5 Common Event Challenges and How to Navigate Them Like a Pro

September 27, 2023

Connor Bartholomew

Connor Bartholomew is CEO of Trade Show Display Depot, a factory-direct seller and manufacturer of trade show exhibits, tabletop displays for trade show booths, floor displays, and fixtures. Trade Show Display Depot has 20 years of experience designing, manufacturing, and shipping portable trade show exhibits.

You’ve mapped out your annual sales conference for months. Now, it’s finally here — and it’s heading quickly toward being a disaster. Is there anything you can do so it doesn’t ruin the attendees’ experiences, your company’s reputation and next year’s turnout?

The answer is certainly “yes,” but there’s a caveat: You must be willing to show major flexibility. Event planning isn’t an exact science. Something could go awry at the last minute, no matter how much you prepare. Adaptability will help you and your team navigate the rockiness swiftly and — if all goes well — without any guests noticing. 

Here are five common event challenges and how to navigate them like a pro. 

Event Problem: A key presenter pulls out at the last minute.

It’s a major headache when a presenter you’ve hyped up withdraws from your lineup of guest stars. The best workaround for this issue is to have a substitute in mind for all speakers. However, if you didn’t set up alternatives during your planning phase, you can still recover from this possible crisis. 

First, see if anyone on your roster could speak expertly on a similar topic. For example, you may have snagged some great panelists for a workshop roundtable on leadership development. Are any of those people keynote-caliber? Can they jump in seamlessly? Secondly, consider bringing a heavy hitter in via Zoom. You may have to spend a little more for the technical setup (and the last-minute “ask”), but you’ll save the day.

Event Problem: A weather emergency makes it hard (or impossible) for attendees to be onsite.

You may grapple with weather-related issues depending on when and where your event is held. The quickest way to resolve this problem is to have a virtual backup. Virtual events have blossomed and will grow by 21.4% by 2030. It might be much easier to pivot and re-envision your event through a virtual lens than to postpone and reschedule it. Though some attendees may grumble they can’t meet in person, you can be sure others will be relieved that they didn’t have to risk traveling in unpredictable weather.

Event Problem: Your event signage and other branding and marketing items haven’t arrived at the destination. 

You’ll probably have a lot of signage and other branding and marketing items at your event. What if those items never arrive? The supply chain is still fairly unpredictable, meaning all your exhibition banners, displays, books, pamphlets, brochures and swag could be lost in transit. 

This is a moment to take a step back and breathe. Then, make a list. Which items do you need? Is there a way you can get them quickly, such as paying to have signs made at a local sign company? Brainstorm the simplest way to do your best to replace whatever isn’t on hand. Certainly, you can hope your items will arrive before the end of the event but don’t count on that happening. 

Event Problem: You don’t have enough team members on hand. 

It’s great when you have a terrific event show rate. What’s not so great is when your staff doesn’t do likewise. What happens if several people get sick when the flu enters your office? Or if numerous staff members get held up for a day or longer because of flight cancellations? You may be tempted to pull double duty, but you can’t be in three places simultaneously. 

This is when it’s time to get creative. Perhaps a long-time employee you trust would be willing to help. Maybe a local temp agency could get you some workers who could be quickly trained to answer questions or perform basic duties. You might even be able to get another staff member who doesn’t live far away to come at the last minute. There are always options. 

Event Problem: Your brand gets some unpleasant social media exposure.

Ideally, your organization would be able to satisfy every customer. In reality, that just won’t happen. Even if you and your team are bending over backwards, a disgruntled employee could put a negative review up. If this happens before or during an event, you may have to take measures to mitigate the effect.

A good rule of thumb is to acknowledge that you, as a company, are aware of it and will be responding. Represent yourself as taking charge, but be curious and empathetic, too. The viral criticism may be partially or fully founded; you must discover the truth and react. Be sure to bring in your marketing team to assist. They should already have a brand management plan that addresses how to deal with this type of scenario. 

Above all else, your ability to show resilience in the face of a crisis will go far. Your colleagues will appreciate your positive spirit, and your attendees will still have a great experience. You’ll also have more insights you can leverage for your next event.

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