TagRules of Event Planning

Event Planning Rule 6 – Organize Yourself

Rule 6. Organize yourself.

Event organizer is a misleading name. It’s their event and they should have it together and be the expert on their own event. But, they often offload that work on to the person supporting them.

This means you have to be organized, whether the people you’re working for are or not. It’s your job to make everything work. It’s your job to assure success as much as possible. It doesn’t matter if you’re planned and scheduled if you don’t have the information you need.

If you write down the information but leave it behind, it can’t help you. If you need a specific link and don’t have it, it’s as good as never scheduling it.

A practice I adopted early on in event planning was coming up with a list of questions. My first reply when was this list. It gave me everything I need to know to be successful. Some of them were basic. What is this event? Where is it? What time? How many people are you anticipating attending in the room and online?

Are we recording this session? Do you need Closed Captioning? Will there be a sign language interpreter present? What about a photographer?

And others were just for me. Is this date and time firm? Do you have a slide deck? If not, when will it be available?

Asking questions finds weakness in plans. Once we find the weakness in the plans, we can plan around them and be successful.

Organizational Notes

Time

Rushing leads to disorganization which leads to forgetting which leads to failure. Always arrive early. The quiet time before an event starts is for you to prepare yourself and organize your space. Organization is about making time to be successful.

I was always the first person to an event. I had time to get my computer and camera setup. I verify the links I need and content (slides, videos, audio) were available and working. The extra time is for troubleshooting. Links break and computers crash. Time is the different between success and failure.

I open the slides and go through them all one last time. I open the video and play it straight through. I listen to the audio over the sound system in the room. I had already done all this before. But everyday is a new day and failure always possible.

Space

Setup what you need where you can get to it. I setup my notebook and post-it notes so I could see everything without flipping pages. I like using a notebook because it gave me space for new notes or updating what I thought I knew.

If I was in a conference room in front of a laptop, I kept it all on my lap but still had it open and available if I needed it.

Having the information does you no good if you can’t find it when you need it.

Event Planning Rule 5 – Write Things Down

Rule 5. Write things down. (You think you can remember everything. Right up until you can’t.)

Every event has some details I need to remember. I started out thinking I would always know have them at hand. But the more events I ran and the busier I got, I was forgetting things. Every event is the sum of its parts.

The Parts

  • Event Date
  • Event Time
  • Local or Remote Event
  • If local, room number
  • Which account was hosting the event? (Of the four WebEx accounts I had)
  • Phone number for teleconference
  • Host Access Code
  • Participant Access Code
  • Closed Captioning link (optional)
  • Is the event being recorded?
  • Are we using a webcam?
  • Are we including remote video?
  • Is there a slide deck? (Do I have it?)
  • Is there any video or audio content? (Did we test it?)
  • Will there be a Question and Answer session?
  • How will remote participants ask questions?
  • Is anyone from senior leadership going to attend?
  • Is this event open to the public or agency-only?

I had to remember everything I needed to run the event successfully and answer questions the organizers would ask as we were starting. I also needed to work around any late changes or additions. Which included saying no to people who weren’t usually told no. (Which is a whole different topic in itself.)

Writing Is Remembering

I always carry a pocket notebook for any note-taking on the fly. But I also kept an event notebook with pages dedicated to the current events I plan. And yes, there was always more than one. Sometimes in the same day I’d have three or four to manage. From running the meeting to starting and handing it off, each event needed time and attention.

I also make good use of Post-It Notes. They were easy to keep phone numbers and codes on. I could jot down which camera angles I had preset to this particular event. I could write notes to people helping me. Those little sticky notes are a vital part of my work.

When I forgot something, the event suffered. If I needed a webcam and didn’t have it we’d have no live video. If we needed closed captioning for a transcript or reasonable accommodation and I didn’t book it, someone who needed it wouldn’t be able to enjoy the event.

Memory Fails

It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking you’ll remember anything. I won’t forget the phone number. I will remember to make the change you asked about as I was leaving my desk? Sure, I’ll take care of that edit to your slides and fix that typo?

But I won’t. I’ve forgotten to fix your typo on every version of the slides we used. I forgot you were going to have someone else speak mid-way through the event. I didn’t remember to book closed captioning despite you requesting it. Were we recording this event? The last thing I have in my notes was wrong. I’m sorry.

Memory is fallible. I write everything down I want to get right. And I want to get it all right. I want to get it right every time. I’ve talked about all the ways you can fail. I don’t want to be the source of failure.

Event Planning Rule 3 – Be Ready to Fail

Rule 3. Be ready to fail. (You will. It is inevitable.)

You’ve tested. You’ve re-tested. You’re ready for the event. You’ve done everything you possibly can to make it a success. But it’s not.

You’re going to fail sometimes. Accept it now. It’s part of the job.

Sometimes no matter how hard you work to succeed, you will fail. It could be a last-minute change or late addition. It could be miscommunication. It could be something out of anyone’s control like the power going out or a total loss of internet access.

I’ve had my fair share of failures. There are a few things that make a failure more tolerable.

Tell the organizer immediately.

Tell the organizer when something fails. Don’t try to hide the failure, it’s going to come out. Try to have an alternative to workaround the failure or at least a plan in place to mitigate it.

Have Options.

It’s bad when you say this is failing. It’s better to say this is failing, but we can do this! If you are having a partial failure and can workaround or resolve it without the attendees noticing, do it. If your fix requires rebooting a computer or having people rejoin a session, ask the organizer first. It may not be worth it like in the case of the missing recorded video I detail later.

Work Quickly and Call for Help.

If you can’t fix something, don’t hesitate to call for help. Nothing gets a faster response than being in a live event that’s having problems. Don’t be afraid to name drop executives. If the CEO or the Secretary of the Department is present, use them to get the white gloves you need to help you succeed.

Keep your Cool.

Don’t freak out. You are still the expert in this situation. Your organizer will look to you for help. If you’re losing your mind, you won’t be able to help. Be professional and keep calm. You can look back over a drink that night about how freaked out you were. But in that moment don’t let on. Even if you’re screaming inside, think through your options and do the best you can.

Below are two events that failed in various ways. One was due to poor planning and a bad setup. The next was a technical issue that showed up mid-event.

No planning. No infrastructure. Meeting is tomorrow. Go!

One failure that still sticks with me is one that was doomed from the start. I got word of an event happening in our Hall of Honor. This is a small part of a wide open ground floor. It has no walls and even with the curtains there’s no way to properly damped outside sounds.

This event featured a discussion panel of four people. One Congressperson, a couple of CEOs and one high-ranking staffer. I didn’t know most of this until the day before. Because it was scheduled a few days out. Which is usually not a problem, but I couldn’t get any firm details from the organizers.

I didn’t know how many people were presenting, how many people were attending in person or remotely, or even rough estimates. I didn’t know how we needed to setup our sound and video. Did they want the webcam or just audio? Do they want a WebEx or just a conference call for audio? Is there a slide deck or anything visual in the presentations?

I didn’t know any of this until late the day before the event. Worse, it was in a place that does not have its own network or phone connections meaning we would have to run this completely over the network as a Voice over IP (VOIP) event. Normally we would offer a telephone line for people to dial in and listen. But this time we had to run all audio over WebEx itself.

I was at work until 8pm the night before with the events team lead trying to see if we could even make this work at al. And we got it working. Sort of.

We had audio. We had video. Neither were ideal and there as a lot of outside noise because of the venue. But the next morning we got the event up and running. About 30 people joined remotely and even less than that showed up in person to listen.

All in all it was a ton of work for an event I considered mostly a failure. The people who attended enjoyed it and the few who logged on remotely said they had a good experience despite some issues where our audio cut out part of the way through the event.

Technology is great until it breaks suddenly.

Building a Trauma Informed Nation was a huge joint event I ran with Health and Human Services. It was a two-day event talking about trauma and how we handle it.

The event went great. The speakers were interesting and it was well-attended in person and we consistently had a couple of hundred people logged in. Many of those people were “amplifier sites” where others were gathered to watch and listen to the sessions so the reach of the event was even greater.

There were some great speakers and every session was recorded. And this is where the failure came. I had run two in-depth dry run test sessions and spend the morning testing every part of my setup before the 11am start-time.

It started well enough. The WebEx and phone came up with no problem. Our mics were all dialed in and sounded great. Good volume. No feedback. The opening keynote speaker was fabulous. The second speaker took the stage and everything continued to work.. right up until it didn’t.

After the first two speakers, the recording lost video. I still have a live webcam up and running and everyone who participated live was able to see, as well as hear the presenters. But the recording would not capture them.

I immediately notified my point of contact and let her know what had happened and ran through some options. But we couldn’t stop the event so when the afternoon break came up, I killed the entire feed and rebooted the computer, tried a second computer and got on the phone with our vendor.

It turns out it as a known issue and there was no workaround or documented cause.

Once I learned this, I let the organizer know and we briefly discussed a few options including capturing video outside of WebEx entirely but in the end decided to keep going with the live video with the understanding the recordings would only capture the audio and the presenter’s slide deck.

So while the event was a success, the recordings were missing a major part. Because it’s nice to see who is speaking and to put faces with voices, especially if you’re watching a presentation after the fact.

Event Planning Rule 2 – Test. Re-Test. Re-Re-Test

Rule 2. Test. Retest. Re-retest everything.

Now that you have planned for the unexpected it’s time to test your event. You are testing your setup, right?

Steve Jobs made it look easy

They picture Steve Jobs on stage at an Apple Keynote speaking with perfection and running flawless demos.
Many people plan an event like an all-hands meeting and think they can walk into the auditorium start speaking and everything will fall into place. But That’s where everything falls apart. Unless you’ve planned and tested your event.

We have a big meeting next week

What do we need to do? That’s how most of my requests start. Another version is I’ve been tasked by leadership to run this event and I’ve never done anything like this before.

I mention testing and a dry run and they ask, what do we need to test? The answer is test everything you expect to work.

Dry Runs

For every event I plan, I require a dry run. This is a run through of the event in the place it’s going to be held with as many of the people as possible and all the equipment setup and ready.

For even the simplest meeting you’re going to need a few things.

  • A place to have it (Booking the room is often overlooked!)
  • Table and chairs
  • Computer
  • Internet access
  • Phone line and telephone
  • Projector / TV for people in the room (You’re not going to have them looking at a single laptop screen.)

Are you having a larger meeting? That means sound.

  • Microphones
  • Speakers
  • Mixer (all of those mics need to go somewhere)

You want your remote people to see you?

  • Webcam

Your slide deck has an embedded video or audio clip?

  • Microphone for the laptop / plug-in to a sound system

Our simple meeting already has half a dozen ways it could fail. And we haven’t even started.

Assume Nothing Works

I’ve walked into rooms without a telephone or a computer. I’ve had a network cord, but the port it was plugged into didn’t work so I had no connection. I walked into a room where half of the lights were burned out and needed to be replaced.

My point is you never know what you’re walking into. Just because a room was perfect the day or week before, doesn’t mean it will be the day of your event.

Find the flaws

The point of this is to find any flaws in the setup before it becomes a problem. An idea on paper may not work once you’ve setup everything else. Will the microphones accommodate the person who wants to walk around? Is the flipboard in the way of a presenter or blocking a camera angle? Is there enough room on the stage for the panelists and their chairs?

I ran an event for National Disability Employment Awareness Month and the planners didn’t account for the presenters who would be in wheel chairs. They had not left enough space on stage for the wheelchair to maneuver. We found this out in our dry run and rearranged the stage to make it work.

The purpose of the dry run is for the people planning the event as much as those supporting the event.

If you run events for a living, you’re comfortable with what is required and the limitations of your equipment. But those you’re working with may not. The dry run is to let you and them see things how they will be which can often be different from the vision they saw in their head. This is a learning experience for you and the people you’re working with.

Test Everything

Each event space is different. I’ve worked with a full setup of power, network and phone lines. I’ve had audio equipment and an enclosed room from which to monitor and troubleshoot the event. I’ve also worked in what amounted to a hallway off the main lobby of the building.

I’ve run events over the internet because I didn’t have a phone line to get sound out to the participants. I’ve run events with limited microphones because the mixer we needed was in use at another event at the same time.

Testing your setup will bring these issues to light before they cause problems. It’s easier to fix a problem with a day or even a few hours instead of 15 minutes as the room begins to fill.

Re-Test Everything

When you’re working with a group of people, they will want to change things. A lot. I try my best to limit changes after we test the setup and hold the dry run.

I do this because if you test one thing and then change it you’re testing something that’s no longer happening.**

Changes are unavoidable. You roll with what you need to but explain to the event organizers when they make changes that need major reworking of the sound or video, there may be issues.

If you go from wired to wireless microphones, they may buzz or interfere with each other. They may pick up cellular signals and feedback. If you decide to have Q&A from the audience in the room, no one online will be able to hear their questions because there are no microphones for the room.

If you change the number of panelists you may be missing a chair for one of them. Or the table they’re sitting at may not be big enough to seat them all comfortably.

Remember that anything you change will need to be tested.

I worked on an awards ceremony for a group that wanted to have live webcam video over WebEx from eight major cities around the country. I think I had a dozen meetings with them on the logistic and exactly how we would pull this off.

We tested and found limitations in Event Center and Meeting Center. We learned we would need to limit the number of active video feeds. We worked out a naming scheme for each city and the order we would scroll through their cameras.

We lost one mid-event when the computer on the site went to sleep but they were able to quickly recover. The event was a huge success. The Director was able to see and congratulate the award winners across the country and he was thrilled.

This was a clear case where testing and more testing won the day. There were so many points of failure to this event but we pull it off and delighted the organizers.

Set Expectations

Underpromise and Overdeliver. If you see any possible issues in the event, make sure you tell the organizers. If there’s anything you’re unclear about ask them. You can never ask too many questions and make sure if they have any questions they ask you. You are the expert.

You can never test an event too many times. You can never ask or be asked too many questions. And be honest. If something’s not going to work, explain why it won’t work and offer solutions.

Don’t try something you know will fail. Make sure you set the expectations. If an event has problems and they’re expected it’s better than if you promise a flawless event and it doesn’t live up to your word.

I supported a 9-month training program for senior executives over WebEx. That meant 4-6 times per month I was in a room with six microphones, a mixer, two speakers, a webcam and a TV or projector testing all of it.

Even when I knew the setup. And I should, I had set it up a dozen times already, I tested every microphone every time. I didn’t want that meeting to the day one of them stopped working or was too quiet or too loud.

I tested the webcam to make sure I had it set to show as many of the attendees as possible in the space we were using that day. I tested the phone line to assure it was clear and the wireless conference phone was fully charged.

I did everything I could to assure success and in that entire 9-months I only had a single instance of a problem. That came when one of the presenters accidentally hung up the conference phone during their presentation.

That’s one of those acts of god you can’t plan for but tends to happen. They were able to quickly dial back and continue without further issue.

Testing your events will lead to more successes than failures. And you will fail. So be ready for it.

Event Planning Rule 1 – Expect the Unexpected

Rule 1. Expect the unexpected. (And have a backup plan.)

It’s amazing any of the events I run are successful. There are so many points of failure that don’t have to fail for an event to be successful.

People.

Host
The event has to start. There needs to be someone to start the session and allow participants to join. The host needs access to the computer, the application used and the knowledge of how to start and setup the event.

Presenter
The person/people presenting the content need to be present and have their materials. They need to be early and setup to begin on time.

From the slide deck to the microphone setup, the presenter needs to be early to allow for troubleshooting. If the presenter is going to use a lavalier mic, it needs to be attached to the person using it.

Audience
The audience needs to be present. Whether it’s in a large venue, entirely remote with each participant at their desk or a combination, they need to be present and ready.

Events that start late or have issues at the beginning can lose much of the audience before they even get going. Also, the audience needs to be considered in sound and technology.

Are they going to be able to speak? If not, you better forcefully mute their lines. Don’t want to hear babies crying, dogs barking and side conversations? Mute your participants. Find a way to silence them and if you are having them ask questions, find another way to handle it. E-mail, a text-based chat function or an operator-assisted audio call are all possibilities. But they involve planning and testing to assure success.

Technology.

Audio
Microphones and speakers are the key to getting audio from the presenter to the audience. Microphones must be in the right places, set to the right volume and placed properly throughout the room.

There’s a lot to consider when using microphones for an event. Some people hold their mic right up to their mouth. Some people sit back a foot or more from the microphone. Usually there’s no way to know how a person addresses a microphone beforehand so you need to be ready to adjust volume on the fly.

In addition to mic technique people speak at different volumes. Some people speak very quietly. And some people speak very loudly.

The problems are exacerbated when soft-spoken people hold the microphone far away from their mouths and people who speak very loud hold the mic very close.

Be ready for the soft-spoken presenter to hand his mic to the loud presenter and the momentary deafness resulting as you drive for the volume switch. Be ready for your head executive to stand to the side of the podium and not behind it. You never know what people are going to do so be ready to react and adjust.

Internet
A solid Internet connection is vital to a remote conference being successful. Bandwidth is needed for audio, video and any slides or files being shared.

If you’re presenting, try to get a wired internet connection. Wireless is wonderful but it can fluctuate which normally wouldn’t be noticeable but when your audio cuts out or video drops, everything is going to see. And never, if you can possibly avoid it, run an event over a cellular connection.

Telephone
While landlines have fallen out of favor at home, they’re vital to teleconferences. Cellular connections are great for convenience, but they’re also variable in quality and reliability.

The same issues that plague wireless and cellular data connections go double for the audio over the phone. The entire purpose of the event is to hear what the presenter is saying. If the connection is poor your audience suffers.

“Acts of God”

You can plan for every contingency. You can plan tests and test plans but there’s still something else to consider. All of those things you haven’t considered.

  • What if a presenter puts the clicker to advance the slides in his pocket and the slide show starts dancing around wildly?
  • What if a presenter hangs up the phone?

  • What if a presenter mutes the phone by accident and can’t figure out how to unmute it?

  • What if a presenter cannot launch the software to join the session?

  • What happens if the video feed to a remote city cuts out right before you’re switching it to the main screen?

  • What happens if your presenter gets delayed and arrives 2 minutes before your event is scheduled to start?

  • After testing audio the previous night, you arrive on-site to find the audio levels drastically different from where you left them?

  • What if you walk into the room you and there’s no computer, telephone or internet connection?

These are all things I have encountered and worked around. The biggest takeaway here is to give yourself extra time before your event begins.

I cannot stress this enough. Almost no issue is too big to overcome if you have an hour or two to solve it. However, if you walk into an event 10 minutes early, you may be stuck with a problem too big to solve.

%d bloggers like this: