Recovering When Events Get off to a Late Start

Traffic JamA late start can derail just about any event. If the delay is significant, it can get even the most seasoned facilitators, participants, and yes, event planners, frazzled.

There are many reasons that events get off to a late start. For example, traffic jams, flight delays and delays due to thunderstorms or blizzards are not uncommon.

I can think of 3 that have happened to events that my company has planned.

  • There was a snowstorm with many white outs and this caused a 200 car pile-up on Highway 400 near Toronto. The group traveled to the resort by side roads and arrived at 3:00 PM instead of 10:00 AM.
  • A client arrived 2 hours late due to a snowstorm.
  • A participant arrived late for pick-up and then the bus wouldn't start, resulting in a 30-minute delay.

Sometimes lateness cannot be avoided. Here are some tips to avoid late starts and to manage them when they happen.

  1. Transportation is such a key element of any event so it should never be off the event planner's radar.
    Even if and especially if the client decides to take care of their own transportation, treat it as if you are arranging it. To avoid problems, speak with the bus company directly, confirm all arrangements and be sure that they have directions for the venue.
  2. If it is a local event, do a dry run with the driver, even if there is an extra charge for this.
    Follow-up with clear instructions in writing and a map noted all pick up and drop off points. This is particularly important for events like urban safaris and scavenger hunts.
  3. Speaking of scavenger hunts and urban safaris, have a member of the event team stay with the bus at all times.
    That individual should accompany the bus during the dry run and be clear about pick-up and drop-off points as well as alternative routes if there are traffic delays.
  4. Build a buffer into all event agendas.
    Begin the event agenda and timeline half an hour before the announced start for the event. Build in another 30 minute buffer before lunch and also at the end of the day. This will make it possible to handle minor delays without breaking a sweat.
  5. If possible, bring the group in the night before the meeting conference or event is due to begin. If you can't select a venue outside the downtown core.

If despite your best plans, the group is late, here are some strategies to recover.

  1. Be proactive. Discuss the possibility of a late arrival with the venue and the client and brainstorm a back-up plan.
    Identify which agenda items can be scrapped. Review this during the pre-con. Even if you intend to provide a verbal briefing with important reminders to the group on arrival, prepare a written version for distribution.
  2. Be sure that the meeting room has enough space for food and beverage service and select a 1st day menu that can easily be moved into the meeting room.
  3. As soon as you know the group is delayed, inform all members of event team, venue team and all suppliers (e.g. audio-visual) immediately.
    Put the back-up plan into effect.
  4. Move the first break and the lunch into the meeting room. 
    A working lunch or a lunch in the meeting room can be a real time saver.
  5. Avoid the temptation to push the group harder, push through and go late on the first day to make up for lost time.
    Check-in with the group. They will likely be tired. An earlier start the next day after the group is rested or going longer on day 2 is a better plan.

Above all remain calm and don't panic.

For more tips, also consult 16 Ways to Prevent Latecomers from Derailing Corporate Events.

Photo Credit:  Richard Penn

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