How to Plan a Successful Event

Posted

Note: This is not meant to serve as a definitive "how to plan" guide. This is tips that I have collected on both sides of event planning - that of an event team member, and that as a service provider and volunteer.

Over the past few years, I've had the opportunity to plan and service quite a few events, including large multi-day events for a multitude of organizations. Most recently, that took the form of the 2021 WAVE1 VEX Robotics Signature Event. For that event, I was a sound crew chief for LNL2. Since arriving at WPI, I have also been a crew chief for several events totalling hundreds of hours of work, not including preparation.

In November 2019, I also had the chance to plan a FIRST Lego League qualifying event. As a member of the event core team for that tournament, I was in charge of the technical production including scoring and A/V. Here are some steps to take as you go through thinking about your event and how you interact with your service providers.

TL;DR

Write down everything. Even if you think it's not important. Make sure that more people than you have access to it. Give as much detail as you can to your service providers. Be prepared for sudden changes on the day of the event

First Steps: Pre-planning (T-3 months)

The absolute first thing you should do is write down what your event will be at a top level, something like "Winter Formal". Then, write down why. This doesn't have to be anything complicated or more than a few sentences, but even saying "to give students a celebration before finals and relieve stress" goes a long way. This will set the tone and mood for your event, so it's okay to take a little bit to get it right.

Next: Planning and Preparation (T-2 to 1 month)

The second step you should take is to start deciding on some specifics. Pick a venue and a date if you can. If you're waiting on a date, you can start to look at venues, but don't let yourself get too set on one in case your date doesn't work with it. As soon as you have a date and a venue, put in a reservation. Make sure you tell the person making your reservation everything they ask. If you don't know, make sure they know that you'll be changing your answer later on.

Pick one or two people to serve as the point(s) of contact with the reservation manager and any service providers. Make sure that all communication flows through them. I can't tell you how many times I've received conflicting information because the planning team all emailed different documents. It's so much easier to just have one or two people giving the same information.

Then, nail down what's going to happen at the event. You've got your theme, what would go well with it? For each part, figure out:

Try not to overload yourself or your team with too many separate parts. Try to keep the total number of components to around 2 per planning team member. Any more and you might get burned out teammates.

Your event should have a way for all volunteers to see the status of tasks across the whole event and filter to certain parts. As tasks are completed, the task owner should update the status and close it out. You can use a Trello board, a spreadsheet, or anything else that might help you keep track of everything. When I planned my FLL qualifier, myself and the rest of the event team had a Google Sheet that we would use to keep track of everything, with columns for the task, who it was assigned to, and when it was completed. We used the same sheet for every stage of the planning and execution process, with different tabs for "Pre-Event Tasks", "Event Setup", and "Post-Event Tasks". We also tracked the volunteers we had assigned to roles here.

This is the proper time to reach out to any service providers you may need. If you need lighting or sound, figure out a good company or other organization that will be able to provide those for you. If your venue needs a custodial fee or contract, make sure that's budgeted for.

Almost done! Final plans and promotion (T-1 month to 2 weeks)

By this time, you should be starting your promotion of the event. Make a poster and put it up everywhere you can. Try and get your event onto weekly event emails. Get people to know about your event well enough in advance that they can generally avoid conflicts.

At this point (generally about 2 weeks before the event starts) be sure to confirm with your service providers that they know about and are willing to take care of your event. Run checkins with your teammates about their components and ensure that everything's going according to schedule. Get a list of materials from them for each component and purchase those. Double-check the task list and make sure you haven't forgotten anything.

Run the event (T-0)

Weeks and months of planning have hopefully turned into an actual event for you and your participants to enjoy. If you don't have a job during the event itself, sit back and let the people who do have a job work. Make sure to be on-call for any issues, especially if you're in charge of an important component.

During the event, keep a running log of issues and successes. Anything that goes wrong or really well should be noted down for the next step.

Aftermath & Post-Mortem (T+3 days)

No more than 3 days after the end of your event, when the dust has settled a little bit, gather your planning team again. Go through your lists of roses (successes) first, and then your thorns (challenges) second. Compile all of them into a post-mortem and share it with the entire team. Keep it around, so that future teams can have a reference.

This is not at all tailored for a specific kind of event, but it is experience gathered over my time working on both sides of events.

  1. WPI Annual VEX Event

  2. Lens and Lights - a WPI club providing lighting, sound, and projection services to the WPI community