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The Four Keys to Successful Event Planning

Thomas Meadours
on June 25, 2020

The unfortunate truth for most planners is that the most stressful day of the year is that of their event. It doesn’t have to be that way. Every event story line builds upon a similar foundation that rarely changes. Whether your event is out of state or a mile down the road, the pieces that need to be puzzled together are just on a different table.

Production is one of the largest pieces of that puzzle.  The attendees you’ve flown in, the VIPs you’ve booked and the 5 star venue simply don’t matter if your production partner is lacking. The message or conversation you’ve worked so hard to curate will fall flat without the proper megaphone.

Anybody who has been in the events industry for a time has seen the same situation.  The day of the big event is a stress filled blur, fraught with last minute changes that force 3rd parties outside their comfort zone.  They need to accommodate an unfamiliar presenter, an unexpected request or, even worse, a miscommunication that results in a domino effect that hits every hand in the pot.  Six months of planning boils down to what happens in a two hour fundraiser. The level of success dictates what is capable for your organization for the next 12 months. Six months of planning boils down to 1000+ attendees leaving your event with expectations met or better yet exceeded.

The stakes are relative to each unique situation but are always high.  An event is based on the premise of capturing attendees’ attention and conveying a message. Having the proper production gear in the room is not enough, the people behind the gear make the difference. Bridging the gap between the planning phase and execution while coordinating with multiple 3rd parties is difficult but there are ways to make it easier.

The first step is recognizing and accepting the stakes. 

If reputations, jobs, and livelihoods depend on successful event planning, I’d say the stakes are high.  Success for an event is not a singular concept, it is measured differently by each vendor, presenter, client, venue, and attendee. From an AV standpoint, there are some obvious criteria: how was audio? Was the content run professionally? Did the transitions flow or was it stop and go?

You should expect more from the basic criteria in the room though. It’s not just about the two hour event, it’s also about the months of planning and hours of pre-production where the AV company acts as an extension of your team. No matter how compressed or extended the planning timeline may be, there is a unifying arc that you can, and should, plan on. Recognizing the stakes is the first step in setting expectations internally and with third parties.

The next step to successful event planning is setting expectations.

We all know that presentations will change, the program will be modified, and external factors will influence internal decisions. Plan on these inevitabilities, limit them with deadlines, and build a roadmap where everyone knows the timeline. Planning is an ambiguous word that means different things to different people. The basic understanding is that arrangements will be made in advance for a desired outcome. The final outcome may likely not be what we had planned for, but the simple act of having a systematic approach to a goal helps ensure our success.

Set expectations early so that 3 months into planning, your AV partner, the venue, and client are all in sync. In the absence of a proactive planner, each party will follow their own timeline which can lead to a build up of potential problems with no solution come event day.

The third step is managing the macro agendas.

By following the previous two steps, you’ve already set the expectations for this and communicated it to vendors on the front end. To give an example of a macro level agenda: at avad3 we submit a rough overview of our ideal project schedule. This includes a timeline for future meetings, site visits, client calls, all party calls, and revision due dates.  We know that the floor plan will change a dozen or more times throughout the planning process. We also know that power, rigging, and other factors, not only provide limitations to what that layout can be, but also directly affect other involved parties. Having a proactive, planned approach, to address each party’s needs is the first step in guiding everyone to success. This allows your AV partner and other vendors to be aware of changes and how they may affect their approach. that affects their approach. This process can be a bit like pulling teeth depending on the vendors, venue, and client, but it is worth the effort.

Regardless of how any of the groups perform or participate throughout the macro process, you should leave each with the impression you were really great to work with. The simplest way to achieve accountability is through transparency. At avad3 we share a master doc that enables each party to see the complete timeline. They can contribute edits, comment or answer concerns, and address issues in the months/days leading up to the event.  Every vendor, venue contact, and relevant party has their work contact info listed so there is no excuse for poor communication. It’s easy for people to let things slide and think they can just “figure it out” onsite but facing judgement from their peers in full daylight of all parties, you’ll likely see different results.

The fourth step is managing the micro agendas

The micro level planning is where the real collaboration and big key decisions get made.  These meetings that you’ve set expectations for and that each party has a vested interest to attend, will net positive results.  Providing a clear outline of what the agenda is for each meeting creates a different dynamic. One that pushes your AV partner, venue, or other vendors to come up with recommendations or make decisions that specifically move the project forward. It nudges entities to participate if for no other reason than their own self interests.

An agenda also creates tangible stakes for your vendors and allows them to play out negative outcomes if they choose not to participate. For instance, there could be program changes that affect production, seating layout, catering, decor, etc. The possibilities are endless. If all the characters know that the X,Y, and Z dominoes are being decided in a particular meeting then they’ll be more incentivized to take part and have their say.  This increases the efficiency for everyone and results in less wasted time. When each party knows what is at stake by not participating, they bring their insight and expertise into play, addressing the items and answering questions. One meeting that nets results is worth more than 10 meetings where nothing gets decided.

Conclusion

The difficulty in getting your AV partner and other vendors to coordinate on a timeline that sets you up for success and limits stress is possible by following these simple steps. The hours of setup where each party comes together after months of planning to execute a unified vision makes all the preceding processes worth the effort. You need to recognize all the hard work and preparation from each vendor.  Set the expectations from the very beginning. Agendas at the macro and micro level set tangible, achievable goals that limit waste.

When it comes to the day of your event, all the check boxes on your project have been ticked and accounted for.  As you slowly fill up the event space with the physical set pieces, you are giving reality to a concept that has been stamped with approval by all parties. The day of the event may bring dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people into into this space you have put together. Success is achievable if you’ve done the work. When expectations are set and your vendors are aligned, rest assured they are aligned because you led the way.