Let’s chat about Events. If you read my last blog, you know that I have been responsible for planning and executing road races for a non-profit, and I am currently on a team who is responsible for setting up a leadership seminar for military spouses who live on Okinawa. This blog isn’t for experienced event planners. You know what you are doing, and you are more experienced than I am. Instead, this is for the person out there who has always wanted to host an event, but had no idea where to start. This is also just the wave-tops. If I see that people are interested in the details, I am happy to share more in-the-weeds tips.
Where there are vast differences between hosting an athletic event with over 2,000 runners and an educational seminar for 40 people, there are some basic similarities. For the basics, read along…
Step 1: DECIDE
Making the decision seems like such a simple step, but it really is the hardest step. You have been thinking of it. Something is driving you to do it, but something will always hold you back, and often times, that something is YOU! Creating the event, accepting the role to host an event, and/or pulling the trigger to make it happen is daunting and can feel overwhelming, but it is also fun, exciting, and invigorating. You just have to decide to do it!
Step 2: WHERE IS YOUR EVENT?
Some people say that you start with the budget, but I tend to think that you begin by exploring locations so that you can frame your budget. For a road race, identifying a potential route will allow you to work on getting your permits. Permits for public spaces are typically not high dollar. Unfortunately, if you need police to block off roads, you could be looking at a costly budget item, so map out a few different courses, and then look into what you will need from a safety perspective. You may end up in a park or public trail to avoid some of the traffic you would face on a busier street. For an indoor event, like the seminar, we had to view multiple venues to see space, check availability, and we selected a location because it was the most accommodating with our small budget. Community centers, churches, and organizations like the local VFW may have low-cost spaces to host an event. Hotels are always lovely, and many have meeting rooms, but there is going to be a higher cost associated with using their space. Restaurants that have private rooms are always a good option too. Have fun exploring, but don’t stay in this stage too long. At some point in time, you have to make a decision and put down a deposit. Congratulations on identifying a space!
Step 3: WHEN IS YOUR EVENT?
The decision on when your event will take place will also determine your timeline for preparation and promotion. Give yourself plenty of time to plan and promote. The bigger the event, the more planning time you will need. Just remember that there is never going to be the “perfect” date that everyone can attend. Pick the date that is best for you and one that you think will generate the most interest. Pick your date and feel good about it!
Step 4: WHO?
The WHO for a leadership seminar means the Presenters, the Participants, the Sponsors, and the Volunteers. As soon as you have your date, SHARE IT!!! Even if you don’t have registration ready…even if you are still knee-deep in the details…even if you are still wondering if you are really going to do it, let everyone know that the date and location have been determined. The minute you do this step, you REALLY are doing it!!! This is also your PROMOTION TIME. Sharing information on social media, by word-of-mouth, by email campaigns, and even snail-mail campaigns is key. Let all of the parties who are participating and supporting know that your event is the REAL DEAL!!! This is where you start to get some of the funding for your event, so the more excitement you build, the more money you may be able to generate.
Step 5: REGISTRATION
Typically registration is done online, and this is a great way to collect payment, to share information, and to get waivers signed. Make this simple, and do some practice dry-runs with the technology before you open it up to the public. The first road race that I oversaw had a hiccup. Something on our back-end registration allowed for a person to register for multiple people, but it did not reflect that it was different people. It showed the same person registering 5 times, so when the 5 people showed up to check-in and pick up bibs, we had to differentiate who was who, age groups, genders, and even race distances. It was not something we wanted to deal with at check in. A dry run may have helped us in this situation.
Step 6: STAY IN TOUCH
Communication is KEY! Stay in touch with your sponsors. Let them know what you need, when you need it, and how you are recognizing and appreciating them. Stay in touch with your speakers. Let them know how much time they have to speak, when you need materials, and even how your registration is going. Ensure that you are supporting them through the process. Stay in touch with your participants. Let them know the next steps or when they can expect information regarding their next steps. Stay in touch with your volunteers. Whether this be through meetings, trainings, or just messages with updates, keep them posted on how things are going. Then be VERY clear on what you need from them at the actual event. They cannot read your mind; they need to know what your expectations are. This is a wonderful time to generate excitement about what you are creating.
Step 7: THE DETAILS
The smallest detail can create a big problem. I had run many races before I became a race director. One of the basic needs for runner on race-day is 4 safety pins to attach their bibs to their clothes. One of the things that I forgot to have someone put on the tables for race-day bib pick-up were those little safety pins. Those little bitty pins had me running around, focused on this very small detail, when my brain needed to be focused on much bigger things. Needless-to-say, I never forgot the pins again. They were quite the distraction on our big race day. Keep track of your details, write them down, share them with the other staff or volunteers, and make sure someone is responsible for each of those details.
Step 8: EXECUTE
It’s show time!!! You and your team have worked so hard to get to this event. It is time for you to share something wonderful with people who are excited to be there. Remember that your staff, volunteers, presenters, and observers are JUST as EXCITED and in JUST as IMPORTANT as the participants. This event is more than just you and your participants. The event is creating community and value for anyone who is a part of it. Enjoy it, and do your best to ensure that everyone is enjoying it with you.
Step 9: THANK YOU
Missing this step will always be one of my biggest regrets. I believe so deeply in the power of gratitude. I love to share gratitude, appreciation, and thanks, and I love when people share it with me. It is one of my core values, and I think it is why it is also one of my biggest regrets. After the execution phase, I had no gas left in the tank. I literally gave it all at the event. Just because the actual event is over, doesn’t mean the event is over. These next 2 steps are part of the event process, so leave a little gas in the tank to make sure you get these steps done too. Be sure and thank all of the people who did the behind-the-scenes work. Be sure to properly thank your staff, volunteers, sponsors, speakers, and anyone else who helped in any capacity. Not only is it the right thing to do, it will set your heart at ease, and they are more likely to want to support again if you show them gratitude. You won’t regret doing this important step.
Step 10: AFTER ACTION
Gather your lessons-learned. Write them down before you forget. Survey the participants, the volunteers, staff and observers. Find out the things you did right and the things you could improve. Remember that no one is going to see ALL of the things you did right because things done right often go unnoticed. Things you could improve are going to be the things that people recognize, so as you get feedback, don’t focus on the negative. Remember that you did so many things right. Then it’s time to rest and recover. It’s time to give yourself some space to enjoy what you have created before you jump into planning the next event. If you rest and recover properly, you will be excited and ready to plan your next event! Congratulations! You did it!