Expect the Best, Prepare for the Worst: Creating a Back-Up Plan for Your Next Event

Mar 1, 2018 | Procedures

Expect the Best, Prepare for the WorstEvent planning is serious business. Your executive, colleagues, and organization have put their trust in you to ensure the meeting, workshop, or conference goes off without a hitch; and you’ve been working day and night to meet their expectations.

Then, shortly before the event, something goes drastically wrong. A speaker cancels. The meeting room is double-booked. Severe weather threatens to strand half of your delegation at the airport. What now?

Once the worst has happened, it’s difficult to get things back on track. That’s why I highly encourage you to create a back-up plan for every event. Having a plan B (and sometimes, even a plan C and plan D) ensures that you can course-correct quickly with the least amount of impact for you, your organization, and your attendees.

Some of the areas I recommend a back-up plan for include:

  • Meeting space or venues
  • Speakers, presenters, and meeting leaders
  • Handouts, materials, and agendas
  • IT and media services
  • Reservations and RSVPs (too many, too few, or no responses at all)
  • Budget shortfalls (what can be cut and not missed at the last minute)
  • Food and catering
  • Facilities and maintenance requests
  • Working with volunteers, committees, and staff
  • Signage

Depending on the scope and scale of your event, you may not need all these things, or you may need even more. A general rule of thumb is to have a back-up plan for anything that could affect your event enough that your attendees would notice.

Developing Your Back-Up Plans

Once you know the areas you need to plan contingencies for, it’s time to get to work. I suggest keeping your back-up plans in the corresponding sections of your event planning binder directly behind your main plans. This allows you to simply flip a page in a moment of crisis without having to hunt for what you need.

Your back-up plans should include detailed “If/Then” scenarios. For example:

  • If caterer A doesn’t arrive, then contact caterer B immediately at [contact information].
  • If bus company A is delayed by severe weather, then contact car company B to collect attendees from the airport.
  • If problems arise with AV equipment, then contact AV tech at [phone number].

Stating your back-up plans this way will allow you to take immediate action, save time and frustration, and get your event back on track as soon as possible.

Make sure everyone else is aware of any back-up plans as they pertain to their duties at the event. If the person overseeing the meeting room set-up has an issue with their task, they need the back-up plan at their fingertips – not in the binder back in their hotel room.

Special Circumstances for Venues and Speakers

While most back-up plans simply require a list of alternative providers and their relevant contact information, a glitch with venues or speakers can bring your event to a screeching halt. Here’s how you can more proactively manage these areas.


A lot goes into choosing the proper venue for your event. So, when you think you’ve found the perfect place and it falls through at the last minute, it can send you into panic mode.

A venue back-up plan includes a list of available alternatives in the same area as your first choice. It’s bad enough to have to alert your attendees that the location has changed; you don’t want to further inconvenience them by moving the event too far away.

It’s also important to include language in your contract that dictates what happens if the venue can’t provide the space promised. Can they move you to a different conference room or another hotel? Will they pick up the tab for the overcharges or otherwise financially compensate you? Could they upgrade rooms or give attendees a discount to make up for the hassle?

Changing venues shortly before the event is never fun, but with a proper back-up plan in place, the show will still go on.


Often, speakers and presenters are the entire reason someone chooses to attend your event. A last-minute cancellation or change to the schedule can leave your attendees feeling cheated.

Regular contact with your speakers in the days and weeks leading up to the event is crucial. I once had a speaker fail to show up because the event wasn’t listed correctly on her calendar. Fortunately, we were able to work together to brainstorm ways to come up with an alternative session. But had we contacted the original speaker the day before, the entire issue could have been resolved before it became a problem. (We implemented this practice immediately after this event to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.)

Life happens. We can’t prevent problems from popping up, but with a proper back-up plan, we can solve them quickly, ensuring that the event is able to continue with as little interruption as possible.

Have you ever needed a back-up plan for an event? Let us know what happened and how you resolved the situation at AdminSuccess@AllThingsAdmin.com!

© 2018 Julie Perrine International, LLC


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Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books — The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career and The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity, and Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures. And request your free copy of our special report “From Reactive to Proactive: Creating Your Strategic Administrative Career Plan” at www.AllThingsAdmin.com.

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