You've planned the schedule for your event to the minute - every session and break - and then a technical glitch delays the start of a presentation by 10 minutes. That presenter says he needs his full 60 minutes and even goes over by a few minutes himself. Suddenly you're backed up even further and everyone is frustrated and mad at you, the planner, for not sticking to the schedule.
As a keynote speaker and entertainer for corporate events, I've witnessed the uncomfortable semi-panic when the schedule gets jacked up. Is there anything you can do to better avoid this crunch?
Anticipate the unexpected
As a professional planner, you know things can and do go wrong that can cause delays. So think about the most likely trouble spots and give extra attention to those areas. This can be anything from an inexperienced A/V company or staff, to a speaker that is notorious for going over their allotted time.
Break the breaks
If your event is all day or multiple days, schedule the breaks so that they are a little longer than necessary. Then, small delays can be compensated for by reducing the length of the breaks, if needed.
If not needed, people usually appreciate the extra time anyway.
Ground Rules for presenters
There are two things your presenters should be made aware of during the booking process:
One is that they must not go over their scheduled length. Communicate how you intend to handle delays and if their program will be cut short if they are going long.
The other is that they should be prepared to cut their program short if an unexpected need arises.
As both a speaker and entertainer, I know this can be difficult but is definitely doable. I design my programs in a modular format so that I know what I can reduce the length if needed, and still have the presentation be cohesive and hit the important notes.
Of course, you may not want a presentation to be cut short, especially if it is a high-end speaker or celebrity that was a big draw for the event. In that case you will need to look for reductions in other areas.
The MC hook
If you are using an emcee for program with multiple presentations, give them the power to cut a program short if necessary.
Some delays are caused by a presenter going over their allotted time. One way to reduce the chance of this is to have the MC (or yourself if you are not using an MC) stand backstage with a signal when there are only 10 minutes of 5 minutes left in the time slot. The presenter will know to be aware of the signal and prepare to end on time.
Give the MC permission to end a presentation by interrupting the speaker as politely as possible. This is not ideal and can be somewhat awkward, but a professional MC can handle it with grace and the MC can explain the time situation to the audience (without laying blame, of course).
Clock or Length?
If I know the event is running behind, I always ask the meeting planner if they would prefer me to end at a certain time or to go for the entire planned time allotment. As a planner, be sure the speaker knows what is expected before they take the stage.
Time for timer!
Though it is not done often, as a speaker I LOVE when the event has a clock or better yet, a timer, that is in view from the stage. Presentations can sometimes vary from rehearsal times, especially when they interactive and involve audience members, as mine do. So knowing how close my program is being on track is very helpful.
I always wear a watch, but because it can look unprofessional for a speaker to look at his or her watch during a presentation, I prefer a clock or timer I can glance at without looking down at my arm.
Keep the Attendees Apprised
If the schedule does get behind, be sure to communicate to the attendees what is going on and why. Acknowledging the situation can go a long way to reducing the feelings of frustration and anxiety. Take a moment to make an announcement to the group before the next presentation, or just spread the word to as many attendees as possible during breaks.
Finally, even if the delay was beyond your control, take responsibility yourself and apologize for the inconvenience. People would rather see humility than hear excuses and your professionalism will shine through the unexpected problem.
Best of luck with your next event.
- Steve Haffner