Manage the Unexpected: Event-Planning Strategies for Funeral Directors

When my mom died earlier this year, my family decided to place a few mementos in the casket with her. We mentioned this to the funeral director as we were discussing arrangements, and she immediately offered to gather the keepsakes in a box for us first. She explained that this would prevent the items from shifting and making noise when the casket was moved, which had happened to a family during a recent service.

I was impressed by the funeral director’s level of attention to detail. She’d remembered this unexpected situation from a previous service, and used this experience to make my family’s experience better. This is just one example of the type of thinking that overlaps with what I do as a corporate event planner.

In my job, I often find that I have to apply a pessimistic viewpoint in order to ensure that everything about an event goes smoothly. I examine all of the components of an event—venue, travel, weather, attendees and much more—and consider what might go wrong and how I can prevent it from happening or fix it if it does. Of course, even the most carefully planned events can bring unexpected situations that have to be addressed to ensure the event is successful.

As funeral services become more personalized for each individual, highly developed event-planning skills are valuable to help funeral directors anticipate and respond to undesired situations. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned through my experiences, which funeral directors can apply to their roles in ensuring grieving families have the best possible services:

Lesson 1: Have backups for unpredictable situations

In every event-planning scenario, there will be elements that you simply cannot control. The best way to manage those elements is to have a backup plan in case things do go wrong.

When I’m planning an outdoor event, for example, the most challenging variable is the weather. I have several weather apps on my phone to help keep track of the conditions we can expect, from wind to how precipitation might affect the condition of the venue grounds. I always have a backup venue in place in case we need to make alternate plans on short notice.

In addition, make sure you have your own backup for tasks that you are scheduled to complete during the event. In situations where you might be called away unexpectedly, having a qualified person ready to help out will ensure the event can continue uninterrupted.

Lesson 2: Focus on the positive aspects of an alternate plan

Some situations require you to consider multiple alternative plans and compromise to find the option that will be the most favorable to the majority of people. Then, do everything in your power to make the backup plan a positive outcome for everyone.

I’ve had to apply this strategy many times throughout my career. During one major conference that I planned, for example, our preferred event venue ended up getting double-booked and we had to scramble to find a different option. This alternate venue required us to transport guests to a different location for an evening banquet. Instead of dwelling on the logistical complications of this, we focused on the fact that it allowed attendees a change of pace by getting off-site. While this certainly wasn’t an ideal option for many reasons, everyone involved in coordinating the event made the most of the situation and maintained a positive attitude to help ensure the attendees had a good experience.

Lesson 3: Build relationships with trusted vendors

You already know just how important your trusted vendor relationships can be to your business. By choosing excellent business partners who can consistently provide the high level of service your families expect, you help enhance your own reputation and earn referrals.

When you build a history with vendors and focus on creating positive relationships, they’ll be much more likely to bend over backward to help when something goes wrong. I’ve found that to be the case even when the unexpected situation wasn’t a vendor’s fault. My preferred vendors will go out of their way to be proactive when they know I’m busy taking care of other things, and, as a result, they earn my trust for future events.

Lesson 4: Communicate effectively about changes

When things don’t go as planned, honesty is the best policy. You need to ensure that the people who will be impacted understand what has happened and, most importantly, what you are doing to fix the problem.

The immediate aftermath of an unexpected situation is not the time to assign blame and dwell on all of the details of what went wrong. Focus on the actions that need to be taken to correct the problem and communicate these to the family and anyone else who will be affected.

Later, you can take time to evaluate exactly what happened and how the situation could be prevented in the future. Be sure to follow up with those who were impacted by changes if you told them you would look into what happened and try to make things right for them.

Lesson 5: Keep calm about the situation

Stress is one of the biggest issues for even the most experienced event planners. I think that part of this is due to the nature of people who are drawn to careers that involve event planning. Many of us are detail-oriented perfectionists and tend to be very hard on ourselves when things don’t go as planned—even if it’s beyond our control. The most effective course of action is to keep things in perspective and remain calm so you can find a solution under the constraints of the situation.

This extends to how you help people who are upset by unexpected changes during an event. For many people (especially in emotionally charged situations), the best thing you can do to help is just to listen and be responsive to their concerns. You can be empathetic without taking criticism personally – in most cases, people are simply upset about the situation, not at you.

Funeral professionals understand just how important it is to effectively manage unexpected situations as they occur. When helping families navigate through some of the most difficult times in their lives, these event-planning strategies can ensure that professionals are prepared to handle these scenarios with positive outcomes.

What insights have you gained through your experiences that have helped you better serve families when things don’t go as planned? Please share your tips and stories below.

Subscribe to the Homesteaders BlogGet the latest funeral service tips and insights delivered to your inbox.