Event Management

6 Coping Strategies for Last-minute Event Changes

Skift Take

Are you stressed out over last-minute client changes and bookings? Get control back without getting fired with these six ideas.

In your personal life, last-minute changes often yield fun surprises: an unexpected trip, a visit to the movies on a day you were hoping for sun, or a music substitution for an opening band that turned out really well. But in your professional life, last-minute changes are the things nightmares are made of. We each owe at least one bottle of Pepto to last-minute changes in our events.

Causes of Last-minute Changes

There are many reasons why a client would want to change things around. These include:

  • A change of mind or an inability to make up their mind, to begin with
  • A conversation wih a higher up who suggested going another way
  • Less in the budget than originally anticipated
  • New data that reveals a crucial preference

Whatever the reason, it can add a lot of stress and cost to your event. Here’s how you can help mitigate those changes.

1. Set Expectations in a Detailed Contract

The first line of defense to protect against last-minute changes is iterating the specifics in a contract along with language that highlights any late changes may significantly affect cost and the ability to adhere to the selected event date.

It’s important that everyone at the table understands that changes have implications and most of those will jeopardize the event schedule. Set the parameters early and be specific with how it will alter the deliverables. Often, they’ll want the changes anyway but at least you’ve set expectations. After you do so, the following can help you handle last-minute changes effectively and professionally.

2. Don’t Agree to Anything When You’re Creating

Many event professionals love the creation phase, envisioning how they will pull things off and sharing their visions with the client. This part can be extremely intoxicating but it’s also the worst time for clients to ask for changes.

You’re in the zone, and everything seems possible, but don’t fall into the trap of a client suggesting changes and you agreeing to them. At this stage, you’re extremely vulnerable because you’re co-creating and it feels good to have someone make suggestions. But those suggestions can become costly nightmares if you agree without thinking it through.

Be aware at any time during the event planning process when you’re sharing visions or concepts. Watch for the zone and when you’re there, don’t agree to things on the spot. Take it back to the office and think about what those changes will do to cost and time for you and your team.

3. Don’t Give In to the “We’ve Come So Far” Idea

Often event planners give in to last-minute changes because we feel we’re in the home stretch and it’s easier to acquiesce at that point than to make waves and risk not having a good experience with the client. This is referred to as the “sunk cost effect” when people refuse to give up or walk away because of the resources already invested.

While it wouldn’t be professional to walk away from an event at the last minute, you shouldn’t feel afraid to push back due to your current level of investment. Explain what this change will do and how they are jeopardizing the event by insisting on it.

4. Don’t Feel Obligated

Clients pay our paychecks so there’s frequently an imbalance of power when they request something from you. Last-minute requests take you by surprise and then you feel obligated to follow the “customer is always right” idea. Instead, look at this request as a conversation starter, not as a command. What is it about this change that is so dire and where did it come from? Understanding the answers to these questions can help you figure out a compromise that will give the client what they want without jeopardizing the event. This will restore some of the power you feel in saying “no.”

Then realize that they hired you for your professional skill and abilities. Just as a good manager should not want to be surrounded by “yes” men, a client should value what you have to say as an event planning professional. In order to handle last-minute changes, you need to feel empowered as the professional you are.

5. Know When To Be Silent

Any career counselor will tell you that when hunting for a job, the first person who mentions money loses. The same applies to event planning. You needn’t fill every moment of silence with talk. When you have an unfair request from a client, talk about what they’re looking for by parroting it back to them using words like, “Let me make sure I understand. You want ______.” Then tell them why that is difficult for you by following the formulaic, “If we do X then Y will happen. Are you prepared for that?”

Then wait. Stop talking. Don’t feel the need to fill in the space. Let them consider the option as they’ve presented it. When they give you their answer about whether they are prepared or not, you can further illustrate the implications of those changes (if they said yes) and the other options (if they said no).

6. Tips for Handling a Last-Minute Booking

Not all last-minute requests are changes to the event. Sometimes you get a last-minute booking. If someone calls last-minute and asks if you’re available in the very near future, it’s easier to turn work down first than it is to listen to ten minutes worth of someone’s vision only to realize it quickly outpaced the time you have. Instead, follow these tips;

  • Don’t answer them based on date alone. When they ask if you’re free on a particular date, explain that you already have several projects during this period and it depends on the complexity as to whether you can accommodate them or not.
  • Be clear on what they want. Once you hear the event they want to book, reiterate it back to them in complete detail, explaining that any change to what they are asking for may make it impossible to meet expectations with the short timescales.
  • Make concessions. If after hearing their vision, you realize it can’t be accommodated, you have two options – say no or make concessions such as we can’t do a 300-person event but can handle 100 or we can handle the event logistics if you can handle the event marketing. If they agree to these changes, get it in writing.

Remember, it is always better to turn someone down than it is to disappoint them by under delivering.

In Conclusion

Last-minute changes and bookings are the bane of the event planner business but for those who are adrenaline junkies, it can provide a safe way to getting those crazy thrills. Still, you needn’t feel obligated to agree with everything. These tips will help you handle saying no with grace or negotiate making it worth all the stress.