If you’ve ever organised an event, you know that not everything runs to plan and you have to face various challenges. When I was organising my first event, I was told about The funny Duck Face Rule. This rule states that on the outside you should look calm and peaceful. But in fact you are energetically paddling with your feet underwater to keep yourself afloat. However, no one should find out about that. To this day, I still believe this is the most valuable rule.
Organising an event is not a simple task. But I can identify 10 key points that you should keep in mind for everything to go well.
1. Define the purpose and format
It seems pretty obvious but it’s worth having a critical approach to this issue. Formulate your goal as specifically as possible: do you want to convey knowledge to participants; express gratitude to partners; raise funds for a project or offer guests aesthetic pleasure? The format of the event will depend on the answer: its concept, timing and duration, role distribution within the team, the layout of the hall, catering and sound.
Try not to get stuck in traditional formats. Take a look at “unconference”, PechaKucha, TED format, thematic brunches, online events, open-air events. What counts is that your format helps to achieve the goal of the event.
2. Pay sufficient attention to planning
The plan should include logistics, content and the promotion of the event. Create a document available to the entire team where each member would be able to see the tasks of the others and the big picture. First, prepare a list of the main tasks, and then flesh them out in as much detail as possible in the form of specific steps that must be completed. It is important to designate the timeframe in the plan: the time required for completing a task. It is often underestimated and preparation goes slower than you expected.
You can use Google templates, programmes such as Asana, Trello, Podio, GanttPro, Teamweek for planning. Even simple Excel won’t let you down.
3. Draft your budget taking into account unforeseeable situations
Look at the list of tasks and reflect them in your budget. It is also worth thinking about a reserve in case of unforeseeable situations. For example, there was an incident in my work when it rained on the day of an open-air event. We had to immediately change the location and transport all the equipment and furniture. It is better to think about such things in advance and be prepared for them financially.
As an option, you can use this budget template, adapt it or create your own.
4. The devil is in the detail
If you want to pleasantly surprise your guests, think about everything down to the smallest detail: how they register, who will greet participants and how, what music will be playing, do you have an interesting photo corner, how do your presentations look and how is your team dressed, what to do during breaks.
For example, during registration, participants could be offered the chance to attend a brief master class, play games or watch an information video.
Try to surprise people and create the wow effect, exceed their expectations in the most ordinary things. This is exactly what creates the feel of an event.
5. Check the location and have a plan B
Always check the location in person as early as the selection stage. At the most unexpected moment it could turn out the air conditioning doesn’t work properly in the hall, there are no toilets for the disabled or the equipment won’t get through the door. Therefore, check such issues in advance.
Once I held a conference for 50 people and an hour into the event, the owner of the space asked to vacate the place without giving any explanation. Eventually, we spent an hour-long training session with the participants in a nearby park, until we found a new space. You may think that such a situation won’t happen to you, but it’s always best to have a plan B.
6. Allocate responsibilities
It is very important to distribute tasks among the team members not only at the preparation stage but also during the event. Allocate responsibilities by zone. For example, someone is responsible for the registration zone, someone else for greeting the speakers, a different person for the equipment, for catering, communication with the press, etc. Every person needs to have his or her zone, which he or she should be responsible for throughout the entire duration of the event.
Give each member of the team a document with the assigned responsibilities, so that every person knows who to contact for any specific issue.
7. Tell your audience about the event
Do not underestimate the time required for the successful promotion of an event. The type of event, its target audience, internal resources and the budget all determine your marketing approach. When choosing your media partners, focus on those who target your audience. It’s better to have a few partners but targeted ones, rather than talk about the event to just about everyone.
It is also important to create one key message that will be broadcast on all channels. Make sure it is brief and that it accurately conveys the idea of the event to your audience.
8. Pay attention to service
Make sure that your team follows The Duck Face Rule. Be friendly to participants, speakers and partners. Try to address their problems or questions and meet their expectations, even if you feel tired and not everything runs to plan. At the end of the day, what people remember is how they were treated and the atmosphere not what the speaker was saying on the stage.
9. Carry out a final check 24 hours before the event
Make sure that you’ve informed the participants of how to get to the location, invited all the important guests, and prepared the printed materials, audio and video content. Check whether everyone understands his or her tasks and responsibilities and whether the space is ready. For this purpose you can draft a checklist, like this one.
A similar checklist can be drafted for the checking preparation on the day of the event: whether everything is in place, working, being done on time.
Be sure to print out the event programme, let each member of the team and volunteers have a copy. In addition, give everyone the main contact phone number for communication with one another in the event of an emergency.
10. Ask for feedback
You’re probably going to be tired and happy after the event, but it will be difficult for you to give an objective assessment of how it all went. That is why ask participants to complete a printed evaluation form at the end of the event or an online form when they get home. Ask them to assess various aspects of the event: logistics, speakers, locations, and the work of the organisers. This information will help you to avoid mistakes in the future and improve the quality of your events. If possible, get feedback through social networks or record video reviews at the end of an event. This will come in handy if your event is held again.
Whatever event you organise, be optimistic and don’t be afraid of surprises and your event will be a success!
Irina Prokofieva, Operations Manager of the EU-EaP Culture and Creativity Programme, certified project manager (IPMA, level C), cofounder of the Start2Go project. Worked at the international and national levels of the AIESEC international organisation. Has experience of organising events of various formats, ranging from one-day training sessions to international conferences and festivals.