Thursday, June 09, 2011

The Amateur's Guide to Event Management
Part I: The Whole Shebang: Who, What, Where

John Smith and Mary Jones
invite their friends and family to share their wedding vows
at the Lamb of God Lutheran Church
11716 County Line Road, Madison, Alabama

May 22, 2012

Formal reception, dinner, and dancing to follow at
Embassy Suites Downtown
800 Monroe Street, Huntsville, Alabama

When you receive a party invitation, you are looking at a very simple event summary, or plan. You have all the important information you need to attend the event: who's inviting you, who's attending, where the event is, when it is, and what sort of food and entertainment are involved. This who-what-where equation drives any event you are likely to host.

The who of an event drives nearly everything. Your audience has a specific set of interests in mind, and you, as the host, have the job of appealing to those interests. Mind you, the audience for a wedding is a little simpler--family or friends--and their interest might simply be to see you happy and to have a good time. But even something "simple" like a wedding takes time to plan (ask my sister, a serious planner, about how long her relatively low-key wedding took). Your event is about people and providing something that interests them.

Audiences can vary by size, age, associations, and any other way you can think. If you're going to bring them together, they must have common interests, right? So you've got to get them in the room (church, hall, etc.). People require persuasion, engagement, patience. Events are about people and appealing to their interests. That means having a little insight into what motivates people.

The what of an event is the event itself--a wedding, a speech, a ceremony, a convention, a performance. You might be the main attraction (the bride or groom) or you might be the host or hostess while someone else is the center of attention. In any case, the odds are good that the center of your event is sufficiently different, interesting, or important that formal planning is required to get people into the room to appreciate it properly.

Event programming can be simple or complex: a single speaker or performer showing up for an hour or two or several days' worth of activities. Consider all the moving parts involved in a typical American wedding: bachelorette party, bachelor party, rehearsal dinner, wedding rehearsal, wedding, reception, honeymoon. Or a convention: keynote speaker, track speakers, meals, receptions, exhibits, entertainment. The details include funding, scheduling, booking rooms and meals, and a bunch of other things that can jump up to surprise you.

The where of an event is driven by the who and what: how many people are coming? What are they doing? If you're hearing a singer, you need a concert hall (or maybe just a room big enough for the performers and a few friends); if you're hosting a wedding, you need a church or a park or a hall of some sort; if you're hosting a convention, you need a hotel and function spaces for anything ranging from formal speeches to meetings to meals to exhibits.

Locations have their own special challenges: do they have the space to accommodate all the people you plan to invite? What sort of audio-visual equipment do they have? Is their food any good? How late can events run? What do they cost? When do they want the money? How big is their staff? Do they have any house rules that will affect how you run your event? These are important questions, and they become more so the more money you or your group are spending.

If you're going to host an event, you need to have an idea in your head of who's coming, what you plan for them to do, and how big a space you'll need them to do it in. These three factors will drive most of your event activities. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

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