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Event teams live in the future: always imagining how to turn event visions into reality. But the future is unpredictable, constantly threatening event organizers' aims to deliver a flawless experience.

Your events team simply can't control or prevent all the variables that have the potential to affect an event. To avoid chaos, teams must be fully equipped and fully empowered to address new challenges and uncertainties—as they arise.

Nearly all (97%) B2B marketers say they believe that in-person events have a major impact on achieving business outcomes. As demand for in-person events returns, B2B event teams need actionable, proven strategies to execute their events, regardless of the obstacles.

Rapidly changing situations, such as travel disruptions or a viral outbreak near an event space, or shifting circumstances such as rising costs, labor shortages, and supply chain issues require agile teams that can adjust mid-stream while remaining strategically aligned.

And though 86% of event-organizing teams say they consider their risk management processes "emerging" or "mature," only 16.6% describe their teams as "mission-ready" to respond to event challenges. To close that gap, teams should incorporate event contingency planning into every event they execute.

Event contingency planning empowers event experience leaders to assess various scenarios and predict potential outcomes. The approach increases your event's resiliency by adding another layer to event strategy planning.

Five Steps for Incorporating Contingency Planning Into Your Team's Process

1. Establish an event contingency planning team

Create an event contingency planning team before you need it. Consider which specific job titles (e.g., event experience leader, event technician, event marketer) and skills, rather than individual employees, map well to each responsibility within your contingency-planning team.

Establish a decision-making hierarchy so your team understands the group's structure should it need to enact a contingency plan. That hierarchy will provide clarity and help avoid chaos and stress when unexpected challenges arise.

Specify the person (or people) in charge of making game-time decisions. During this phase, choose the team's preferred communication channels to ensure everyone can update and access information either quickly or in real-time.

2. Execute scenario-thinking exercises to take advantage of multiple perspectives

Scenario-thinking exercises drive teams to imagine the unexpected circumstances that could pose obstacles to their event goals. By tapping into their knowledge, creativity, and experience, event organizers can maximize the value of scenario-thinking to prepare for future uncertainties.

Your teams should prioritize regular scenario-thinking exercises to fuel their contingency planning. During such exercises, prepare your team for the unknown by generating as many scenarios as possible. Aim to come away with at least 20 scenarios, each with varying event impact.

To gain additional insights, consider inviting a mixed group of team members, vendors, and partners to conduct a "contingency hackathon." Using different perspectives enables teams to identify more potential problems, document them in order of priority, and develop mitigation strategies for the most critical possibilities. Cross-team collaboration facilitates closer working relationships, transparency, and trust throughout your organization—and with other stakeholders involved with the event.

3. Conduct run-of-show exercises to identify needs

After the event strategy is in place, conducting run-of-show exercises will help your team get granular as it reviews the event, identifying individual event elements that have a high probability of not going according to plan.

Consider this example. One of your keynote speakers is facing delays when flying to the US from Italy. Because a speaker's missing your in-person event is a high-probability occurrence, spend some time breaking down the impact of the problem and the changes needed:

  • Can the original speaker present the keynote virtually?
  • When—at which point—will your team decide whether to move to a backup speaker?
  • Have you chosen a backup speaker? Will you use someone who's already on-site?
  • Who will tell staff members about the changes? Will the same person inform volunteers and executive leadership?
  • Have you drafted messaging for this scenario, or do you still need to compose it?

Pay particular attention to parts of the event most likely to encounter obstacles, and prioritize those scenarios to ensure backup plans are in place.

Incorporate a rating scale to prioritize your team's time and resources, focusing on issues most likely to have an impact. Backup plans for the most significant changes enable your event to continue even if something goes awry or a challenge arises.

4. Hold mock rehearsals for the most unpredictable parts of an event

Conduct rehearsals and run-throughs of the more unpredictable parts of the event. Invite senior executives to participate in those rehearsals to add an element of stress, imitating the pressure felt during the live event.

By holding three to four mock run-throughs, teams can put into practice the strategies they've discussed.

It's easy to talk about your contingency plan, but it's challenging to execute your plan in an uncontrolled environment. A few run-throughs of the event's unpredictable features should build your team's confidence and prepare you to execute a smooth event regardless of what happens.

5. Tailor your planning to match the nature of each event

You could spend infinite time and resources imagining the what-ifs of any kind of event, big or small. Although contingency planning gives your team the tools to think more strategically about responding to change, some events demand more resources and energy than others. Consider the value and impact of a flagship event versus a webinar, for instance.

Event teams should gauge the marketing value of each event and balance the time spent on their future-proofing efforts, knowing that each contingency-planning exercise strengthens their muscles for the next event.

'No-Regrets Moves' for Any Event

Every B2B event is unique, and as your team members develop their contingency-planning skills, they'll likely find approaches that release tension and improve the circumstances no matter what's happening.

Keep the following "no-regrets moves" in your pocket, along with any others your team discovers along the way.

Make the audience your priority

Use the lens of your audience when faced with a difficult choice. Which backup option offers the optimal experience for attendees? Which one will foster connection between attendees and with the topic at hand? Focusing on your audience is always a good bet.

Use your event ecosystem

Take advantage of the wisdom in your event ecosystem: the digital strategists, event technology partners, and other vendors who spend their days in the event space. Lean on those partners for insights and fresh perspectives, and adopt their practices as your encounter challenges.

Manage attendee expectations

No matter what happens, you'll benefit from preparing attendees for event changes so they're not left in the dark.

Some organizations share videos ahead of the event, detailing anticipated changes and outlining what attendees can expect on-site. Others encourage engagement and answer questions through live "Ask Me Anything" sessions. Those sessions help resolve confusion, and they give organizers one more way to build anticipation while prioritizing attendee needs.

* * *

Events will never go precisely as planned, and experienced event organizers understand that. However, by incorporating a strategy to prepare for unexpected challenges and outcomes, teams will become more comfortable with being uncomfortable and acting decisively in the moment.

More Resources on B2B Event Strategy

Rethinking Industry Events: Get Comfortable With Flexibility

Event-Led Growth, A Powerful B2B Marketing Strategy: Mark Kilens on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

How to Survey Attendees to Improve Your Virtual Event Strategy [Sample Questions and Metrics]

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How to Use Contingency Planning to Future-Proof Your Event Strategy

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image of Devin Cleary

Devin Cleary is the VP of global events at Bizzabo, an event technology platform for hybrid, virtual, and in-person events.

LinkedIn: Devin Cleary

Twitter: @DevCleary