Eeek! 6 Real-life Event Horror Stories


Kirstin Fulton


If you don’t kick off your next b2b event with a modicum of fear, you’re not prepared enough. Being ready for an event means much more than having everything buttoned up. It means accepting the real possibility that things could go wrong and letting that get under your skin a little—just enough to own your contingency plan. But let’s be real, you can have Plans A, B, and C and still not expect a rodent infestation at your cheese symposium. Fortunately, that’s a long shot. Most of the horror stories you’ll face have happened before, offering some great lessons for the rest of us. Here are six that top the charts.

Venue cancellation (or other frightening venue mishap)

Dealing with a last-minute venue cancellation or mix-up can be catastrophic. And the truth is, sometimes you can mitigate the situation, and other times it may mean rescheduling your event. If you’re running a large-scale event that requires a conference-sized space, you may not have an alternate venue option in the area. Smaller events may be more malleable. For example, maybe break the event into segments and host it at different restaurants or workspaces around the area—with a shuttle service to transport attendees around on a cycle. To save an event from venue-induced collapse, you’ll need to get creative fast. EventBrite offers steps to take when a venue bails on you and (if needed) how to gracefully cancel with your attendees.

Nobody. Shows. Up.

Picture this. Your new cybersecurity firm is hosting an evening get-to-know-us event at a swanky space downtown that holds 200 guests. You book a dj. You organize cocktails and hor d'oeuvres. Your team writes a great keynote for your CEO. And 20 people show up. The tension is palatable—and everyone is looking at you for answers.   Any veteran event planner has their own version of this story. A keynote speaker presenting to a nearly empty ballroom. A vendor who invested a lot of money to sit at a quiet booth all day. It’s a hard situation to remedy in the moment. Of course, you could make the best of it. But your best defense is a strong offense. Planning Pod offers some great ways to boost attendance, and we can help make sure you’re getting the right attendees.

The blue screen of death

Otherwise known as the Spinning Pinwheel of Death. If you’re an event producer, you know it. You fear it. And when you see it, you stop breathing for a moment before your brain kickstarts you into disaster mode. But how can you keep everything from falling apart? Be ready. Before you even show up at the event space, learn what causes this issue, and know how to troubleshoot, whether you run off a PC or a Mac. Have this information memorized, but also printed for when your mind (inevitably) blanks. In the moment, you’ll need to appear controlled, even if that’s not true. Make a swift announcement that everything will be online again shortly, then use that bought time to swap out your computer with a backup—which you’ve conveniently loaded with all the decks and videos.

Power outages

It’s hard to imagine a more inopportune event to lose power than the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show. But last January, this annual gathering (of over 180,000 attendees!) experienced a 2-hour blackout. (Just the thought is enough to send us into an anxiety spiral.) It could have been a total disaster, instead of just a massive inconvenience, but people got creative. SmartMeetings lists creativity as one of several ways to mitigate a blackout. So, electricity or not, the show can go on.

Entertainment disasters

Event entertainment is a wild card. You can prepare with calls, walkthroughs, and materials review, but in the end, you’re dealing with people. And people are unpredictable. They may get sick, delayed, or otherwise indisposed and miss the event. They may get on stage with the approved presentation deck—plus one extra (ahem) risqué video that you didn’t see. And what can you do then? Shut down the whole operation midway through? Your best chance to avoid an entertainment disaster is to prepare. Keep in close contact with your presenters—don’t book them three months before the event and say: “See you there!” Micromanage the setup, do run throughs, and have a contingency plan. Even high-profile events like the Super Bowl have a tested contingency plan—so you should, too. As for handling the surprise risqué video, the verdict is still out on that one.

That surly guest

Dealing with a disruptive attendee is awkward, sometimes so awkward that many people avoid it until the guest is out of control. Don’t do that. That’s our #1 piece of advice here. An agitated person can go from irritated to irate wildfire fast. Nip the situation in the bud as soon as possible—and make sure the right people are doing it. (i.e. Your team lead and venue management.) Be versed in problem solving and dealing with bad behavior. With the right touch, you could avoid a much bigger issue.


Disasters happen. How they affect your event is up to you. With the right planning and rapid response, you can usually get everything back on track. And for those times when a freak snowstorm strands your whole team in Pensacola, well, you’ll have your own great event horror story to tell.

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