There is no such thing as a risk-free event. “As event planners, we must focus on managing risks and putting plans and processes in place for those we can consciously and reasonably identify,” says Linda Robson, associate professor for the School of Hospitality Management at Endicott College (Beverly, MA). “If we are thoughtful enough, the risk management plans we create can be applied to those risks, as well as the ones we didn't see coming.”

Robson has more than a decade of experience planning international academic conferences and has been instructing courses on the topic of risk management for the past seven years. She shares her process for avoiding or reducing the effects of potential risks in these settings.

  1. Identify your own risk perceptions. Ask yourself about the things that scare you most, and translate those fears in a way that's applicable to your event. “You must be very aware of how you look at the world,” Robson says. “I have an irrational fear of snakes, so I know outdoor events come with added distractions. Understand your personal risk perceptions and draw a line to determine a tolerable risk level for yourself and your client.”
  2. Brainstorm potential risks. Ask your client, staff, attendees and friends to generate a list of potential problems that could arise at your event. Next, complete a “mind-mapping” exercise in which specific elements of your event are linked to potential risks. “Remember, one risk may be associated with more than one element,” Robson says.
  3. Complete a probability and severity assessment. Use resources like police reports, FEMA documents and insurance companies to analyze the likelihood of a risk occurring and the potential severity of the consequences. Robson's students create a risk factor table in Excel that calculates an event's potential risks using factors like probability and severity. Event planners must rank probability and severity of risks on a 1 to 3 scale then multiply the two numbers to determine the “total risk factor, or which risks have the highest probability of occurring and which ones will cause the most damage if they do.”
  4. Create a strategy to avoid, retain, reduce or transfer risks. Risks can be avoided if a certain element is removed without affecting the overall execution of the event. Risks can be retained when there is no way of dealing with them until they occur. “Weather is a good example of this,” Robson says. Employing prevention strategies, such as taping down AV wires that could cause trips and falls, can also reduce risks. Finally, risks can be transferred to outside contractors or insurance companies, thus lifting the responsibility and transferring the risk to a third party.
  5. Evaluate your risk management procedure after every event. “Evaluation of your risk management plan is absolutely crucial to the learning process,” Robson says. Be sure to note the failures and successes in order to improve risk management at future events.

Source: Linda Robson, Associate Professor, School of Hospitality Management, Endicott College, Beverly, MA. Phone (978) 232-2059. E-mail: Website: