clear to attendees who they should contact in the event of an issue.


Participants Will Get Lost


Short of assigning one-to-one guides to every individual attendee, there’s almost no way to prevent some participants from getting lost at your event.


No matter how many maps you’ve passed out or how clearly you’ve given directions, keep in mind that attendees are out of their comfort zone and often juggling multiple priorities. As much as they may want to be fully focused on your event, they’re likely also juggling the need to stay in-the-loop with what’s happening at the office or at home.


Mobile event apps can help lost attendees regain their bearings, as can frequent signage. Posting staff members or volunteers at key points around the venue provides a helpful touchpoint for those who can’t find their way, if you have the extra manpower available.


You’ll Have the Wrong Amount (or Kind) of Refreshments


Whether you plan to pass out boxed lunches, make use of convenience store kiosk style setups or simply set out a continental buffet, something can always go wrong with your refreshments.


  • You won’t have an option that accommodates an attendee’s individual dietary requirements.
  • You’ll run out of the most desirable refreshments more quickly than anticipated.
  • Drinking fountains may be too few or far between, leaving guests thirsty if they aren’t able to get to them throughout the event.

Drawing on past experience can minimize issues at your future events. If, for example, you ran short of coffee at a similar event last year, you can minimize the chances of repeating the same mistake by increasing your order.


If you’re planning a new event, however, the venue’s staff are your best allies in avoiding refreshment-related problems. At larger events, catering and facilities staff may be invaluable in helping you plan not just the appropriate amount of refreshments, but also how to distribute them throughout the event to ensure the best possible coverage.


At the risk of sounding redundant, communication is your friend here as well. Beginning as early as possible in the registration process (depending on when you confirm your catering order or purchasing plans), inform guests clearly what they can expect to be on-site in terms of food and drinks. If you’re able to support attendees with dietary preferences or requirements outside of your planned refreshments, make the process for requesting and picking up these items clear.


Don’t leave your guests wondering. There’s nothing worse than arriving to an early event on an empty stomach, only to discover that the promised refreshments won’t be rolled out until lunchtime.


Your Budget Will Be Off


Your budget is going to be off… and chances are you aren’t going to come in under budget. Cost overruns are par for the course in event management.


  • Surcharges you weren’t expecting get tacked onto your venue fees.
  • Your banquet event order (BEO) wasn’t as comprehensive as you thought it was.
  • Labor costs to set up an exhibitors’ hall exceed your projections.
  • Missing on-site signage necessitates an office supply store run for hand-made alternatives.

Certainly, being as diligent as possible in your planning process helps reduce the incidence of these and other events. However, since unanticipated expenses are virtually guaranteed when running events, it’s wise to build wiggle room into your budget. Geoff Beers, writing for The Balance, suggests adding a “buffer zone of 10% to avoid running out of funds.”


Minimizing the Risk of Common Event Issues


It’s not that we want this list to sound negative. Things will go wrong at your event, but that doesn’t mean the event is a failure. As long as you’ve accounted for as many issues as possible and invested in creating great programming for your attendees, most guests won’t notice the minor challenges that feel like major failures to you.


Prepare for as many possibilities as you can, and be proactive about responding to any that arise that you didn’t plan for. Focus on what goes well, and apply the lessons you’ve learned at past events to the next one you arrange.


Have you encountered these issues before? Or do you have another to add to our list? Leave us a note in the comments below: