Deal with an event crisis

Managing unforeseen situations with poise is a skill that is learnt through experience

Most event managers would agree that it is impossible and unrealistic to expect every event to go down as originally planned. During the planning stage, I would include risk management provisions such as exclusion clauses in service contracts, insurance coverage, currency hedging and contingency plan.
But despite my best efforts, I still have to deal with emergencies and crisis situations. Below is a checklist that I use in making decisions whenever something unexpected happens:

  • Don’t panic, and approach the situation with a clear mind
  • Report immediately and seek advice from your direct supervisor
  • Consult people who have experience in similar situations
  • Play safe, don’t gamble, and always take the safest option
  • Make records, wherever possible
  • Take your time, don’t be rushed into making someone else’s mistake

Let me illustrate this with a charity concert I managed a few years ago. It was already 18.00, only two hours before the concert, when I received a call from the office of a very senior dignitary asking whether there were still seats available. He and his wife were hoping to drop by for half an hour before heading off to another banquet.

It was great news to my chairman, but an emergency situation to me, especially since this request came a few hours before the concert.

Instead of panicking, I told myself to approach the situation with a clear mind by asking myself what issues I needed to sort out.

As the concert’s event manager, I was able to take care of most logistical arrangements, but I struggled to identify a couple of suitable seats because the best ones had already been reserved for the VIPs and major donors.
I reported this to my supervisor and then sought advice from the venue manager who, in my opinion, was the best person to guide me as he would probably have dealt with similar situations in the past.

The conversation I had with the venue manager was most valuable as I learnt what the normal protocol was in dealing with VVIP’s presence. He also assured me that adding a couple of seats to the front row would not be a problem in this circumstance.

Although the problems seemed to have been solved, my supervisor decided not to rush into making a decision. She asked me to call a special briefing with the venue operator, choreographer, production staff and service providers to make sure that there was a proper action plan. She wanted to play it safe.

During the event, the camera crew followed the dignitary everywhere because it was a great honour to have him and his wife at our concert. We even had the communication team rush out a short script for our chairman, allowing him to greet the dignitary with a few key messages.

Roy Ying was the North Asia head of communications and external affairs of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), a role that saw him manage RICS’ portfolio of events, communication channels, external relations and stakeholder engagement programmes in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. Ying is now senior manager of corporate communications with Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway. He is also a visiting lecturer at a number local universities in Hong Kong and lectures on various event management and crisis communication subjects.