Monday, June 06, 2011

The Amateur's Guide to Event Management

This is the first of many blogs that will cover my take on event management for amateurs--specifically, managing events if you are an individual or part of an organization that cannot afford a professional event planner, and are unlikely to be able to afford one in the future. So this is not the work of a professional. I can, however, lay some claim to being "experienced."

My professional career includes 12 years at the Walt Disney World Resort, during which, I hasten to add, I was never an event coordinator. However, Disney did teach me a few things about working with large numbers of people, some of them occasionally angry, while keeping a smile on my face. I've also had to lead or organize hospitality rooms (~200 people), stage performances (11 performers), and a couple of meetings, one small (~30), one large (850+). My customers/clients have been the National Space Society and And along the way, I probably threw together some parties or small meetings which, in the long run, helped me and my various teams and partners put on good events.

This is will not be a definitive guide. I highly encourage you to consult with professionals when running your events if you have access to them. What I can offer here is the amateur's perspective, the view of someone used to working without resources or an existing business plan. Let's start with the basics:

So You're Crazy Enough to Want My Job...

What the heck do I mean by an event, anyway? An event is some social activity--party, meeting, series of meetings, performance--that requires more formal organization than spontaneous activities ("Hey, guys! Let's all meet at Blahblah's after work!"). There's a specific date or time required and there's a specific outcome expected. Your job, as an event manager, is not to achieve the outcome; your job, instead, is to set the stage so that other people can achieve the outcome. It's a thankless job, because if you do your job right, few people notice it and, instead, focus on the outcome.

Odds are, you became an event organizer by accident. It started small: you threw parties at your place, and nobody had a bad time. Your boss asked you to run meetings, and you completed your agenda on time. The members of the club you joined looked around and thought you had the right combination of smarts and stupid to voluntarily herd people during large, structured social occasions. You're likely perceived as very organized and able to communicate clearly. Good for you. You'll need both skills, in full measure, if you're going to make amateur event management a regular habit.

My goal here will be to address most of the specific things you need to do to get events done. And trust me: even when working with space-minded people, event planning is not rocket science. It's a lot of work, to be sure, but it doesn't require an advanced degree (though I have one, for the record). You do need a head for details, and the larger event, the more details you'll face. So as I write these blogs, I'll try to cover the following topics:
  1. The Whole Shebang: Who, What, Where
  2. Brainstorming and Event Proposals
  3. Site Selection
  4. Programming
  5. Food and Beverage
  6. Budget
  7. A/V and Other Electronic Thingies
  8. Exhibits
  9. Entertainment
  10. Recruiting Staff
  11. Setup
  12. Registration
  13. VIPs
  14. Operations
  15. Care and Feeding of Your Team
  16. Celebration and Recovery
  17. Follow-up and Closeout
That should be plenty of topics, for now. I look forward to writing these "lessons learned," as they will cover event management "from the ground up" (the theme of ISDC 2011). I will probably include inputs from friends as I go forward because NONE of the events I've worked on were the result of one person's efforts. What separates the event manager from the ones who support him (or her) is just that they're willing to take the responsibility for the whole shebang.

Bart Leahy
Huntsville, AL
June 2011

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