Having worked alongside many different event planners in every phase of an event’s life cycle, I can tell you that planners come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very organized. Some are creative. Some wear slacks and blazers. Some wear cargo shorts and crocs. Event planners are an eclectic group.
However, I have also found that nearly all event planners share a single trait. Almost every single group organizer that I’ve met has this one characteristic: they are not a professional retreat planner. Save for a few lucky ones, the people that are most often putting together these life changing events don’t have “Event Planner” in their job description. They are pastors, teachers, and Boy Scout troop leaders. They are office managers, stay-at-home moms, and the person unlucky enough to be chosen by the family reunion committee.
And while the hard work of these weekend warriors is commendable, planners are often overwhelmed and some details can slip through the cracks. So, let’s take a look at some of those details that often get overlooked in the planning, preparation, and execution of your events.
As retreat organizers examine their needs for meeting space, they generally consider three criteria: number of rooms, capacity of rooms, and arrangement of furniture. And for most events, these are the three most important facets of meeting space. And yet, there are so many more things to consider as you plan for impactful meetings.
-How do I want this to sound? Will this room/audience require the use of a microphone? Would background music enhance transition times?
-What kind of lighting works best? Would dimmable lights help? Would adding lamps or candles create some ambience?
-What time are we meeting? Will the room get too warm in the afternoon? Should I have coffee available? Will the guests be hungry?
-Do I want to facilitate group discussion or focus eyes on a single orator? Would round tables work better than rectangles?
In order for a meeting to be successful, someone has to be delivering great content. And meeting planners often spend a lot of time planning the content—whether that’s researching speakers or preparing to orate themselves. But in order for that content to land in the frontal lobe of everyone in the room, it must make it past all of the possible distraction barriers. Sound, lighting, temperature, and time of day are just a few of the factors that planners need to consider.
When you are driving to a destination that you’ve never been to before, you probably plug the address into your phone to find out not only the way to go but also how long it’s going to take to get you there. And anyone who’s ever been fashionably late because of a GoogleMaps estimated time of arrival knows that you can’t always count on an estimate. Similarly, it can be difficult to plan and pace the different pieces of your event when you have lots of unknowns:
-Will these presenters stick to their allotted time? What will happen if one goes too long?
-How long will it take to get from our lodging to the place where we’ll eat? Will we have to wait in line once we get there?
-How long should sessions last between breaks? Should we allot for more breaks in the afternoon?
In the absence of previous experience, thorough preparation is the best strategy for a well-paced retreat. Knowing the distance—and more importantly, travel time—between major facilities will help you accurately account for transition time. Similarly, it is very helpful to know your audience when factoring in breaks during meeting times. Teenagers will need shorter and more frequent breaks than adult groups will. A little critical thinking goes a long way in planning your event’s schedule
If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If a meeting planner pulls off an excellent event but no one attends, does it make an impact?
The tragedy of event planning is when potential guests are not able to attend or when attendees are not adequately prepared for the event they attend. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the details of coordinating excellent venues, presenters, and entertainers for the meeting that planners don’t spend enough time telling their attendees how awesome it’s going to be. And that’s a shame because all of that work deserves to be enjoyed.
But there is hope. You may not be a good marketer, but do you know who is? Your venue, speakers, and entertainers. These vendors are often booked because of their excellent marketing materials, and it’s in their best interest to showcase their services in front of large audiences. Adopt their promotional materials (with permission) to give an aspect of professionalism to your marketing.
When planners begin to create promotional materials, be sure to consider the message you want to send and who will be receiving it.
-Who will likely be attending this event? What is the best media for reaching them?
-What will my attendees need to know before registration and/or arrival? Have they ever been to an event like this before?
-What marketing pieces do I already possess that I can leverage with little adaptation? Have my vendors already done a lot of the leg-work?
Promotion doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does have to be done. This isn’t Field of Dreams; just because you build it doesn’t mean that they’ll come. If you can create a buzz with some nice, clean marketing, the word of mouth snowball will pick up speed.
As we’ve all been told, the devil is in the details. And event planning can be devilish. Once the big decisions are made, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty planning the details of your event. When it’s all said and done, your attendees will be glad you did.