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Navigating Event Chaos: Staying on Track When Schedules Go Awry

"My schedule is all off! How do I get back on track?" This thought ran through my mind during one particularly hectic event. My go-to strategy is a meticulously detailed, minute-by-minute schedule, especially for large events. I had planned out two full days of this conference, ensuring every single minute was accounted for. However, a couple of the speakers inevitably overran their timeslots. While their reasons were always valid and understandable, when you need to move a large number of people through a building on a tight schedule, every minute counts. So what do you do? 


Cutting the mic might cross your mind, but that's certainly not a good idea. Once the speaker is on stage, you’re essentially at their mercy. The best approach is to review your schedule: what’s next? Is there somewhere you can cut time? Perhaps shorten the break? After the speaker finishes, have the emcee update the attendees on what’s coming up next, subtly letting everyone know how much time they have. Another effective tactic is to assign a designated person as the speaker’s point of contact, keeping them informed about the schedule. Using a countdown clock for the speaker or establishing a subtle cue for them to wrap up can also be helpful. Most importantly, communicate with the speaker ahead of time about their allotted speaking time and always maintain open communication with your team.


If it’s a fundraiser, remember that even though the attendees are there to support the organization’s vision and are committed to staying for the cause, it’s crucial to respect their time—they might have a babysitter at home or an early start the next morning. Attendees will have specific expectations regarding the event’s schedule and will be mindful of the timing. Ensuring they have a great experience is key to their return for future events.

And what did we do to resolve the overrun time for that conference? We communicated quickly with the team, cut the break, and shortened the lunch which got us back on track for the afternoon. As the event leader, the key is to stay calm, problem-solve quickly, and communicate to all parties involved. Your resilience in the face of changes will make all the difference to those around you. 


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