Event Management

The Art of Solving Problems at your Event

Skift Take

Becoming a better event problem solver can make you indispensable. Luckily, problem-solving is not something you have to be born with. You can master it. Here’s how.

In 2015, Steve Harvey, the then host of the Miss Universe Pageant did what every emcee lives in fear of doing. He announced the wrong winner. He later confessed that the font for the first runner-up was larger than the font of the winner and that caused his confusion. But regardless of the cause, the pressure of a live event can be stupefying.

If you’ve ever been faced with an important decision during an event, you may have noticed your own confidence eroding. It’s difficult dealing with the pressure. So how do you become a better, more confident problem solver when it counts? Follow these few steps:


How to Become a Better Event Problem Solver

  1. Understand the issue. Whether it’s an attendee or supplier bringing up the issue, make sure you fully understand it and all the ramifications before jumping in to solve it.
  2. Create a plan. Make sure everyone understands their role and deliverables in the plan.
  3. If you’re at fault, admit it. Don’t place blame or make excuses. Admit fault and explain how it will be righted.
  4. Implement and follow up. Not only do you want to solve the problem at that moment but make a note to follow up. That makes an impression.

Becoming a Problem Solver by Deciding to Do So

You’ll often hear people claiming to be ‘born problem solvers’. And it’s true, some of us have a quick creative mind like that. They needn’t develop it or change anything. It’s simply how their brain works. For the rest of us, we need to cultivate a problem-solving mindset.

It’s like shopping in a large store and asking a clerk where an item is. Some simply give you an aisle number while others take you there. The people who take you there have to decide to get up from what they’re doing and help you. Problem-solving at an event is the same way.

Becoming a problem solver doesn’t require you to jump into the middle of any disgruntled situation, but it does mean finding solutions and giving up the shrug of the shoulders. People who are good problem solvers:

  • Understand the difference between fires and infernos when it comes to problems and they address them accordingly.
  • Are patient and creative.
  • Enjoy helping and a good puzzle.
  • Are naturally curious.
  • Know what they’re doing.
  • Tie all the laces so no one trips.

These skills can all be cultivated, so let’s examine them.

Fires Versus Infernos

Event problems don’t take a number. In order to be a good problem solver, you need to know how to weed out the most pressing issues and get to them first. A pressing issue isn’t always the one that is the most urgent but the one with the biggest PR nightmare potential. Learning how to prioritize is one of the greatest skills you can acquire in your pursuit of being a top problem solver.

Acquire Patience and Creativity

In understanding problems, it pays to be patient and creative in your approach. But before you give up because you don’t see yourself as a patient or creative person, you need to understand those words in context.

A patient problem solver is one who will listen to the entire issue before trying to solve it in their head. Most of us begin anticipating and formulating an answer before someone is even finished with a question. It saves time but it also keeps us from hearing the entire explanation. This makes people shut down and feel like you are not a source for a solution.

A creative problem solver doesn’t shut down ideas with a quick ‘that will never work’ without fully thinking about it. Creativity in problem-solving is not the same thing as creativity in the arts. It’s more about keeping an open mind while you and your group sort through options. You can acquire this type of creativity by merely willing yourself to.

Be a Helper

Problem solvers enjoy the challenge of helping people. It’s difficult for those who don’t enjoy helping to be an event problem solver. Often it requires us to put down whatever we’re working on and take on the new challenge. This can be frustrating for regimented personalities. That’s why if you want to be good at solving problems in the moment, you need to embrace the idea that you are helping someone.

Employ Curiosity

The best problem solvers are naturally curious people. Curiosity allows them to question things most people take for granted. You can flex that curiosity by questioning the usual answers.

However, excellent event problem solvers are curious but within confines. A problem at an event requires immediate action and often creativity. Curiosity can help you find a good solution but once it’s reached, you need to turn off the questioning or at least delay it until the next issue. As an event planner, you don’t have the time to question everything. Leave that to the philosophers or the event planning stage.

Know What You’re Doing

It’s next to impossible to solve a problem unless you know the area in which you’re working. For instance, let’s say a CEO of a logistics company had an issue. He might consult his logistics person. Consulting his event planner isn’t going to help him because the planner simply doesn’t know how logistics works. If the CEO had an event issue, they wouldn’t ask the logistics person, because again, that person doesn’t have the background necessary to suggest viable solutions.

One of the ways you can become a better event problem solver is by knowing your business and your suppliers as best you can. Keep up with online communities for event planners so that you know best practices and what others are doing. You may even read about an issue that you will face later.

Tie the Laces Quickly

Finally, a good event problem solver addresses immediate issues and understands how a decision may have other ramifications too. If you fix this one thing, what could it mean for others? Or if you answer this issue for this person, will it cause them to come back to you in a few hours because it has created another challenge?

An event problem solver needs to operate on multiple levels with 360-degree views of cause and effect. They should also have an eye for the big picture and the minutiae. You can’t make a solid decision without weighing all the options and understanding everything involved. However, reading a book on strategic problem solving isn’t going to help you in events.

Event planning requires quick and effective problem-solving. You don’t have a business quarter to decide next steps. You must create a solution that is the best you can do with the information and the time that you have.

Now that you know the elements that make a good event problem solver, let’s explore how you can actually put them into practice.

Steps for Better Event Problem Solving

  1. Understand the Issue

When most people have an urgent issue, they rarely come to you in a calm demeanor with all of the information you need to help solve the problem. Instead, they rattle you with phrases and words that may seem like a disjointed mess. It’s up to you to ask the probing questions that will help you understand what the issue is, everyone it affects, and what’s already been tried. You need this critical information in order to present the most viable solution.

  1. Create a Plan

Now that you understand everything involved, you can create a plan that addresses the issues. Make sure your plan takes into account the issue presenting itself but also try to be proactive about others that may crop up as part of the solution.

Once you have a plan to address the solution, ensure everyone understands their role and deliverables as well as the schedule and how it fits into their current responsibilities. Are they to drop everything to help in the solution or is it something they should do after their immediate responsibilities? Don’t leave the order up to them unless there is time to spare. If something is urgent and trumps everything else, make sure that is clearly communicated along with who will do it.

Part of your plan should be giving the affected party a point of contact. Don’t leave them wondering whether something got fixed or not. Another good reason for a point of contact is because problems sometimes escalate and it’s nice for the affected person to go to someone who already knows the situation.

  1. If You’re at Fault, Admit It

This is one of the most difficult parts of problem-solving but an essential one. Don’t place blame or make excuses. Don’t try and get the other party to take partial responsibility.

Excuses place everyone on the defensive and ultimately it doesn’t really matter who caused the issue. But if it’s your mistake, admit fault and explain how it will be righted.

If it’s not your fault, it’s likely still your responsibility at the event. Apologize for the fact that it happened, not that you did it. Even if it was caused by a supplier or a third-party vendor, see if there’s a way that you can help mediate or direct them to someone who can help. Don’t just tell them to call the tour company, for instance. Find a contact name for them to ease their frustration.

  1. Implement and Follow Up

Now that you have a plan and everyone understands their responsibilities, and you have taken responsibility for any fault you may have in the situation, you need to implement your plan and follow up. If it’s a problem involving an attendee in a multi-day event, check back in with them several times to find out how things are. Use their name and address specifics. If applicable, offer concessions to come to another event.

Keep an eye out for escalations on social media as well. Often, you’ll think something is addressed and the party will take their frustration to the web.

How to Solve Problems Quickly

One of the best things an event planner can do when it comes to problems is to solve them thoroughly, yet quickly. A problem left unattended becomes a very large issue because it compounds with the feelings of being ignored. Never let someone feel ignored if you can help it. But how do you ensure that you handle the problem with alacrity? You should:

  • Be listening on social media both through hashtags and keywords. If your event is not thousands of people large, create a Twitter list of attendees and scan it periodically to ensure everyone is content and satisfied. If not, escalate the issue appropriately.
  • Walk the floors and listen for sentiment.
  • Look at exit surveys as they happen. You needn’t read them all but give a glance at those who are sharing info at the bottom.
  • Switch responsibilities or get some distance. Solving quickly is critical for event planners but sometimes you get a mental block and are stumped to find a good solution. If that’s the case, take a few minutes to think about something else, preferably something regimented like folding napkins. Studies have shown that this type of break in thinking can help you come up with a creative solution.
  • Solve for someone else. Construal-level theory means we are more able to solve for distant problems affecting someone else than our own. That’s why so many people who take their problems to a third-party end up thinking, why didn’t I come up with that?. Thinking about your problem in reference to someone else or thinking about it in an abstract way as if you were going to write a letter to Dear Abby and change all of the names to protect the innocent, may give you the distance you need to solve it.

In Conclusion

Becoming good at quick problem solving is a core competency for every event planner. Thankfully, it’s not something you need to be born with. You can cultivate the skills with some hard work and experience.

Additional Reading About Problem Solving at Event Issues

How to Handle the Most Common Problems with Event Check-in
16 Inevitable Ways to Make Event Attendees Happy
6 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid with Event Radio
How to React When Your Event Is Spinning Out of Control