Plan for bear, hope for squirrel

Let’s face it, something is going to go wrong. Plan on it;  you won’t know what, when or how, but reliably something will screw up at the event. There will be acts of God, weather, earthquakes, accidents, and my all time favorite, human error, that are going to get in your way. 

Very seldom can you plan for what these screwups will be, all you know is you have to deal with them. It has been said that you never want them to see you sweat, with a little forethought, you can do just that.    Forewarned is forearmed, be ready. 

Some fun examples:
  • All the furniture and decor for the double wide booth at the trade show- your biggest so far- was shipped to the wrong city. You find this out Friday evening when you arrive to set up for Saturday morning.


  • The huge boulder rolled down the hill at 4.30 am, totally blocking the only road to the park where the fundraising hike was to be held.  The highway department closed the entire road to all traffic. Somehow they overlooked notifying you.


  • The board committee chair took both keys to the hotel room that was serving as the office and silent auction item storage, ordered champagne and fell asleep in the bathtub, on the afternoon of the Annual Gala. Hotel security refused to let staff & volunteers into the room to get the things they needed to display.


  • Starting to set up the breakfast service in the VIP tent at 1 am, we realized that no one had ordered any beverages; no coffee, tea, soda, water, or juice, at all. We were on a military base miles from town with no cars. They weren’t cool with letting civilians borrow a jeep.

Planning, Planning, Planning

I am big fan of planning, planning, planning, overplanning. I like to plan the beginning and the end of my projects and strive to make sure every detail is addressed. As labor intensive as it is, it is very exciting to prepare, whether its for a trade show, conference or the annual gala.  The purpose, the build up and finally the big event is here. Except…….

How Could You Have Seen That Coming? 

It was one of my first big events, a lunch fundraiser for about 400 administrative professionals. We opened up the boxes of programs to discover that all the insides had been put in upside down and backwards. The sample the printer had sent over was perfect, clearly something happened at the assembly and no one on their side checked before they were delivered.

Of all the things I did worry about- this was not even on my radar.

Me: the inside pages of the program are upside down and backward, we have 400 that need to be fixed within 2 hours.

Printer: what do you want me to do about it? ( Wrong answer, by the way)

Me: gather up your guys, your staple remover and staplers, get over her and turn them right side up. Now. Thank you.  

There was some grumbling, but they got it done.


Even you can’t know what could happen, you for sure can imagine. Take some time with your planners and staff, everyone will have a horror story so that’s kind of fun, and consider what could go wrong with the event you are planning. Indoors, outdoors, kids, speakers, special food needs, security, where could any of these go off track?

Think about what you might do with any of the above scenarios.

The simple act of even thinking about some disaster response will make you more confident and prepared for whatever may come up.

Start with the little, but easy things you can do to minimize when something can go wrong. Have an extra cell phone, or two. Sharpies, paper clips and safety pins have saved many a last minute tragedy. 

Extra everything, phone numbers written down twice, some cash, hat, shoes. Make sure everyone understands their job, and the schedule of events. Be sure everyone has everyone else’s phone number. 

You can’t ever anticipate every possible things that could go wrong but you can make sure that you have made yourself as prepared as possible to be on the lookout for trouble: when it shows up, you have the presence of mind and calm to do your best to find the optimal solution.

Emergency planning is a critical and essential part of event planning that many overlook. Thinking about what might happen doesn’t invite trouble, it helps to get out of it.

  • Check the weather.
  • Check the other big events nearby or on the same day.
  • Check road closures – the ones they actually plan.
  • Make a checklist, then check it! Don’t forget anything crucial.
  • Know where the bathrooms are, what the emergency numbers are for police & fire & EMTs.
  • Be sure that at least one car is not buried in stacked parking, have a extra credit card.

Of course, we hope troubles are something along the lines of running out of the salmon, a broken heel or the first parking lot is filled up and people have to walk a bit further. On the off chance however, something more serious happens, allow yourself the confidence that you can turn things around with grace.

So what happened?

The trade show: rented a car, drove to Home Depot (open late), bought a suite of casual, indoor outdoor furniture (the only kind they had), some potted plants and flowers. The tub was filled with ice and sodas. The decor was so unexpected for that kind of show that we ended up with more visitors that we thought we would!

The boulder: we drove up behind it, rode around it with a bike and made signs with our sharpie every 100 yards or so directing people back around to the highway and into the park. I figure we lost a little over ⅓ of those we expected, so we did get 2/3 of them!

The hotel: since the hotel management had not allowed our staff to get into the items and supplies, we commandeered some of their wait staff to carry all the goods from the room  to the auction space and put everything out. No, she was not asked to renew her term on the committee.

Nothing to drink: cruised the base gym to find a soldier with a car and bribed him to drive us to the nearest Walmart.  We cleaned out most of the cases of soda and water, and staggered off with gallons of juice, coffee and tea. He was such a good guy, he helped us unload and stack all the heavy stuff.  We bought him a gift card to a spendy restaurant and gas card.


Of course you hope for only the small things to go wrong: Pelligrino instead of Perrier, having to order pizza for the volunteers because the kitchen closed, a staple gun for the torn hem. Are there enough pens for the silent auction, does the goodbye committee know when to get ready and where to be?

Its pretty hard to plan for a hurricane or earthquake; massive screw ups by some vendor at the last minute, power failure or impossible diva-like behavior from someone crucial. These things do happen, be ready to be nimble. 

The Best Thing About Disasters & Screw Ups

Once you weather the storm, these are the best stories and often the most memorable. No one remembers the event that went well, but everyone remembers the scramble to fix the one that went pear shaped. 

The Best Thing About Disasters & Screw Ups

Once you weather the storm, these are the best stories and often the most memorable. No one remembers the event that went well, but everyone remembers the scramble to fix the one that went pear shaped. 

You are smart, you work hard and well, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Take that very smart extra step and consider a little emergency planning. Be the one who is ready for anything- bear or squirrel.

Could we help you fend off the squirrel?

Call anytime, we’ll bring the peanuts.   

310 828 6979


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