Very few things can be done perfectly the first time through… least of all events.
Anytime you need to manage a large group of people, there is a lot at stake. While deciding to host an event or conference can be exhilarating, more often than not, it’s terrifying. If your event goes well, your audience will sing your praises, but if something goes wrong they won’t be shy about telling you what mistakes were made either.
While it’s impossible to have an event run with no complications or hiccups, there are classic mistakes every planner must try to avoid.
#1. Biting Off More than You Can Chew
When it’s your first time running an event or conference, it’s easy to have expectations that it will run at the level it would the second or third time around, right off the bat. Unfortunately, this leads many organizers to over plan and under deliver — making it by far the biggest mistake we see with first-timers.
The reality is, if you’ve never managed an event, it’s hard to know exactly what’s possible, how many people you’ll really need to accomplish it, and what steps to take to pull it off seamlessly. When you aren’t sure what to expect, the key is to avoid biting off more than you can chew. Click To Tweet
To help keep yourself in check…
- Always start by talking to other conference organizers, especially if they’re in a similar industry or field. So much of event organization is specific to your audience, location, and size — so by digging into the specifics of what you’re planning to do, with someone who has been there before can help you set reasonable expectations and goals.
- Next, let your WARM audience be your guide to how big of an event you should plan. While marketing and advertising is a great way to get new people in through your door, you probably won’t be able to triple or quadruple your audience in the weeks leading up to your event. Instead, take a look at how many people follow you right now, and use that as a metric for how many people might reasonably attend.
- Finally, start small — maybe even smaller than you think you will need to. Out of the gate, a huge event is always harder to plan than a midsize or small one, so allow yourself to start small and then iterate in the coming years. You can always scale, but if you lack the ability to manage the number of people, or the speakers, or technology, then you may not have a second chance at another year.
#2. A Lack of Communication
When push comes to shove, a lack of communication is at the center of all major mishaps, but luckily it’s also one of the easiest to remedy.
The key is to stay organized and keep clear notes of who’ve you’ve spoken to and when. If you need a little boost in this area, there are several apps and tools available to help facilitate clear communication amongst your attendees, staff, and vendors.
With Attendees: Communication is key to helping your attendees feel well taken care of while at your event. So, make sure you communicate those inevitable updates, room changes, or schedule changes by creating a system that enables you to reach out to your attendees all at once. For example, apps like ours are a great way to get a hold of attendees day of, check it out.
With staff: There are several tools at your disposal that can help foster clear lines of communication with all of your people beforehand and on the day of. For example, Slack is a great way to ping your team members (individually or as a group) regardless of where they are or what they’re doing!
With Vendors: Not confirming with your vendors can lead to a disaster. The Billetto Blog points out that you should “Keep a list of potential vendors to help you track how negotiations are going. Make sure to specify key details like delivery quantities, exact date and time, and so on. Ask for a written confirmation once you’ve reached an agreement.”
Remember, there is no such thing as over communicating when it comes to your event. By implementing just a few simple communication redundancies you can avoid a lot of headaches.
#3. Doing It All On Your Own
Another huge mistake for first-time planners is not enlisting enough people to help them, either the day of or in the planning process.
More often than not, first-time event planners undershoot how much time set up, take down, or even small tasks like stuffing envelopes is really going to take — and when it’s your neck on the line you can easily get stuck holding the bag for a lot of the unfinished work.
Instead of doing it all yourself…
- Have a strong team around you: While you don’t want to bring on so many people that they become difficult to manage, the more people you have to help, the better. When choosing your team, try to pick people that you trust and have worked with you in some capacity before. Make sure that you’re choosing people who can both handle stress and delegate responsibilities to volunteers as well.
- Use volunteers: After you have your staff members in place, if your event is big enough to warrant it, use volunteers to help you get the less technical pieces of your event up and running.
- Be fierce about YOUR tasks: One great practice is to ask yourself “who else could be doing this?” and then delegate it! Your time is valuable and when it comes time to put together the event, you’ll be pulled in more than one direction. If someone on your team or a volunteer can do what you’re doing, give it to them — so that your time is free to work on what needs your attention most.
#4. Forgetting About Contingency Plans
Whether you like it or not, something will go at least a little wrong. Maybe a speaker gets stuck in traffic on the way to your venue, or there are audio difficulties, or a room isn’t big enough. These are all very common mishaps that can happen to even the best event coordinators.
If your event is in chaos while you’re figuring out on the spot how to move forward after a mishap, your attendees will be left feeling that you didn’t have everything put together correctly.
This is why it’s so important to have a contingency plan, and know exactly what will happen and who will be in charge once something does fall through.
Likewise, it’s also important to remember as Eric deLima Rubb at Propared points out, “Contingency plans don’t just mean “alternate” plans. They lay the foundation for the safe harbor and care of your attendees, crew, and performers. A map of emergency exits is a contingency plan. So is a list of nearby hospitals. The well-being of people at your event should be a top priority.”
The key to keeping your event or conference from feeling like a daunting hill to climb is moving slowly, setting reasonable expectations, and having back up plans. While you may still be figuring out what to do when, or how long each step is going to take — if you have enough people around you to help, and make good communication top priority, you’ll avoid many of the biggest mistakes in the book.