How to cope with an act of God

For event organisers, 2010 was the year of the unexpected. Mother Nature reminded us all how powerless we are when she decides to strike. We saw the year open and close with heavy snowfall across the UK, turning winter from wonderland to wasteland as travel pandemonium ensued.

Last spring brought an even bigger surprise: a volcanic eruption in Iceland made headlines across the world. Air travel came to an abrupt halt and the words ‘Eyjafjallajökull’ and ‘ash cloud’ became synonymous with frustration and despair as thousands struggled to return home or reach their destination.

While disruption on this scale is incredibly frustrating for travellers, for event planners there are also serious professional risks involved. No matter how much hard work you have put into your event, if an ‘Act of God’ occurs and you are not prepared, the consequences could damage your company’s reputation for years to come.

As an event planner for MOI Live I have had to deal with many unexpected circumstances, from typhoons, heavy snow and terrorist threats to last year’s incredible volcanic eruption. What I have learned is that pre-event planning is your most valuable tool. It is the key to being able to move fast and implement an efficient strategy to save your event, and maybe ultimately even your business. 

With this in mind, I’ve put together five tips for coping with acts of God in overseas event planning:

  • Build great supplier relationships. Treat suppliers as an extension of your own team, and share all your plans, knowledge and contacts. The better they understand your project, the more time and money you will save if you are forced to work remotely. And if your equipment, collateral or team is unable to travel, you will need your local contacts to help you source everything you need quickly and cost-effectively.
  • Record everything. If you cannot travel to the event yourself, it is essential that other members of your extended team have enough information to manage without you. Make detailed notes of everything and ensure they are kept up to date and accessible to everyone who might need them.
  • Review travel arrangements. Do you need to rely on air travel to get to your venue? Would it be less risky (and less costly) to drive or go by train instead? Do you need to courier equipment and collateral to the event, or could you source it locally, or store it at the venue in advance? Keeping close tabs on travel plans can keep costs down and allow 
    you to rebook ahead of time if disruption looks likely.
  • Check the small print. When the unexpected happens, it’s vital to know where your legal responsibilities lie, what you have agreed with your suppliers, and what is covered by your insurance. Check the small print of all your supplier agreements and insurance policies to avoid any issues that could adversely affect your delegates, costs, reputation or supplier relationships.
  • Have a Plan B. Always have a contingency plan. This could even be a macro-level plan such as reformatting a conference or exhibition from a physical one to a virtual one, and to therefore salvage any costs that would have already been spent on elements such as speakers, audience generation, etc, while ensuring audience retention. Or a micro level plan for individual elements of your event that are you consider subject to risk. The key is knowing when to switch to Plan B, and making sure everyone is aware of the altered plan and their continued roles and responsibilities.

All of the above points helped me and my team to successfully manage all of our events when faced with the most unexpected of circumstances. With each challenge we have discovered again and again that being prepared is crucial. So when faced with an act of God, don’t panic, plan!        

Any comments? Email

Paul Colston


Paul Colston

Managing Editor, Conference News & Conference & Meetings World.

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