Throughout my career, I have attended and helped plan hundreds of events from small get-togethers for top clients to conferences for 8,000-plus attendees. I have seen events that were extremely successful and a handful that were total disasters, so here are a few essential tips for making sure an event runs smoothly and successfully.
Get clear on the “why”
Why are you holding this event? Why, specifically, should people attend your event? What will the outcome for them be? I have seen lots of people hold fundraising events that did not raise any funds and learning events where no one learned anything — be very thoughtful and focused on why your event should exist.
Set a clear budget
Create a detailed, specific budget that covers every aspect of the event. Also, be firm and be careful, as “scope creep” is a notorious aspect of every event!
Find the right space first
An event can be totally ruined because a venue was not compatible with the needs of attendees, so take your time to find the best possible venue, and then pick your date according to when you can get that venue. Some questions to think about: catering, number of rooms needed, room size, seating and room layout, hotel rooms for attendees, spouse activities, distance to restaurants, shopping and activities, ease of travel and, of course, budget.
Set the date as far in advance as possible
People are VERY busy today and often have their schedule booked out for months. If you want to get lots of people and the right people at your event, try to give them at least six months advanced warning to “save the date.”
Plan, plan, plan…and plan.
Plan your event in GREAT detail. Visit the venue, talk to the staff, measure the rooms, try the food — create a very, very clear and specific schedule for the months leading up to the event as well as a highly detailed schedule for the actual event. Involve your staff and or volunteers, the venue, your vendors and sponsors in the planning. Try to think of every single thing that might go wrong. Write it ALL down, share it with everyone; over-communicate your plans, schedules and expectations.
Market early and often
Now that you know WHY you are holding the event, where it will be, when it will happen and how much you can spend on marketing…it is time to get the word out. Marketing an event is all about selling the KEY benefits of attending to your target audience. You have to give them several very clear, highly compelling reasons to invest the time and money to show up at your event — remember that “compelling” is judged by them, not by what you think is cool.
Plan for a stress-free “day of”
Get as much done in advance as possible. Stuff goodie bags, put together materials, create welcome packs, print name badges, set up the rooms — all as early as you possibly can. There is nothing worse than running around like crazy trying to get things done as the attendees start to arrive. Figure out what you can do a day, week or month in advance, and do it then.
Do a de-brief immediately
As soon as the event is over, do a de-brief with the entire staff while everything is fresh in your mind. I know everyone will be tired, but it is critical for the success of your next event to figure out what went right and wrong and how to do it better next time. Also, send a survey to the attendees as soon as possible so they can give you quality feedback while the event is still fresh in their minds, too.
This list is by no means everything you need to do to run a smooth and successful event, but it is a template and if you follow these steps, you should have a much greater chance of producing a superb event.