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  • Writer's pictureAnnie Carl

Plan and Pivot: The Importance of Contingency Planning for the Unexpected

As experience builders our job is to think through every detail. We have objectives and goals, with the guests experience being a central focus. We meticulously build plans based on achieving these goals and create contingency plans for anything we can think of that could derail the plan, and ultimately the guests #experience.

Google map image of road closures in New York City due to terrorist attack

Common contingencies we plan for range from delayed flights, uncooperative weather, illness, lost reservations, unexpected guests, equipment not arriving, to force majeure. Personally I have had entire teams delayed for #tradeshows due to a Nor'easter, a terrorist attack that occurred a few blocks from the convention center, the one and only demo unit arrive broken into pieces, a hurricane derails an award trip, and a personal chef involved in a car totaling accident on his way to the event with all the food preparation, to name a few.

While we all hope that everything goes to plan, the truth is no experience goes as planned. In this field one must know how to pivot. One must know how to make quick decisions and act. Rarely is there contingency that we can’t prepare for and rarely is something so out of our control we are left without options.

POTUS and First Lady giving speech at Daytona 500

Recently I attended an event as a guest. An event that is the pinnacle of it’s sporting series with a sold out crowd of 100,000. Any given year this event takes massive planning and a thorough understanding of the inner workings of the overall event to build a VIP experience for guests. This was no ordinary year. For the third time in the history of the sport a sitting President was participating in the pre-event activities. What I observed as a guest is there is a lot one cannot control when the President visits. What I know as an industry professional is that you can plan for even this contingency.

This experience was a great reminder of the importance of planning and pivoting. Here are my top 5 take-aways and general best practices whether a #President or a hurricane interrupts your plans.

1. No one will confirm the President’s arrival or itinerary, to most it feels like a game time decision. In reality it is half game time decision (if all is right with the world and schedules don’t change they will show) and the other half has been perfectly planned out to the minute for months by a highly capable and strategic team.

My take-away: When you catch wind that something big, like the President might attend the same event, do your research. Who do you need to contact to get best estimates of timing, traffic ,etc.? Where have they been before and how was the event affected by this (use Google, contact coordinators associated with the venue, etc.) Contact venue and event coordinators who have dealt with this same scenario. Once you have a semi foggy idea of what could happen revise your plan. Create a modified agenda. Do your best to understand how you will manage the experience without causing discomfort and inconvenience.

2. No one has “VIP” status when the President visits. It doesn’t matter what your pass says, what club floor you are supposed to be on, where your private driver is supposed to drop you off. The only #VIP at this event is the President. Everyone stands in the same line to go through the same security checks.

My take-away: Recognize you will have to adjust your timing. You need to be relying on your resources to keep you informed and prepare to properly communicate changes to your guests. Come prepared with convenience items for your guests. If they are going to stand in line for 2-3 hours, bring water, sunscreen, umbrellas or ponchos, etc. Recognize that if your guests have waited that long, no matter what the experience, they will need to use the restroom, want to drop off their bags and purses, get out of the elements. Once they have taken a few minutes to refresh, look at your agenda and begin the experience based on what you can control and have access to.

3. Don’t plan to rely on cellular service to manage communication with team members, guests, or transportation. All signals are jammed, whether intentionally or because the cellular towers are overloaded. If you are an average human being (even a VIP) you will likely have no cell service until the event is over or you see #AirForceOne fly out.

My take-away: Once again, focus on #communication with guests. Prepare your guests with location points in case people are separated, identify wayfinding signs, provide written agendas. Consider investing in alternative communication methods for your team; radio transmissions still work. Just look at #event security and sports teams, their earpieces and radio clipped to their waste allows them to keep in communication.

4. Nothing on your contingency plan is workable and you suddenly have a group of hot/cold, hungry, thirsty, tired guests. It’s no longer about what you can’t do. It’s all about what you can do.

My take-away: It’s time to prepare your expense accounts and go off to forage. Try your best to get your group out of the elements. Regardless of the food you have paid for, you don’t have access to it, so feed your group and buy them drinks from concession stands. Take them to the gift shop or another attraction on-site you have access too. Standing around and waiting should be your last alternative.

5. You and I know a lot is truly out of your control from weather to area lockdowns because of #POTUS. In fact, your guests know a lot is out of your control too. They will lend a certain amount of grace because they can appreciate the circumstances. What they don’t want to hear over and over again is that it's not your fault and watch you take no action.

My take-away: Thank your guests for their patience and understanding. Acknowledge the situation and don’t let them see you sweat! Let them know you are going to do whatever you can to still provide them comfort and a positive experience; quickly follow up it up with action. Your guests may not have the experience they expected but they will certainly appreciate your effort and most likely depart the event feeling positive.

It was great to be reminded what it is like to be a guest at an experience because it refreshed my perspective. Whether a seasoned professional or just starting your career, we can all learn from my experience at this event. In a field that is constantly evolving, where we must continue to refine our practices and hone our skills, what never changes is how critical it is to build #contingencyplans and know how to #pivot!

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