By Katie Zupancic Wymer
Tips for Major Last-Minute Event Changes
While your team may have the “best laid plans”, in the live event world, we know that plans do not always happen quite as envisioned. Some situations are completely out of your control, but by preparing for those worst-case scenarios – like extreme heat, lightning, flooding, route issues, or unexpected sprinklers – a Plan B does not have to ruin your participant’s event experience. While the goal is always to address changes as early as possible, sometimes last-minute changes impacting the event date or location are inevitable.
What happens when a major, last-minute change must be communicated out to event attendees? Our team members just underwent this exact situation when an unprecedented heat wave impacting the East Coast interrupted our plans for an event. To ensure participant, volunteer, spectator, staff, and vendor safety, the decision was made to postpone the event one week. While not ideal, the team sprang into action, ultimately executing a change management plan that successfully rescheduled over 2,500 participants to the next week. Because last-minute changes require swift, quick action, we asked our teammates to share their number one tip in their area of expertise. The biggest driver for any decisions is participant safety first and foremost. No matter your role or event we’re working, we keep this in mind first, as we know you do, as well. Once you’ve taken that into considerations, here’s a few other things to keep in mind.
Cheryl Stern, Brand Manager: What is your number one communications-related tip?
Get communication out to your participants about changes/updates as quickly as possible, while being as detailed and thorough as possible. Try to predict what questions will arise and answer them before they are asked. This is a situation where it pays off to be a hoarder of old emails and files. Dig into past versions of emails you’ve sent about inclement weather or event date changes and adjust accordingly. Document the questions and concerns that arise from your participants and use these records to strengthen your communication efforts the next time you encounter this situation. This will serve to both speed up your turnaround time for launching event information updates and ensure those updates are well-written. You can also prep template emails in advance with placeholders to add in the specific situation.
Slade Thompson, Account Director: What is your number one event production-related tip?
When you’re working with local site officials and jurisdictional contacts, ask the obvious questions up front and put an optional back-up date in writing ahead of time. For partners, sponsors, vendors, and local officials, communicating needs and your Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C up front will allow for quicker decisions to be made in the case a change must happen. A solid SOP can help assist by organizing the steps necessary for change management communications.
Erin De Baets, Programs and Participant Support Manager: What is your number one volunteer tip?
Early in your event planning, figure out how many volunteers you need to recruit, then add 20%. Big last-minute changes to your event—like a date or location change—will inevitably result in some volunteers being unable to attend, but if you’ve padded your recruitment numbers early on, you can afford to lose some folks and still be in good shape to cover your volunteer needs. Also, make sure a volunteer ask is included in all communications about the change, and/or put out some dedicated messaging asking for volunteers. The new date/location might force some volunteers to cancel, but you also might catch some folks who were unavailable for the old date but can be there for the new one!
Dawn Clark, Programs and Participant Support Coordinator: What is your number one participant support tip?
Ensure you’re bringing the information to your participants through as many avenues as possible to maximize the impact and probability that they will hear your message. In this instance, we used Hustle to text our registered participants about the change. This platform is extremely efficient, and we were able to individually message over 2,000 participants and spectators within four hours of the decision being made. With a clear, timely message, this text had the highest engagement rate of our entire campaign, and we could quickly answer follow-up questions from participants. Additionally, consider setting up a dedicated email address to use for change-related communication. This will help you prioritize your responses for matters that might be more time sensitive.
Kaleigh Glaza, Senior Specialist, Digital Marketing: What is your number one social media tip?
Patience and clarity are KEY: Be ready for the tough questions and understand that people might be frustrated or need immediate answers. A short amount of time to you might feel like a long amount of time on their end of the conversation. Also, in your pre-prepared statements, be as honest and open as you can and use every channel available – Twitter and Instagram Stories are a great way to disseminate quick updates with links to the full update. People can see through canned or corporate responses, so make your verbiage sound as personal and honest as possible.
By following these tips, your team can quickly and efficiently distribute information to all involved parties, minimize negative reactions to changes, and maximize the number one concern: safety.
What last-minute tips do you have to share? If you need support in preparing and executing event plans – and working through those sometimes-unavoidable last-minute changes – we’re here to help. Reach out here.
Katie Zupancic Wymer (LinkedIn, Twitter) is the Senior Manager, Digital Marketing at Event 360. She manages digital marketing strategy, social media strategy, and sponsorship for MuckFest®, the FUN mud run in support of a world free of multiple sclerosis. She also manages digital marketing for other fundraising events including Bike MS. Newly Minnesotan, she enjoys exploring the Bold North with her tiny dogs, Annie and Charlie.