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Dealing with On-Site Challenges

By: Shannon Lockwood | Oct, 6 2023
Meeting/Event Design & Management

I’ve crisscrossed the country over the last 8 weeks, with a marathon of 17 flights, 13 events, and MANY surprises!  In fact, you could say I’ve had a refresher course in managing on-site event hiccups! While these unexpected situations come with the territory of live events, I’ve been reminded of why it is so important to keep up with our best practices as we approach each new event. Even the most well-laid plans are subject to interpretation and interruption without careful communication of needs and expectations. I’m hopeful that this post will provide you with a few helpful reminders as you press on through this busy fall event season!  

Travel Delays 
Air travel is a constant source of unpredictability, with delayed and cancelled flights often meaning delayed colleagues. During our first event this fall, a colleague’s flight was delayed by stormy weather for nearly 3-hours. She arrived in time for dinner, but to ensure that we completed our exhibitor and event day setup, it was necessary for us all to pitch in and complete our preparations before they arrived. To ensure you’re prepared, ensure that you have the following steps on your to do list:

  • Ensure all team members’ on-site responsibilities are clearly defined and documented. 
  • Ensure all event documents are in a well-organized, easily accessible folder.
  • Cross-training staff for various on-site roles and processes will help to ensure that everything still runs smoothly. 

Surprise Neighbors
Recently, at an event outside Austin, Texas, our team was reminded of the importance of confirming space or noise conflicts with the venue. During our preconference meeting, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but, that evening, we noticed a few pieces of wedding décor outside the room next to our general session space. Because weddings are traditionally evening affairs and the hotel staff had not mentioned it, our team assumed celebrations might not begin until after the conclusion of our meeting the following day at 4 PM. However, when we arrived downstairs the following morning, the reader boards detailed a wedding beginning at 12:30 PM! 

The hotel team worked with our staff, the wedding planners, and the DJ to attempt to mitigate any traffic mixing in the hallway, but unfortunately, there was little to be done about the celebratory music streaming through the airwall. This caused extreme disruption for our speakers and attendees, and we decided to relocate our final session to a portion of the meeting room which housed our exhibit hall. The hotel banquet and AV teams moved quickly to flip our exhibit hall into a new meeting space following the end of our exhibitor networking hours. While much of the onus of this conflict lies with the hotel’s choice to book these two meetings side by side, our team acknowledged the following best practices for future meetings: 

  • In pre-conference communications, ask the venue about potential neighbors for all events. Don’t assume that the hotel has confirmed the final program for all events.
  • Ask about unusual equipment or décor placement. If you see something – say something! The more time you have to adjust the plan, the better!
  • Include a “Quiet Enjoyment” or similar clause in your hotel contracts to mitigate this problem in contracting!

Broken Hotel Equipment
A more manageable challenge was lobbed to us the following week. Our event was situated on two floors with the general session upstairs, and the exhibit hall and meal space downstairs. The challenge? A broken escalator, and no nearby elevators to move over 200 people between spaces. The nature of the program meant that individuals needed to flow easily back and forth, and with only one of the two escalators working, we needed to get creative. To manage this, our team recommends:

  • Assess the options available from the venue – nearby elevators, stairs, etc.
  • Build an escalator schedule! Ours involved changing the sole working escalator in the direction we wanted traffic to flow. Printing the schedule and sharing it with the hotel team is recommended! 

Shipping Delays
And just this past week, my personal worst-meeting-planner-nightmare occurred. Our bin of supplies (the one carefully packed and shipped in advance with all of our badges, signage, and registration materials) didn’t arrive in time for our event setup on day 1, nor for our registration kick-off on day 2. This particular program has a high volume of printed materials, in addition to badges, badge-holders, ribbons, and your standard-issue office supplies. Our crates were scheduled to arrive with 10:30 AM delivery, and they had not arrived by 5 PM. While we wanted to have faith in our shipping team’s tracking information promise to deliver before close-of-business, we weighed our options to ensure we were prepared for our 5 AM setup. To develop our response plan, the team followed this list of best practices: 

  • Make sure you have access to your tracking information – without it, you’ll always be at a disadvantage for knowing where your materials are in transit, and the estimated delivery timeline.
  • Assess your options for replacing materials. 
    • Are there nearby office supply or print-and-ship stores? 
    • Do they accept instant print orders? If not, what are their in-store print order deadlines? 
  • Don’t forget to save all of your receipts! Replacing items at the last minute comes with rush fees and you’ll want to ensure you/your organization is compensated! Be sure to file a claim with your shipping company for reimbursement.

I can’t be the only one experiencing these hiccups on the road! What other challenges have you encountered lately? Which best practices do you use to get through difficult situations on site? 


Photo credit: Pexels.com

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