We all agree events are a big deal. We probably all agree that organising an event is no walk in the park. Learning to be an event manager takes time, practice and along the way, probably involves making a few event planning mistakes!
After 20+ years in the events industry I can safely say I have made mistakes, and perhaps in my early days, the odd ‘schoolboy’ error. The caveat being I do not make the same mistake twice.
My excuse: events are complex entities in which there is often the most extraordinary amount of detail to be understood, and many events present event managers with situations they simply haven’t come across before.
I have met both a lot of accidental and experienced event managers over the years, and the following seven things are the sorts of areas that even my most experienced event planning clients occasionally get wrong. Let’s call them an Oops’ not a mistake!
- Let’s have an event – urh why?
Having a great event idea is one thing, finding a receptive and enthusiastic audience in sufficient numbers is another altogether.
The other rather important factor is whether they have the cash and authority to pay for a ticket to your event. I’ll add to this: even if your event is free, do these people have the cash and authority to buy the product or service your company is selling?
The Oops – An idea by itself won’t help pay the bills, and yet many event planners – in both the public and corporate arena, still think it’s worth a punt. It is in effect totally unproven. If you went to the bank manager and asked for a loan to get your event off the ground, what are they going to say…? ‘Show me the proof that it’s going to work’ – then we’ll talk.
The vast majority of events do require the event team to do some pre-event market research. You are looking to identify a need, and ideally a trend: to seek opinions and examine previous event sales data.
The more you intend to invest in your event, the more research you need to do. Your intention must be to create a clear picture of your target audience: who they are, what they want, will they pay and if so how much: what timings suit them and how best to promote to them?
All this data will help you establish whether there is actually a viable market that is worth investing your time, effort and money in. In short – improving your chances of having a successful event. Clearly in the world of major events you would also be running a complete set of financial feasibility tests too.
- Getting a little carried away at the event design stage
Now that you believe you have a viable event, it’s time to start designing it.
The design stage is where you seek to create a visual image of your event: its look, feel, style and theme. You are considering what your audience is going to do, listen to, and take part in. You’ll also be considering what ‘take away memories’ you want your audiences to leave with.
The Oops – What I often see is the seemingly extreme reluctance that certain event planners have to break with the traditional timing norms.
They say – a conference has to be a day. No it doesn’t. Give me 4 fantastic hours any day. I am tired of attending events that only ‘almost’ deliver. And what I mean by this is where sessions are too long: lack focus – not actually aimed entirely at helping the audience and are more speaker self-promotion sessions.
Great event design is all about your ability to set aside your personal likes and think entirely like a guest – being able to stand in their shoes and create audience-centric programmes that ideally flow from one thing to another with occasional breaks for the audience to catch their breath (and meet one another).
Getting this event design stage right depends heavily on the first point I made: virtually all events need some form of pre-event market research to be undertaken, so you can really understand your attendees needs.
- We need to make a decision on that…today?
Every hour planning your event is an hour well spent – or at least it should be. I have sat in a lot of event planning meetings and have to remind myself every so often what event planning meetings are supposed to be. And that is – purposeful and productive occasions designed to solve problems, stimulate ideas and take decisions.
The Oops – Event planning meetings where the team doesn’t like taking decisions. The success of your event is entirely dependent on your team consistently making timely and smart decisions.
Too much chat, procrastination and not taking responsibility will damage your chances of delivering a successful event. Event planning meetings must have timed and decision-based agendas. Make decisions and you get to go home. Otherwise we stay!
The issue here is that event planners need to ensure they inject continuous urgency into the process – you need decisions and not more chat. I also suggest regularly taking stock ‘publicly’ (in a meeting) to find out what is actually booked, which tasks have been completed or signed off. You may be ‘unpleasantly’ surprised, because the other important part is that decisions then have to be actioned, or the whole meeting was a big waste of everyone’s time
- It’s not the perfect venue, but it will have to do
Your event venue is a fundamental part of the event experience. Choosing the right venue is an important task. It takes time and effort to get this part of the event right. The basic rule of thumb is: event first – venue second.
The Oops – Not spending enough time searching for the right venue. The result of this oops is having to settle for second best and the resultant compromises that come with a venue – that’s not quite right.
The problem lies in the fact that you now have to make your event fit the venue. It should of course be the other way round.
If the venue is not up to scratch on event day – guess who gets the blame – yes, you do. Finding, evaluating and contracting the right venue takes time. I know time is in short supply these days.
With shortening deadlines and the ‘if everyone works together we might be able to pull it off’ attitude prevailing, it’s little wonder event planners don’t get the venue they really want and end up paying through the nose for it as a consequence.
Do ask your mangers or clients about planned dates: are they actually just preferred dates or ‘must happen’ dates? Where possible, always buy yourself more time whenever you can, and then you are more likely to get the venue that you want.
- As long as they get plenty of coffee and food they’ll be happy…really!
The event programme is the main reason why audiences attend events. It is often the determining factor in establishing whether your event has been a success in their minds. A great event programme includes: what your guests are going to do, listen to, learn, and (yes) eat – and this takes time, effort and money to put together.
The Oops – Being a little too quick in accepting any offers of help that pop into the ‘inbox’.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to receive offers of help but you need to be the one deciding exactly what and who goes into the programme and not the other way round. Otherwise you may end up with a rather disappointing programme – that is neither exciting nor memorable and ultimately achieves very little.
In this case the audiences are then likely to turn their attention to the food on offer, and may comment. In my experience, if you get a lot of foodie comments – it’s more likely an indication that your event programme did not deliver, rather than the food is excellent. The food should never outshine the rest of the programme.
Another recurring event programming oops I come across regularly is that organisations’ simply do not decide what the ‘behaviour change’ is that they are seeking from their audiences. What is it you want your audiences to do, say and know as a result of attending your event?
Clearly to encourage ‘change’ you need to design the event programme to deliver it. I call it the money action.
- Our event really sounds great – they’re going to love it…don’t you think?
I’ve come across this one a few times…those who believe their event really is that good – it’ll sell itself. It’s also well known as the ‘Field of Dreams’ fallacy, where ‘If you build it, they will come,’ leading to organisers believing that our members, previous attendees, followers are going to be champing at the bit to sign up!
The Oops… Actually believing this to be the case. The truism in today’s crowded market is that even a great event – poorly promoted will fail. It is also true that your audience’s lives will go on quite happily whether they attend your event or not.
Promoting events requires belief (in the event), energy, creativity and persistence. It is said we receive 3000 marketing messages a day, so the occasional event email from you is not going deliver sign ups. Successful event promoters know they need to turn up every day…yes every day!
The other part of this promotional oops is often the absence of a proper event promotional plan detailing amongst other things – your objectives, audience profile, key messages, promotional media to be used and sequence of activities.
Also missing in these plans is the absence of a system for measuring which campaign is actually delivering people. Many event planners know what promotional campaign they are running, but don’t know which ones deliver results. You really do need to know this information so you can, for example, cancel part 2 of an advertising campaign that yielded no sign ups and reallocate the budget to campaigns that are working.
- That’s a big truck. I was expecting something a little smaller
Event day is looming and you are now in the event production stage. This stage can be a stressful time as you begin to feel the pressure and the mounting expectation to deliver a great event. Producing an event is like directing a play: it is built scene by scene, and requires you to really know the detail.
The Oops – Knowing the detail, but not really understanding the detail. Yes it was always going to be a big truck and yes it needs clear access to the unloading ramps. If not we have a problem.
The fine detail really does matter. You are NOT building the stage or running the catering operation but you do need to know ‘the how’ of these activities. By this I mean for example: are there specific access requirements a contractor may have at, or inside, a venue: during set up, run and breakdown and importantly who is going to be your on-site contact point? There must be no surprises at any point in the process. None!
A side ‘Oops,’ and this is the classic: “They’re professionals – of course they’ll know what they are doing.” I mean you spoke to them just last week. Wrong. Never assume anything. Double check everything. You will be absolutely amazed how many emails don’t arrive or mysteriously get lost in the ether. Yes, email everyone of course, but also call them and post hard copy instructions too – cover all bases. Even then contractors and delegates can still get it wrong. At least you will know it’s their mistake and not yours.
So there you have it, seven Oops’ you really must try and avoid when planning an event.
Hopefully new event planners can learn from my blog and experienced event planners won’t have been offended by this blog – after all you can sit back smugly and say they’re never going happen on my watch. But we all have to learn to be an event planner and mistakes come with the territory.
My tips are to always to seek to learn from the experience of others in the events field and from every event you organise and attend.
Chris Powell, The Event Expert specialises in helping accidental and occasional event planners develop the skills and confidence to design, programme, promote and deliver their own exceptional events. I deliver In-house event management courses and coaching programmes and books covering all types of public and business events.