The Main Event

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Anthony Coyle-Dowling, Director of Sales for Zibrant gives his 10 top tips for hassle-free corporate events.

Whether it’s a sales conference for 500, your company’s Annual General Meeting, the launch of the latest big new product, an executive board meeting or even the office Christmas party, the prospect of organising an event can make many people’s heart sink. Few events come together without a degree of hassle – something almost always changes at the last minute – and it’s easy to feel that you don’t have a real grip on things.

We have decades of experience of creating and managing thousands of events of all shapes, sizes and levels of complexity. And happily our events specialists face each new project with a sense of excitement and positively – no sinking hearts there! The secret is that there are some common factors across all events – the Golden Rules of event management, if you like. Stick to these and you’ll find that much of the hassle can be avoided.

1. Understand the event: What is it meant to achieve? Is it designed to sell something, to communicate important information or simply to make the guests/delegate feel good? Once you have the answers to these questions, you will find it much easier to start to create the event, to get to grips with the type of venue etc. that you’ll need to set the right atmosphere. Your company will almost certainly have its own corporate personality and its own way of doing things, but even the most dominant corporate ‘character’ must adapt to suit the purpose and audience of an event.

2. Get to know your audience: Just as it’s vital to understand the goal of the event, it’s equally important to understand who will be attending. This will help you get the right ‘feel’ to the event, but it will also help you assess what extras you may need – for example if some of your attendees are unlikely to speak English, you may need to get presentation materials or other information translated for them. It all adds to the budget and it all adds to the workload, so having a clear idea from the start will help you plan. You’ll be looking at this in more detail later on, but for the very first stage of planning, an overview of the type of attendee is invaluable.

3. Money, money, money: Whilst we’d all love an unlimited budget, the reality is that there will always be a limit – often rather lower then you’d like. So list every possible cost element – venue hire, food & drink, equipment, accommodation, speakers’ fees, production company expenses, promotion, printing, security, handouts, giveaways, insurance etc. These will vary from event to event, but it’s important that you take the time to think through all the elements that could apply to your particular project. Learn to think laterally – if you choose a venue that doesn’t have free onsite parking, are you going to have to budget for attendees’ parking costs? Or are you expected to pay for delegates’ air or rail fares out of your budget? If you’re using an external agency, it’s important to clearly confirm the budget, to ensure they research venues that fall within it.

4. Share the brainpower and spread the workload: We specialise in taking as much of the work off your hands as you wish. But if you’re not outsourcing the event, then you could still look to see who amongst your colleagues can work with you. They may not need to be involved long-term, but even an hour or so spent kicking ideas around over a coffee could really help you be creative. They may know of a particularly good venue, caterer or entertainer – or may know which ones to avoid. If you’re new to the organisation you’ll also find it invaluable to find out what did – and what didn’t – work well for previous events. And when you decide on the venue, make full use of the expertise and knowledge of the events manager there. They know how to get the best out of their venue. Of course, this is where a specialist agency can really pay dividends – they don’t just save you time by taking on the work for you, they also negotiate excellent rates and conditions, stretching your budget further.

5. Plan and plan – and plan again! Your event plan is your shopping list – take time to put it together properly in the beginning and you’ll save time – and probably money – in the long term. Get into the nitty gritty – focus on the little details as well as the big picture. Document dates, purpose of the event, target audience, theme, timeline, estimated budget. Comprehensive records of what you need to do, what you have done, who your suppliers are, what quotes you have received and what prices you have agreed, all the contact details for the venue, who is being invited, who has responded, and how the budget is holding up, are things no event organiser can do without. It gives a clear picture throughout the whole process, making it easier to spot any omissions or oversights. And, there’s another benefit – if you fell under a bus on your way home from work, your colleagues could easily take over the event!

6. The perfect venue: You don’t always have to use the conference centre down the road – how about the new museum a few miles away, or that old theatre? Out of term time, lots of universities and some boarding schools offer good deals on conference facilities and even accommodation. The atmosphere at the venue has a huge impact on the success of the event. Of course it must also fulfill all your other criteria – room size, availability of breakout space if needed, facilities etc. And even if you love a venue and the price is right, before you commit, take a long, hard look at its location. Is it easy to get to by most forms of transport, or is it only really accessible by car/taxi? How far is it from the offices or rail stations that most attendees will be traveling from? Does it reflect your company brand? If you’re working with an agency, building a rapport with them will ensure that brand values are taken into consideration with the venue options provided

7. Don’t be afraid to negotiate: It’s almost a given that you’ll have a lot to achieve for your budget. You may not have a team of rates negotiation experts at your fingertips as we do, but you should still be able to secure some benefits. Don’t dismiss a fabulous venue because the quoted rate on its website would blow the budget. Give them a call –they could have a cancellation for the dates you’re looking for and will do a deal to fill the space. And even if the stated rate is one you’re comfortable with, ask if there’s a chance of the venue including teas and coffees or projector hire for free, for example. Look out for special offers such as one free delegate package for every 10 booked. If the dates of your event aren’t set in stone, check to see if the rates are lower if you booked for a different day of the week. Don’t be afraid to ask for a deal!

8. Be considerate: some of your event attendees may have specific dietary requirements. Some may need disabled facilities. Ask all relevant questions well in advance, so you can cater for everyone. If guests are bringing partners, why not set up some activities to keep them entertained while business presentations are going on? The devil is in the detail…drilling down might include choosing your boss’s favorite biscuits. Specialist agencies have the skills that make a good event a great event – so if you’re not working with one, try to bring some of those skills to the table yourself.

9. Be prepared for something to go wrong: You can’t allow for every eventuality, but you should be able to make a reasonable assessment of what could go awry and put some contingency plans in place. Check that the venue has no renovation works scheduled (that lovely old house would look much less impressive it it’s covered in scaffolding). If all your attendees are traveling together, what will you do if there is a delay en route? Allow plenty of time for presentation run-throughs and for testing of equipment etc. – and have access to at least basic replacement equipment if anything breaks down. If your event clashes with something that’s likely to draw huge crowds or strain local resources, consider revising your timetable – get your guests in earlier, for example. If it’s an outdoor event, have you a fallback venue in case of rain? Finally, make sure you have everyone’s contact details, and they have yours – and keep your mobile phone charged!

10. Enjoy it! Yes it’s hard work, but if you stay calm, keep organised, plan everything well in advance, then on the day you should be able to watch the event unfold and take satisfaction in what you have created.

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About Author

Anthony Coyle Dowling

Anthony Coyle- Dowling is Director of Sales for Zibrant. Joining Zibrant in October 2010 he is responsible for delivering the UK and International Sales Strategy with the vision of becoming the No 1 Event Management and Venue Finding Agency. Zibrant handle everything from venue finding to delegate management, international travel, logistics, planning, creative design, technical production and video production.

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