Managing Last-Minute Event Planning Madness

For event planners, the days and hours before an event are the most stressful parts of the experience. Even if you planned well and followed your strategy to the letter, there’s always the potential for something to go wrong just before the event starts.

Whether you’re an experienced planner or a DIYer, you’ll inevitably have to deal with a little last-minute chaos. In this article, we’ll offer some tips to minimize the madness as much as possible, along with some advice to handle it when it happens.

Free download: 8 Potential Event Disasters and How to Solve Them

How to Prevent Last-Minute Event Planning Craziness

Last minute event planning

The best way to prevent last-minute problems is to plan for them to never happen in the first place. Follow these steps to insulate yourself against last minute madness.

1. Set Aside Some “Last-Minute Cash” in Your Budget

Somewhere in your budget should be a line item for emergency expenditures. This is a broad category that leaves you cash for last-minute expenses.

For event planners, the days and hours before an event are the most stressful parts of the experience. Click To Tweet

For example, imagine the ice machine at your venue breaks down two hours before your event. Since your plan calls for ice in several places, you would need to order an emergency delivery. But if you spent your entire budget before the event started, you wouldn’t have any cash to make the purchase.

Ideally, you would never have to use your last-minute cash, but you will be surprised at how often you need to dip into that reserve.

2. Build Some Extra Time Into Your Schedule

Your event starts at 5 PM and you know it takes three hours to set up the space. What time should you start preparing the room(s)?

The day before!

By the time event day rolls around, you should have everything prepared and ready to go, even for the smallest events. Major events could take weeks to set up, especially if you have thousands of attendees and structures or props to build.

Don’t let yourself get caught unfolding tables or hanging signs as guests start lining up at registration. Anything you know you’ll have to do should be done well in advance.

3. Delegate People and Give them Autonomy

It’s tempting to micromanage your team to make sure they put your event together properly, but that’s a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

Instead of doling out tasks, put people in charge of projects, give them instructions all at once, and leave them to it. If you’ve planned everything thoroughly, they should be able to build your vision with the help of your event brief.

For instance, you don’t need to stand by while your team sets up the registration area. Explain how you want things to flow and let them manage it themselves. If you aren’t happy with their job, you can always make changes later. But fixing a mistake is less of a drain on your time than micromanaging the process.

4. Enlist as Much Help as You Need

A sure way to create last-minute problems is to try to put an event together without the right amount of staff. You’ll just burn everyone out. Or worse, you’ll fail to set up in time.

Having extra people on site — even if they only stick around for setup — will ensure that you have enough hands to manage last-minute problems. Yes, hiring more people will inflate your event budget, but charging more for the event is better than throwing a poor one.

5. Create Checklist Templates to Help You Track Everything

When an event is about to start and you have a million things running through your head, it can be difficult (or impossible, we should say) to remember everything. Did the caterer bring cocktail forks? Did someone double check the dais supports? Is there cash for change at the registration desk?

Instead of trying to keep everything in your home, create checklists to help you remember everything. For instance, you might create a technology checklist to make sure you have working devices in all of the right locations. You can run through the list quickly or delegate someone else to do it for you.

These resources are useful because they are applicable to all of your events. Create them one time and then make slight modifications for each event.

How to Deal with Last-Minute Madness

Last minute event planning

No matter how well you prepare, there will always be last-minute problems to solve. The hallmark of a great event is the ability to address last-minute problems directly and resolve them decisively.

1: Focus on the Event

Like a lot of event planners, you may be working on more than one event at a time. But as you get close to an event, it’s important to put your other plans aside and focus. Leave your materials for next week’s event at home, and let calls, texts, and emails that don’t relate to today’s event go unanswered.

2: Resist Any Changes to the Plan

If you’re throwing an event for a client, customer, or employer, it’s inevitable that they will want to make last-minute changes. They might be struck by a sudden idea, or they may want to make an adjustment once they see the event venue space.

Unless those changes are minor, it’s important to resist them as much as possible. Make it clear that the best events rely on good planning. Last-minute changes erode your ability to throw a great event.

For instance, let’s say your client wants to add more flowers to the event than you originally planned. In this case, you would point out that not only would last-minute flowers be expensive, but they probably won’t match the same quality of your other flowers.

If your stakeholder insists on making a change, try to come up with a compromise. For example, you probably can’t add a shrimp dish the day before the event, but you might be able to add a small shrimp plate to the appetizer table.

In some cases, a stakeholder may request a change that just isn’t possible. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” You may disappoint the stakeholder in the moment, but that’s better than compromising the success of your event.

3. Stay Professional and Honest at all Times

What happens when something goes wrong and you just can’t fix it no matter how hard you try?

You simply explain the issue to the host and stakeholders without making excuses or blaming anyone else. Then you take whatever steps you can to mitigate the problem.

One event planner we know had a client who insisted on live music. But on their way to the venue, the band she hired was hit by another car, damaging their equipment. The planner scrambled to find a DJ, even though she knew that would disappoint her client.

Instead of trying to find a last-minute band (which she knew wouldn’t work), she confidently apologized and explained the problem and her solution. The client was upset, but they quickly got over it when they saw their guests having a great time.

Fixing problems that can’t be fixed is a waste of everyone’s time and energy. At some point, you just have to cut your losses and move on.

The best event planners prepare for the worst. Download this guide on the most common disasters that may befall your event and how to solve them.

Keep Calm and Breathe

This last piece of advice is the most important. If things start to get a little crazy, it’s easy to panic and make poor decisions. If you find yourself struggling to manage, walk away for a moment, take a few deep breaths, and splash some water on your face. Then, choose one problem and solve it. Then solve another. Keep solving problems until there are no more problems to solve.

Most importantly, try not to show fear, anxiety, or distress in front of your clients, employer, or stakeholders. If they see their event planner acting nervously, they will assume the worst.

Event planning is not an easy job. It gets harder as you get closer to the event. A little bit of last-minute madness is expected, but if you follow the advice we’ve given here, you will put yourself in a position to deal with it as best as you can.

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