Event Planning: We Call It “Organized Chaos”

Lacy Cooper

You heard it from my colleague, Caroline Boyd, in her blog on “Tips for Killer Events” – event management is an insanely stressful job. As for me, I always imagined event planners having the best jobs filled with cake tastings, flowers, playlists, and décor. The “behind-the-scenes” of event planning – particularly in the Federal government space – is a stark contrast to the frilly and glamorous job depicted on the silver screen.

Don’t get me wrong. I love everything about events – the chaos, the excitement, the build-up, the post-event high. But it’s a tough job. You name it, we (as event planners) do it – from the basics to the extras to the before, after, and the in-between. We’re pulled in a thousand directions at once, and are expected to be great at it all. It’s a precarious balancing act. But the good news? It’s doable with the right tools.

So what are the mainstays for a successful event? I’ve managed government-focused events of all shapes and sizes – from small, intimate roundtable events to ones that boast 1,000+ attendees. Here are some of my top tips and tricks for staying cool, calm, and collected under pressure:

  • Stay Organized – If you’re going to provide a seamless experience for attendees, keeping yourself organized is a must. Tools like Excel or Basecamp work well to keep track of all the moving parts. For day-of execution, it’s helpful to carry a binder that includes everything you might need to reference – speaker list, registration list, any and all contracts, phone number list, staff guide, etc. Did you pick up on a theme here? Keep calm and make a list
  • Think Ahead – Anticipate the unexpected. Have a hoard of people who didn’t pre-register showing up on site? Great – keep extra chairs waiting in the back hall. Have an attendee that has a food allergy? Ask your catering manager to prepare food without nuts, as well as vegetarian meals. Need a VIP speaker route mapped out? Do a dry run a couple weeks in advance to get comfortable with it
  • Prepare Your Team – It takes a village, and day-of execution is crucial to keeping your stakeholders happy. Hold a staffing meeting a week in advance of the event to ensure each team member knows and feels very comfortable with their role. Make sure everyone is familiar with the building layout, room names/session locations, and of course – where the nearest restroom is (it’s the most-asked question by attendees). Conduct a walk-through with your team a couple hours before the event is slated to begin, and make sure they ask questions. Lots and lots of questions…
  • Your Vendors are Your BFFs – You will work with these people every day leading up to your event. They are pros and have great ideas and suggestions. Utilize their knowledge and expertise to create a great event because they have skin in the game, too
  • Tour Your Venue – Knowing your space inside and out will help you anticipate any issues. If it’s hard to find, make more signage. If it’s dark, figure out ways to brighten and liven up the space. No venue is perfect, but there’s a solution to every problem
  • Evaluate Your Work – Get your team together shortly after your event is over – ideally the next day – to break down your successes and determine what can be better next year, while everything is still fresh. Make a list of lessons learned and be sure to actually apply them to future events

These tips won’t prevent a speaker from cancelling last minute or ensure your caterer remembers to refill the coffee – events are unpredictable. The good news is that while your event will never go exactly as planned, you can ensure the chaos is organized. Working in lockstep with your team, client, and vendors; thinking ahead; and evaluating your work will ensure your event is a success. And, who says you can’t schedule a few cake tastings along the way?

One Comment
  1. Anonymous | - Reply
    Thanks for the shout out Lacy.

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