Many years ago, but not so long ago that the memory still doesn't sting, we were two weeks out from a massive citywide conference when an order came down from up top; the name of the conference was changing.
Two. Weeks. Out.
Everything needed to be redone: signage, badges, programs. Anything with the old name on it went into the trash. This was the mother of last minute changes.
I'm not going to bullshit you: it sucked. I still wince at the memory. But, it was far from a disaster. A last-minute change like that can turn the best planned conference into a chaotic mess with massive budget overruns, distracted vendors, an inconsistent attendee experience, and an overall disorganized and frenzied feel. That's the sort of last minute change that results in an event manager crying at four o'clock in the morning because they've been working five days straight without sleep and doors open in three hours.
Instead, we managed just fine. Everything was replaced and we even managed to get some sleep. The event happened and the attendees were none the wiser that everything was redone last minute.
If you've worked in events, you undoubtedly have a last-minute change horror story. Usually we have many. I don't think there is anything event managers loath as much as last-minute changes. Both for what they can do to our events (budget overruns, chaos, and disorganization) or to us (crying at four A.M.). The effects of last minute changes make us, and our employers, look bad.
There were two important things we did that allowed us to take The Mother of Last Minute Changes in stride that you, too you can adopt for your events.
First, it came down to planning. For this event, and every event we plan, we aim to have all the major tactical work done three months out. Floor plans, bids, user experience, and budgets; everything is in place three months out. Assume that everything that can be changed is going to be changed those last three months. If you're still spending time on your foundation, you're not going to be able to respond to last minute changes.
Second, and truthfully this was the major factor that allowed us to absorb the change without the event being disrupted, we had made ample use of connected technologies.
We didn't have a printed program; we had a mobile app. We had mostly digital, not printed, signage. Badges were printed on-demand at check-in. All those things were connected to Hubb, which is where our content lived. When the Mother of All Last-Minute Changes came down, we went into Hubb, made the changes in one place, and it updated everywhere across our event. There was no impact to our attendees. It was seamless.
Connected technologies aren't just the key for handling those massive last-minute changes; they help with the everyday last-minute changes as well. Say you have a speaker cancel on you a week out from your event. If attendees who had arranged their schedules around seeing that speaker arrive in the room at the appointed time and the speaker is not there, they're going to be pissed. We’re talking get-in-your-face-and-yell-at-you-demanding-a-refund mad. But, if you had connected technologies, you would have made the change when you found out about it and the attendees would have received a push notification about the change. They would have plenty of time to adjust their schedules, so they're not blindsided on-site and you're not dealing with an angry attendee.
Had we done things the old way with the massive citywide conference, I don't know if the event would have happened. There were not enough hours remaining to make the changes needed. Without the power of connected technologies, that would have been the most miserable two weeks of my life. Instead, the event was a triumph, and connected technologies were key.
We did a deeper dive into connected technologies in a recent webinar, which you can view for free.
Want to become a conference planning ninja? Download our free eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Conference Planning!