The Events Planner
In this issue of e-spresso, we want to cover some of the basics of planning professional events. Much of the material below focuses on planning larger events, such as fundraising galas, conferences, seminars, and other special events, and it might all sound fairly grandiose to you, and it is. The reality is that these type of events do involve a lot of planning if you’re going to do it right—they require a lot of work, organization, a lot of prayer and hearing from the Lord, and often months of preparation. And the same basic principles apply when planning events, whether they’re huge and gala-like, or small and simpler.
Although this issue focuses on those larger events and might not seem so relevant to you in your personal situation today, it could be applicable in the future, and a scaled down version could easily be applicable today. This is basic information that, if understood and applied today, could help you to begin effectively organizing meetings and events for anywhere between 12 to 20 people. And pretty soon, with practice, who knows?—You could be planning events for 1,200 people with the same kind of confidence and success.
Staging an event is like staging a live play
Coordinating a special event is like staging a live play; there are no retakes. That’s why your initial decisions about the event are critical. Successful event planning is the culmination of many small steps and details, details, and more details.
1. The first steps in planning your event are establishing its purpose and budget. These critical parameters dictate the event’s overall direction and look. Based on the budget you have to work with, try to anticipate every possible expense associated with staging the event. Break this list into two categories: essential items and extras—those enhancements that can add to the festivities, but that can be cut without damaging the event’s overall success.
If the costs exceed your budget, now is the time to rethink the event or develop an alternative plan. If your costs are below the budget, you can give yourself the green light to proceed. You should always figure a buffer of finances to cover unexpected expenses. (Editor: Of course, there is the God factor, too. Sometimes even if you don’t have all of your budget, if something is the Lord’s will, and He’s confirmed it, and those involved have the faith, He’ll make it happen, He’ll do miracles, He’ll open the doors. Sometimes you do have to put yourself out on a limb a bit, and expect miracles—through provisioning, donations, etc., and you won’t necessarily have every cent you need at the onset.)
After a calendar, an event sheet is your next most important tracking tool. Use it to log all your resources—the suppliers and their agreed-upon assignments. This sheet should show what each supplier is contracted to deliver, the related costs and any other details. Only one person should manage this sheet, but that person is responsible for tracking the suppliers, keeping them on schedule, settling problems and arranging payment. Vendors and hotels prefer this arrangement since their contact people want to deal with a single contact person on your end.
You can also use this event sheet to manage your cash flow.
Typical Events Costs
Typically, event budgets contain allocations for site fees, rentals, catering and food services, audio-visual needs, entertainment, promotion, advertising and publicity, design and printing, and decorations. Other costs to consider might include transportation, accommodations, staffing, security, etc. Carefully research each category and obtain precise estimates whenever possible. Always anticipate unexpected costs.
2. The event’s purpose is a very important feature. Events can be broken down into broad categories, including those held by charities, fundraisers, incentives, celebrations, marketing draws, or special events.
Some type of events we’re more accustomed to hosting. The following explanation, however, should expand your thinking on some new ideas for possible venues, fundraisers, conferences, promotional activities, and good-will events.
Different types of events
Fund-raisers can include auctions, tasting events, bake sales or cook-offs, bazaars or fairs, athletic events, pageants or fashion shows, screenings or film festivals, live entertainment, and luncheons or banquets. In addition to your involvement with the fundraiser, consider other avenues you can use to generate awareness with the public and the media, such as press releases, and postings on your Web site.
A promotion is any marketing activity or strategy that builds awareness, incites demand, or produces goodwill. Promotional activities include community service, sponsorships, and contests. Promote your business by teaming up with a media outlet, such as a radio station, or becoming involved with a sporting event. Or approach a complementary product or media outlet about working together on a cross promotion. For example, if you sell paint, you could hold a paint demonstration in a building supply store. The store will enjoy increased floor traffic and you will be in direct contact with your target audience.
Events tailored to boost selling include, sales, trade shows, coupon giveaways, direct mail, radio and Web site promotions, and sampling and demonstrations. Vehicles to create product or brand awareness include grand openings, fund-raising initiatives, black-tie affairs and galas, product-launch parties, banquets, open houses, receptions and press conferences. Your company also might host meetings, retreats and seminars to increase productivity.
Bigger deal events, such as conferences, can be broken down into three kinds of smaller events:
1. Business – Meetings, general sessions.
2. Educational – Seminars, workshops, clinics*, panel discussions.
3. Social – Receptions, cocktail hours, themed parties, banquets, dinners, galas.
(*Clinic: A class or group convening for instruction or remedial work or for the diagnosis and treatment of specific problems: a reading clinic; a speech clinic; a summer baseball clinic for promising young players.)
Once you define the project’s purpose and budget, begin planning either with staff members, a committee or a dedicated team, depending on your organizational resources. Assemble your team, and assign tasks to each person or committee, clarifying their responsibilities, timetables, and deadlines.
Also, be realistic and acknowledge if you need the help of a professional (for instance, a public relations pro or an event producer) who can provide any expertise your group might lack. Make sure you have enough time to plan the event properly and to secure the right location and suppliers. Since you must consider many details, try to visualize the entire event step by step from the guests’ perspective. Ask every question you can: What will guests see when they enter the event? What time of year will it be? What day is the event being held? How will that date affect dress, food, and transportation? Answers to these questions will help make the planning more precise.
People and Schedules
Timing is everything, so incorporate the calendar directly into your planning from the beginning. Use the actual date of the event and work backward to determine how much time you need to get each key element ready. For instance, invitations, envelopes and more elaborate VIP invitations may need weeks to go through various design versions. They then must be printed, addressed, logged and mailed, so they give guests appropriate advance notice. Build in time for guests to respond and a mechanism for recording their responses.
Choosing the right day of the week is also important. Weekends are best for fundraisers, while mid-week is better for business events. Beware of scheduling your event so that it doesn’t conflict with sporting events, secular or religious holidays, school breaks, elections or other local celebrations. Take extra care to avoid a conflict because that can sabotage your event.
Just the Right Place
Location is more than an address. It includes guest access, parking, walking distances, and access to stairs and elevators. Select your location based on your audience’s needs and your event’s function. Older guests attending a conference, for instance, should be situated in a room that is readily accessible to elevators or escalators leading to parking or transportation.
Also, don’t be afraid to consider different venues, such as theaters or tents, but beware of their special requirements.
Visit potential locations when possible. Research potential venues through convention bureaus, chambers of commerce or visitors’ centers. Be original. An aquarium, library, or amusement park might be perfect for your event.
People need to get to and from events, so you need to consider transportation. Use this same level of detail to look into issues related to using buses or arranging adequate parking for your guests. Plan ahead as well as you can. What will happen to your guests if it rains? Where will guests put their raincoats?
Give Me Space
People need space to be comfortable and to socialize, so reconsider any addition that reduces your space. For instance, if you are using a rear-view projection screen, account for the space it needs (18 to 26 feet behind the screen). That can carve a big chunk out of a room.
When determining seating for meals, figure that less is more. If a table can be set for 10, seat eight people there so they have plenty of elbowroom. Leave space between the tables for easy access.
Will you be heard?
If you hire entertainers, speakers or musicians, determine what type of stage they require, how large it should be and what electric power supply the amplifiers and lights demand. Ask if the band members need a changing room. Check the sound levels in the room, especially in rooms with sliding doors. If you are hosting a lecture while a wedding is held in the room next door, guess who will not be heard. Find out about these problems beforehand. Conduct a sound check and a visual inspection of the primary room and its adjacent rooms. Ask the facility if other events are scheduled simultaneously.
Guests and Food
Once you identify your target audience, develop two guest lists: one for the prime attendees and a second for back-up invitees. Use the second list when someone from the first list cannot attend. The factors to consider when preparing the guest list for a business event include profession, age, business connection and whether you are inviting couples, singles or families with children. Mixing various groups also dictates other factors, such as the type of entertainment and how long the event will last.
Then there is the food, which can make or break an event and leave people raving about the event or just raving. One creative chef served ice cream in the shapes of various fruits. It was not an expensive dessert, but it drew a lot of attention. Caterers like to be creative, so if you want something special that is not on the menu, ask for it. In many cases, the caterer can provide it. But, nail down the price. Determine if you are providing meals for staff members, photographers or musicians and, if so, add them to the final meal count. The number of guests also determines the food guarantee—the minimum number of meals the kitchen will prepare for the event. You must monitor the RSVP list. If not enough guests show up, you still have to pay for the food guarantee and you’ll have food to take home. If too many people show up at the last minute, it could overwhelm the kitchen. Be sure the caterer is prepared.
Meals also serve several purposes beyond feeding everyone. For example, you can use them as opportunities for PowerPoint presentations, speakers, videos or panel discussions. You can promote your product or court new prospects.
After the event is over, relax. Take in the feedback. Your last task for each event is sending personalized thank-you notes or gifts to those who participated or contributed to the event. Establish the habit of obtaining business cards from key people and suppliers, so you can send personalized mementoes or notes in appreciation. Enter their cards into your database for future events. Finally, clean up the files you accumulated. Put everything into a single envelope and label it, so that you can build on the success of this event when you plan the next one.
How To Ensure You Get It Right
Jesus: It’s imperative that you ask Me everything when it comes to planning and hosting [events]. If you want your [event] to be a success, if you want it to be a blessing to those who attend, if you want it to be in the spirit and as enjoyable as it can be, without accidents or incidents … or security problems … then you will need to seek Me specifically about every detail.
Don’t just ask Me whether or not you should have [the event], but take it further. Ask Me when you should have the [event]. Ask Me who you should invite. Ask Me what ages should attend. Ask Me what food you should serve, if any. Ask Me what drinks you should serve, if any, and how much should be served. … Ask Me for any and all counsel that I may want to give you in order to make your [event] a success.
Those planning [events] need to be spirit-led, prayerful, and mature. Hosting [an event] … is a very big responsibility. If you’re the host, you’re responsible to make sure that I have given you My stamp of approval on the details.
If you let Me plan the [event] with you and be right there with you throughout the evening, your [event] will be so much better and cooler than it would otherwise be. I make everything better. I enhance everything!
(Editor: For more on successful party/event planning see “Training Winning Teams, Part 6,” ML #3568:151–165.)
Q: How much floor space does a person need to be comfortable in a tent/room? Answer: 20 square feet (1.8 square meters).
Q: How many bathrooms should be available for an event? Answer: One per 75 guests.
Q: How many bartenders does a large event need? Answer: One per 40 to 50 guests for optimal service.
Q: What is the acceptable amount of wine to serve at a dinner event? Answer: Two glasses of wine per person.