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6 Effective Ways to Handle Event Mistakes

Mistakes inevitably happen, but these approaches can help improve sticky situations and preserve industry relationships.

Even well-prepared event and meeting professionals face chaotic situations.
Even well-prepared event and meeting professionals face chaotic situations.
Photo: ©Peshkov/Dollar Photo Club

Experienced event and meeting professionals work efficiently and carefully to ensure that each program they touch runs as seamlessly as possible when doors open. But everyone’s only human, and the occasional detail—big or small—inevitably slips through the cracks from time to time. Industry pros offer their tips for how to make a bad situation better, from taking responsibility to acting with transparency and urgency.

1. Accept responsibility.
NVE: The Experience Agency president Brett Hyman says that owning up to any mistakes is the necessary first course of action. That means never pointing a finger at another staff member or vendor lower in the chain of command—regardless of where in the line the breakdown actually occurred. “No matter whose fault it really is, the buck stops with you,” he says. “Don’t shift the blame.” Owning the mistake alone demonstrates leadership and professionalism.

Legendary Events director of design events Sophia Lin Kanno adds that blaming is also a time and effort waster. “There is also no need to waste any energy in the moment trying to attribute blame when what matters most is ensuring the event continues without a [further] hitch.”

2. Communicate clearly.
If the problem is a small one that can be solved with fast, seamless, independent action, that’s the best course to take. But if it is an issue that will require a team effort to resolve, communicate to other relevant parties with total transparency, says Koncept Events director of operations John Vincent Dillis. He emphasizes “presenting the challenge and the solution as clearly and as quickly as possible.” Any attempts at obfuscation can only compound a bad situation.

3. Act fast.
Address the problem with urgency—but a controlled urgency that demonstrates methodical problem-solving skills. If it’s too significant an issue to solve quietly behind the scenes, make a plan B and involve those necessary to execute it without any delay in such a way that shows your team and partners—or your boss—that “you have full control of the situation and can effectively deal with any hiccups that may occur,” Lin Kanno says.

4. Make it a teachable moment.
Hyman says that smart event professionals can use an event goof as a way to learn—and to avoid repeating the same mistake twice. “Retrace your steps,” he says. “Look through your paper trail and analyze where things went wrong.” Even if the goof-up really was someone else’s fault, learn from the experience and implement systems that can help prevent even someone else’s breakdown from becoming an issue. “Innovate your systems and your infrastructure so that you can prevent people from negatively impacting your event,” he says.

5. Take the long view.
It’s shortsighted to flee the scene of an event mistake in embarrassment or shame, especially in a relationship-based business. The goal is long-term partnerships with mutually committed industry players, devoted to each other's success, that can withstand bumps in the road. So after a mistake, be clear about the intention to make things right when presented the next opportunity—and then really do it. Dillis emphasizes the importance of “operating from a place of sincere empathy” and “brainstorming” solutions, so that affected parties feel listened to, understood, and comfortable continuing a relationship.

6. Remain calm.
Executing a contingency plan is productive; panicking is not. “If despite [all efforts to prepare] something happens, obviously take a deep breath and remain calm [is] the number one piece of advice,” Lin Kanno says. “You can't be afraid of a problem; it has to be handled. So it's best to just keep a clear head and come at the issue from a problem-solving perspective.”

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