Hosting a holiday dinner for family and friends, planning a wedding or a child’s birthday party are common events in most people’s lives. Luckily, if something goes awry, your family and friends are likely to be understanding and even helpful. But if you are planning an event, meeting, or incentive trip for hundreds or thousands of strangers, a sticky situation can quickly become a big challenge. We’ve executed more than a few programs in our 45 year history and compiled some tips to help you unstick your sticky situation:

  • Plan, Plan, Plan – Come up with plan A, B, and C. You can never be too prepared and you should always be prepared for the unexpected. When possible, have plans B and C in place before the event begins so you can simply refer to your “playbook” when it’s going to rain on your outdoor function or a few more than expected attendees show up for your optional breakouts.  If you have to plan on the fly, recalibrate your mindset, assess the situation, develop a new plan and execute. WARNING: YOU WILL BE REQUIRED TO THINK ON YOUR FEET.
  • Communicate with Honesty– Withholding information or ineffectively sharing it may make things worse. Keep people posted on evolving circumstances and count on your team to share your message. People can spot when you are not being authentic and will be angry if they find out they were lied to. If conditions are less than ideal, be honest and real and most people will understand and even empathize with you.
  • Take ownership – Playing the blame game is a frustrating experience for your attendees and clients. Imagine if you called about a product defect for an item you purchased and the customer service agent blames the defect on the product quality manager, who blames it on their employee, who blames it on the machine they were given. It will get you nowhere but irritated.
  • Prioritize – With many moving parts, the likelihood that multiple situations arise at once is high. Don’t lose sight of other responsibilities in the meantime. Make sure you prioritize to keep things running smoothly.
  • Stay Calm – The team will look to you to set the tone when unexpected situations arise. Take a deep breath, step aside with key decision makers in a quiet space and talk through the situation together.  Once you have a solid game plan be sure to calmly explain your strategy to everyone who will help you implement it.
  • Learn from it – Usually there isn’t time to figure out what went wrong immediately, but take note of the situation and investigate later. Identify key steps in the process and communicate this by sharing the situation with your colleagues. This will help you be proactive in the future and help your colleagues better react if they encounter a similar situation.

Some Real Life Examples

Here are some real situations that our team has dealt with and learned from.

Situation #1: A Tradeshow with expected attendance of 950 participants actually had 2,380 people show up. That’s 2.5X what was expected!

What Happened:

  • Ran out of badges/lanyards
  • Short on space for lunch
  • Unexpected crowds at registration

We Unstuck the Sticky!

  • Reorganized registration set-up and flow for speed of check-in
  • Served bottled water to those in line
  • Recycled badge holders & lanyards as customers were leaving the show
  • Worked in partnership with hotel to quickly turn tables at lunch


We showcased our ability to respond quickly in a difficult situation, pull our hotel partners in to build a solution, address the areas of concern and ensure that the client delivered the desired experience to their attendees.  React, reuse, re-route…RESOURCEFUL…this team combined creative ideas to get the job done.

Situation #2: Another planning supplier backed out on our client three weeks prior to the program with no hotel contract in place.

What Happened:

  • Attendees were registered and ticketed to Barcelona, with nowhere to stay
  • What was supposed to be a high end incentive experience was in a million little pieces

We Unstuck the Sticky!

  • Our sourcing team jumped in, negotiated a contract and booked the hotel space needed
  • We assigned a planner who locked down all activities and off-site venues which also had not been contracted
  • We stayed calm, asked the right questions and came up with a game plan


The attendees were un-phased by the scramble and we were able to deliver an amazing incentive experience. Based on our responsiveness and execution of the program, especially in such a dire situation, the client asked us to manage the program for the following year.

Meeting and Event planning is all about the unexpected. There is only so much you can do to prepare, and then you have to rely on your smarts and instinct to get you through the rest. With the right team, the right suppliers, the right outlook and ability to learn from your mistakes you’ll be able to unstick the sticky too! For another example on handling the unexpected, check out our case study about when Vice President Joe Biden made an appearance.

Let’s Thrive.

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