Here are some handy hints to make sure you get the best out of your event:
1. Be clear about your objectives
Before you even start thinking about content, the venue or even a date, you need to establish what it is you’re holding the event for. Is it to communicate a particular message, to announce a new initiative, to motivate staff, or purely as a social and fun occasion? In particular, ask yourself what would a sucessful event look like? The rest of the planning – style, content and delivery – should then refer back to these objectives.
2. Allow plenty of time
There will always be something that needs to take place yesterday, but if at all possible, allow as much time as possible to plan your event – many organisations spend a year or more planning their annual conference.
Set a timetable for planning your event with deadline dates and assigned actions. Anticipate any risks and make sure you have contingencies in place to allow additional time to get things done, or to bring in alternative speakers, support or equipment wherever necessary. In planning the timetable for your event, build in extra time to allow sessions to run over or to cope with any technical hitches on the day. Above all, plan ahead and don’t leave anything till the last minute.
4. Get help
You might think you can do it on your own but most people try to squeeze in organising a major event alongside their day-to-day job, which means that neither gets done as they should. Work with colleagues to create a planning group then assign responsibility for various elements of the project, for example for researching the venue and looking at catering options; for putting together the programme, researching speakers or other content providers; for organising any entertainment or extra curricular activities; and for looking at transport and accommodation. Better still, contact a professional events management organisation who can take the whole thing off your hands. Most are paid commission by venues, so shouldn’t charge a huge fee for the basic admin and arranging venues.
5. Know your budget
Make sure you know how much money is available for the various elements of your event – for transport and accommodation, for the venue and catering, and for any external activities or presentations – before you start. Otherwise you could be wasting your time researching all sorts of exciting possibilities, when the budget will only stretch to a half day session at a modest venue. Make sure you include a contingency and update the budget regularly.
Once you know the type of the event you’re planning, look for a venue that will compliment the nature of the event – don’t try to adapt the event to fit a particular venue, but make sure that the venue can accommodate all of your needs. Draw up a shortlist of possibilities, then – most importantly – visit them to look at the facilities and meet the events staff on site before you make a final decision. A friendly and efficient contact at your chosen venue can make all the difference. In addition to any formal tour offered by the venue, have a wander round on your own, check the public areas (particularly the toilets and dining areas) and ask to see bedrooms if your event involves overnight accommodation. Also check parking facilities and public transport access to your venue.
Feedback from events nearly always mentions the food – particularly when it’s bad. So make sure you know what your venue or caterer can and can’t do – if possible sample the food well before the event before you decide on the final menu. Make sure that your menu accommodates any potential special dietary requirements and that your caterers are flexible enough to deal with any unexpected requests, or changes to the timetable, on the day.
Identify what audio-visual equipment your event will require – for a small group it could be a simple as a data projector and screen. For larger groups you’ll need a full PA set with hand-held or lapel microphones; for larger events still, you may need specialised staging and sets with overhead rigs and lighting. Don’t assume that your chosen venue will have it all ready for you on the day; you may have to hire in additional equipment and help. Check with the venue that the room can accommodate your AV needs, and that should you need vehicular or overnight access to the room to set up, this won’t be a problem.
Once your date is fixed and your event is starting to come together, let everyone know what’s going on. Get the date in everyone’s diary as soon as possible to ensure high turnout and make sure you communicate positive messages about the event on a regular basis. Manage expectations – you don’t necessarily need to give full details of the programme (it may often be best to keep some items a surprise on the day) but make sure everyone knows what type of event it is, why they are being invited, and what is and isn’t expected of them. For example, will there be transport to the event?; is lunch or dinner provided for all?; will they need to bring anything with them?; what will (and will not) be expected of them on the day? This can also reassure those who might never have taken part in this sort of event before and may not know, or fear, what might be expected of them.
10. On the day
On the day, make sure you’re there early, with extra of pairs of hands to help. Your planning should ensure that everyone knows where they should be and who’s responsible for what, but you’ll always need a couple of people on hand to cope with unexpected changes to the programme or sudden requests. Finally, try to enjoy it. If all your planning has paid off, the event will be a success and you should take the credit!