By Patti Curran
Every event, no matter large or small, requires planning. Organization and communication are key elements in planning a successful meeting or event. Whether you are an independent planner working with clients, or an administrative professional planning for your boss or office, clearly identifying the goals and objectives of the event is where you begin. It is essential in laying a strong foundation on which to build a successful event.
What is the meeting or event intended to accomplish? Is it to network, brainstorm, review, educate, build team relations, increase morale, celebrate or raise money? Once the goals are identified, you can begin to assess the needs of the event. The following is a checklist you should have before you begin planning your meeting or event. Use this list to check off the services and accommodations your event will need.
__ Off-site venue
__ Overnight accommodations
__ Audio-visual equipment
__ Valet service
__ Exhibit setup
__ Event staffing
__ Designer/printer for invitations and other necessary materials
__ Furniture rental
__ Equipment rental
__ Promotional items or gifts
__ Speaker or entertainment
When and Where
Once your needs are established, it is imperative that you select a date and location. When researching venues, it is necessary to know an estimate of the number of attendees and any restrictions or requirements regarding the location. For example, the location may need to be disabled-accessible, or it may be the event cannot be held in a gambling facility or one that serves alcohol. While planning basics are the same for any event, nuances such as these greatly impact the planning process depending on the group you are bringing together. Again, clear communication is a must. Knowing numbers, requirements, restrictions and budget will make selecting a venue a more efficient process. Begin researching venues that can accommodate your group size and that fit within the budget. Once you have gathered a list of appropriate locations, clearly express your requirements and restrictions to the facility to further determine if is the right fit for your group. The following is a list of additional questions you should ask of potential event sites:
__ What space, services, furniture and equipment does the rental fee include?
__ Is there an in-house A/V system?
__ Are on-site food and beverage services available?
__ Is there a minimum food and beverage charge?
__ Can outside food and beverage be brought in?
__ Am I required to use a preferred caterer?
__ Are discounts or special pricing available?
__ Is there a parking lot or garage nearby?
__ Is valet or shuttle service available?
Fill the House
Now that you have your date and location set, it is time to get the word out. If you are hoping to attract a large crowd to your event, establish a clear marketing strategy. This may include printed invitations, registration forms, Web advertising, e-mail blasts, printed ads and fliers. Consider your target audience when developing your marketing plan. What is the best way to disseminate information to ensure everyone is well informed? For example, if you are planning a retiree dinner or 80th birthday celebration where many attendees are older, solely relying on e-mail invitations is not advised. If you are planning a networking happy hour for young adults, running an ad in the daily newspaper is going to be less effective. However, both print and Internet-based marketing have their places no matter the demographic. If you are organizing an event with a set guest list, your marketing plan is simplified. For some meetings, an office e-mail or memo will suffice. For other events, printed and e-mail invitations are appropriate. Also consider if a save the date card and reminder card will be beneficial. No matter how you are inviting guests to your meeting or event, it is important to make sure they have all the information they need. Location, time, parking, costs, items to bring, food being served, and speakers or entertainers performing are good details to include. Often overlooked is dress code. Including this information on invitations and reminders will alleviate confusion, stress and embarrassment. For helpful tips on appropriate attire, visit www.MissouriMeetingsAndEvents. com/video.aspx and watch Rob Schaefer’s video, “Suits, Ties and Tuxes.”
Let’s Do Lunch… Or Breakfast, Dinner or Cocktails
Most gatherings require some type of food and beverage service. Unless your boss has asked you to plan a staff meeting that is only a couple hours long, people have to eat. And even with a short staff meeting, it is always good to have pitchers of water and glasses available for attendees. Be aware of any dietary restrictions or special requests. When thinking about your menu, it is necessary to revisit the goals and objectives of the meeting or event. If you are planning a meeting where participants need to interact and brainstorm, proteins are essential. Boxed lunches that include a small salad, lean meat sandwiches with cheese and maybe a bag of nuts will help fuel productivity. Snacks and refreshments should include low-sugar items such as nuts, vegetables, meats and cheeses, water, tea and fruit juices. On the other hand, if you are planning a gala or fund raiser, the cuisine can be used to attract attendees. In this instance, focus on quality, flavor and presentation. If outsourcing food and beverage services, be sure to ask the caterer the following:
__ Is there a minimum or maximum order?
__ What services, items and equipment are included in the prices?
__ Can you accommodate dietary restrictions and special requests?
__ Can you provide linens, china, flatware and serveware? Is there an additional cost?
__ Can you supply serving and wait staff? What is the cost?
__ Do you provide serving dishes that will keep items hot or cold?
__ Can you prepare food on-site?
__ Do you offer delivery, cleanup and pickup services? Is there an additional cost?
Ready to Roll
Now that you have the date set, location reserved, guests invited and food arranged, you are on your way to hosting a successful meeting or event. Keep all of the information pertaining to the event together and organized. Think of possible dilemmas and prepare for contingencies. Also keep in mind that although things don’t always go as planned, many times you are the only one who will notice. Stay calm and refer to a backup or move forward as is, thus not to interrupt the remainder of the event. MM&E
(Patti Curran is the Associate Editor and Graphic Designer from St. Louis, Mo.)