Avoid the Event-Planning Headache

How to create a template for your business events

Back Web Only Nov 30, 2015 By Kelly Azevedo

It’s event season and whether you’re throwing a simple holiday party at the office or gearing up for your spring conference, there are some simple systems that can keep stress at bay.

Going into any live event, you’ll ideally have a clear picture of the basics: dates, location, attendees and purpose, as well as a team who can help you execute a memorable experience. If you’re in the process of gathering that team, be sure to find the following experts:

  • Graphic designer: You need someone who can create the look for the event and design everything you need from invites and badges to banners and Powerpoint slides.
  • Event planner:  While this is usually a position that handles everything, you’ll want to know who on the team is coordinating the hour-by-hour plan for your event.
  • Orders coordinator: If you’re selling tickets, or simply requesting RSVPs, understand who is tracking orders, refunds, upgrades and cancellations.
  • Speaker manager: Even open houses have speeches, so be sure you have a team member to coordinate who will be speaking, keep track of what your speakers require for audio-visual equipment and ensure that each speaker knows the schedule
  • Vendor coordinator: Are you working with a caterer? Questions will undoubtedly come up around choices, amounts required and timing — so be sure to have a point person to manage everything.

Each event has its own requirements, and a company picnic has much different time and attention requirements than a 500-person, 3-day event. But no matter how big the effort, creating systems for each aspect of your event will enable even smoother planning in the future.

Stop reinventing the wheel. As an intern working in administration at a large consulting firm in the Bay Area, I loved watching the competent office manager of our corporate location at work, especially for the annual holiday party. She clearly had a functioning system that started with a theme which informed location, catering, decorations, invitations and so on. Everything had a template and she would wield magic ensuring that everything happened on schedule.

Best of all, she was never overwhelmed by all the details for the event that came on top of managing a very busy office. As I observed this ritual, year after year, I recognized that she was following a template similar to what our engineers used when they began a design project. Instead of reinventing the wheel, each event began with the previous year’s template and made adaptations along the way.

Replicating the event elements you can will save your team time looking up caterers, venues, printers and a dozen more vendors. Reduce the number of choices you need to make.

Let’s look closely at the 2 biggest stressors: vendors and RSVPs. Working successfully with vendors for an event can come down to having a clear contract that spells out all the details from payment arrangements, order minimums and delivery choices. Even if you’re working with a vendor on a trade agreement, you should put into writing what they will provide and what access or promotion you give in return.

Be sure your contract also states when payments are due and in what amounts, the staff support you can expect for the event and if there’s additional cost for serving dishes or utensils. While each vendor might have a different policy, it’ll save you time and stress not to have those surprises later on.

It’s not uncommon to have non-responsive guests weeks or even days before the event. And, of course, delivering the final numbers to your vendors only works if you know how many people are attending. Be sure to choose the right medium for your invite. If at all possible, avoid the Facebook event route. Users get a lot of event notifications and it’s easy for yours to get missed.

If you have reliable mailing addresses, a physical invite like a postcard is appropriate and will stand out from the junk mail and bills. Using an online e-vite system works as long as the emails get delivered and not caught in spam folders.

Build enough time into your schedule to follow up with personal emails or phone calls to confirm attendance. This is a great task for an admin or seasonal intern to do with a simple script, but if time is growing short you may need to estimate the number of non-responders who will show up. This is where having notes from previous events will come in handy: You can review how many non-RSVP guests typically show up.

Once you have the big pieces covered, then you can spend some time on those small details that might otherwise slip past your attention.

Here are some other considerations to systematize for your next event:

  • Location
  • Was the location a hit?
  • Did it provide enough room for guests?
  • What amenities were missing?
  • Time and duration
  • Did your previous time of day work? If not, is earlier or later better?
  • Was the event too short, too long or just right?
  • What considerations would impact the duration (such as attendees)?
  • Entertainment
  • Would you re-hire the same band, DJ or entertainment?
  • What speakers, breakout sessions or fun activities would you like to include next time?
  • Follow up
  • Did you get good feedback after the event?
  • Were there complaints that should be addressed for the next event, or suggestions of new elements to include?

Keeping track of your event success and building systems doesn’t have to be difficult or even high-tech. A party and event binder can keep your ideas and reminders in one place and is easily handed down over the years.