When I fell into the serendipitous task of organizing my first corporate event, I knew very little about event planning and couldn’t have imagined that in a few years, I’d be launching my own event planning venture. Thankfully, on this maiden voyage, I had the support of an event planning department to guide me. Over the years, as I got more involved with event planning, I started to learn that while a lot of event planning is planning for the expected, the real pros know that the secret is planning for the unexpected. We’ve all seen it happen while attending an event: a microphone dies, the WiFi stops working, a speaker is missing, or the PowerPoint presentation isn’t loading. Most of the time, after a little shuffling, the show goes on, but being prepared for those little incidents before they occur is key.
So here are a few of my own lessons from the trenches; things I never thought about until they happened:
1) Have a Back-up Plan for Rain. If you’re hosting a corporate event outside, it is imperative to have a back-up plan in place in case of bad weather. Often times, it’s a hard sell to internal team members to put down a security deposit of thousands for a back-up venue, but consider it akin to an insurance policy. You’ll hopefully not have to use it, but it’s critical that you have a secondary venue in place. In our years of corporate event planning, rain happens more often than you think, and there’s nothing worse than searching high and low for an appropriate venue on short notice.
2) Check Out the Bathroom Situation. When I first started scouting venues, I never asked to view the bathrooms. Then I helped orchestrate an event in which the only bathroom had two stalls and was a full flight of stairs away from the main presentation room (with no elevator option in sight). The difficult placement of the bathrooms not only left conference attendees having to miss large chunks of the presentation to run up flights of stairs, but it also made for a very long line during bathroom breaks. Now, I always ask to view the bathrooms, and I make a point to inquire about other events being hosted concurrently in the space (do you care if people from other events are sharing the same bathroom?). Think about the flow of your event and the size of the bathrooms versus the number of attendees.
3) Figure Out How to Deal with Seating Arrangements and No-Shows. Inevitably, every corporate event has its fair share of no-shows. For large conferences without assigned seating, this is often not an issue, but for corporate meetings and events in which you’ve taken the time to assign everyone a seat at a specific table, it can be difficult when suddenly you have an almost empty table with only one to two people because the other six decided not to come. As guests arrive, always have someone in charge of monitoring the registration and table assignments so you can make last-minute changes if necessary. Events are really about the experience, and there is nothing worse than sitting alone when everyone else is at a full table.
4) Figure in Rehearsal Time. Practice sessions and dry-runs for major business presentations are an integral part of ensuring smooth execution. Ask the venue ahead of time about prior bookings and whether you might be able to arrive for set-up (and when the A/V will be set up). Having speakers familiarize themselves with the stage or podium and the room will make the entire presentation better, and, if possible, it’s always good to do a quick scan of the content that’s being presented up on the big screen to see how the slides and content look from the audience’s perspective.
While not rocket science or particularly earth-shattering, hopefully these personal lessons will serve you well in planning your next corporate event. So much of event planning is crisis management, and foreseeing potential pitfalls before they arise is sure to make your event even more of a success.