If you’ve ever had to host an event or workshop for your company, you know that things don’t always go as planned. Events and workshops are prime settings for the unexpected – a speaker cancels at the last minute, the electricity goes out just as the opening presentation is about to start, or you inadvertently publish incorrect information on all your promotional materials.
The mark of a professional organization is not how well they put on a workshop or event, but how they respond when things don’t go as planned.
Recently, I attended two professional development workshops where I experienced firsthand how businesses deal with misinformation or miscommunications when promoting their events. One organization handled their mishap professionally, while the other seemed not to notice that anything was wrong.
Here’s a closer look at both scenarios, what they did wrong, what they did right, and what we can all learn from these experiences.
My alma mater Illinois State University recently hosted a professional development workshop for women on a weekday afternoon. The email announcement showed that the workshop time was noon to 1 p.m., but the registration page on the website showed that the full program was noon to 4 p.m. with the luncheon taking place from noon to 1 p.m.
Naturally, the mistake caused a lot of confusion and upset individuals who could not leave their jobs to attend a full four-hour session.
How the university responded:
The organizers were genuinely concerned about the mistake and quickly rectified the situation. They worked with the speakers to restructure the program so it fit into a two-hour window, from noon to 2 p.m. The school then sent an email to everyone apologizing for the mistake and offered a full refund to everyone who planned to attend, whether or not they were forced to cancel or not. That meant they ran the program, including lunch, for free. Since this was the first time the university had hosted a professional development workshop of this kind, they used it as a learning experience for themselves to plan future events.
What they did wrong:
By all outward appearances, it seems one person posted the details on the website (which was correct) and someone else created the email blast. They failed to proofread and cross check the details to make sure the information was consistent.
What they got right:
The university immediately acknowledged their mistake, accepted responsibility and apologized. They went further by offering a full refund ($25) for every person who registered for the event, whether or not they cancelled or attended. They essentially ran the program for free – including box lunch.
Takeaway: By acknowledging mistakes and quickly rectifying the situation, you demonstrate your professionalism more clearly and directly. Clients and customers are more likely to continue working with you because of the way you handled the mishap.
Raby Institute, a medical clinic, hosted a free evening workshop about women, wealth and wellness. According to the promotional material, two speakers would discuss money management and workplace success for women. The promotional copy focused primarily on the money management aspect, but when I arrived, only one of the presenters spoke about networking etiquette and how to make stronger impressions in the workplace, not at all what was advertised in their marketing materials. The woman who was to speak about money management never spoke at all, but acted as a greeter and introduced herself to everyone as they arrived.
In addition, at the end of the program, they encouraged everyone to complete a “feedback form.” Fine, except the feedback form had nothing to do with the program. Instead, it looked more like a new client intake form for a local financial institution where the financial expert worked.
How the business responded:
Neither the office staff nor the speakers seemed to notice or care that the program did not match the advertising. Not even the attendees seemed to notice or care. When I mentioned to a young woman sitting next to me that the program was not what was promoted, I was baffled by her response. “Yeah, that’s true, but it was still a really good program.”
Not sure if there was a miscommunication between the clinic staff and the speakers about the topic of the program, or if the program was changed without the office staff knowing about it. In any case, I walked away feeling cheated because I expected one type of program and got something else instead.
What they did wrong:
Clearly organizers were either misinformed about the program or the speakers changed the format without notifying the office staff. It might have been an honest mistake, or it might have been an intentional move to mislead attendees. To make matters worse, the so called “feedback form” had nothing to do with the program but instead was an intake form for a financial services company. It was dishonest and misleading.
What they got right:
The third element of the evening’s program centered on wellness, which made sense considering the workshop took place in a doctor’s office. On hand for the program was a nutritionist and chef who brought in samples of healthy appetizers and refreshments, which we all enjoyed. She was the hit of the night. And the price for the workshop was right too – free.
Takeaway: Make sure your advertising matches what the program is about. Make sure someone is confirming the details about the workshop before promoting it, even if it means having the presenters review your marketing copy.
When planning and promoting workshops, it’s easy to let the details get away from you. Be clear in all your communications, get the details straight and have someone proof all the information before sending it out. If mistakes occur, accept responsibility and offer a genuine, considerate response. Offering a refund or a discount on a future events can also help restore customers’ faith in your business. Remember that everything you say and do reflects directly on your reputation and professional integrity.