Your event is more than six months away... plenty of time to do everything without freaking out about deadlines or unexpected challenges. Things seem under control, right?
Well, take a look at your planning schedule and think again. Do you remember what happened last time? You had months before the event, yet somehow you still failed to print the event booklets on time. Plus, you had difficulty finding a good venue. You still don’t know how this happened? Well, here's the uncomfortable truth you didn't realize: no matter how skillful or resourceful you are, you'll always run the risk of sabotaging the planning of your events. And the reason has nothing to do with your professional abilities.
According to the famous psychologist Daniel Kahneman, most of the planners manifest a pervasive optimistic bias, viewing their goals "more achievable than they are likely to be". Coined in 1979 by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, the term planning fallacy reflects people's incapacity to correctly assess their projected workload. Each time you start planning a new event, you tend to manifest an optimistic mindset that encourages a dangerous level of self-confidence.
This overconfidence can lead to catastrophic effects, which can ruin your future event. Here’s why:
Reason #1. You underestimate the time and effort your tasks require
How many times did you think that editing the attendees' spreadsheet would take only a few hours? And how many times did you believe that choosing a catering service was a piece of cake (no pun intended)?
As mentioned in the research study An Economic Model of the Planning Fallacy, "People tend to underestimate the work involved in completing tasks and consequently finish tasks later than expected or do an inordinate amount of work right before projects are due." Moreover, you’ll forget about your previous experiences when you had to dedicate proper time and effort to different logistic challenges.
As researchers Michael M. Roy and Nicholas Christenfeld note, whenever they plan the work for a new project, people tend to consider only the positive outcomes, forgetting (and therefore neglecting) the past difficulties.
So let’s be honest: is your event planning framework reliable enough? Or should you change some deadlines to assure enough time for certain tasks?
EventProf Tip: From time to time, we all make unrealistic estimations about the time and effort some tasks will take. Yet, this mindset can be detrimental when it comes to event planning. As organizers, we always run by the clock, so we have to be as accurate as possible about our estimations.
The next time you’re setting up your to-do list for an event, secure some time for uncompleted tasks. Be aware of your tendency to underestimate how much time these tasks may take, so instead of being too optimistic about the time framework, set less-enthusiastic deadlines. Also, ask your team to evaluate the plan and give you feedback.
Reason #2. You don’t take task complexity into account
Say for the next event, you want to organize a brief networking session, where guests could have one-on-one meetings. Easy! You take the attendees’ list, email them to ask their networking preferences, distribute them into categories, and schedule the meetings for each one individually.
It shouldn’t take more than a day. You sit in front of the computer, access the participants’ list, and … after a few hours, you realize that this task will take you days, yet you can’t stop what you’ve already started. There’s nothing else you can really do other than work late nights and neglect other logistic issues that need your immediate attention.
EventProf Tip: Carefully evaluate each task you need to accomplish (especially if it’s something new). Write down all the steps you’ll have to take to accomplish the task. Visualize the process and assess its difficulty level. If you need or decide to add more tasks, ask yourself if you’ll be able to manage it. Be brutally honest with yourself and don’t take on more than you can handle. Otherwise, you run the risk to ignore other important logistic aspects and waste time on unnecessary, yet complex tasks.
Reason #3. You tend to neglect the progress obstacles
You were positive that you’d confirm all the keynote speakers by Friday, and you were certain that the following week you’d receive the printed version of the event program. Yet, after a few calls and emails, you started to realize that you’d be lucky to have the booklets one day before the event. Moreover, you found out that during your event, the air traffic controllers were organizing a strike, meaning some of your speakers or guests might not be able to travel. As Daniel Kahneman highlights, people “have an illusion of control. They seriously underestimate the obstacles.” This feature makes you terrible at foreseeing the possible problems that can delay your work or sabotage your success.
EventProf Tip: You can’t predict all the bad things that can go wrong when planning an event. Yet, be prepared to react quickly and find alternative solutions in case something unexpected does occur. Train your ability to anticipate the most probable obstacles and know that there’s always a possibility for things to go wrong.
Planning fallacy is not a big threat if you are aware of it. When planning your next event, take into account the possible delays, wrong time and task complexity estimations, and obstacles you may encounter. Having this in mind, set up a realistic event-planning schedule and allow yourself more time to do the work.