It was so simple in the black and white movie days. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney would concoct some plan to help save the library or find the General Store owner find his dog and they’d stand up on a soapbox and announce to broad acclaim: “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” The preparation for an event in our frenzied age is a bit more complex than it was in the monochrome celluloid world. There is always a potential that some inexplicable and fully unexpected absurdity will derail your entire event, but there are ways to fend at least most of them off.

The three most traumatic experiences in the world

It is sometimes said that the three most traumatic experiences in the world are going into combat, having a baby, and launching an event. If you’ve ever run the gauntlet of putting on a live event you’ll know exactly why that fits appropriately into that top three. When you’re running an event you can absolutely count on the fact that the unexpected is to be expected and that there will be at least several times through the process where you will be left totally aghast at the prospect of having to deal with the complete absurdity you’ve been presented with.

Each event has its own absurdity collection

Each event is different thus each absurdity varies: You might have scheduled an event at the Calgary Saddledome the day it filled up with water up to the 10th row of seats; some huge impact news event may have occurred and your attendees couldn’t pull themselves away from their TV sets to show up; or you might have inadvertently offended a union member resulting in a grievance which shuts down your venue 5 minutes before the gates were set to open. Even if the absurdity isn’t quite so massive, you may still have to deal with toilets that won’t flush, WiFi that won’t connect, concession cooks who walk out in the middle of their shift, security guards who err on the side of heavy-handedness and manhandle customers, or any one of a few hundred trillion kicks in the head.

Be ready to act quickly

By far the best way to counter these absurdities is to nip them in the bud with extensive training, forethought, and preparation. It is necessary to compile an emergency plan which allows your event to go on, even in a diminished fashion, no matter what situations may hit you. The absurdity may be man-made such as a protest or strike, or a natural disaster such as a tornado or a flood. No matter what the source you have to be ready to move quickly on one or all of these actions:

  1. Be ready to move the event. Have an alternative venue ready, especially if your event is set outdoors.
  2. Don’t spend the ticket money. You may be caught in a situation where you have no option but to refund, and if the money is gone you’re in big trouble.
  3. Have a backup for everything. That includes staff, security, presenters, even stars as you never know when the airport will shut down or the limo will get stuck in a three-hour traffic jam.
  4. Communicate clearly and quickly. All of the people involved in your event from employees to attendees will want to be rapidly informed as to what’s going on and what you’re doing to fix it.
  5. Don’t panic. As long as you’re still alive and have most of your body parts intact it’s a good day, so keep in mind that someday you’ll laugh about all this. React logically, calmly, and thoroughly and you’ll get through it.

Bands have refused to go on stage because they found brown M&Ms in the bowl, the power has gone out just as the keynote speech started, otherwise innocuous breakfast events have sent dozens to the hospital with food poisoning, and it wasn’t so many years ago that Denver got buried by snow in mid-June. Whatever the absurdity that hits you if you are able to react properly and promptly, the damage will be minimized.