How to organize an event

I have been organizing events for some time now. Anything from: parties (big and private), lectures, movie nights, sales events, to a presentation from my country’s Embassy. But, the thing that motivated me to make sure that any event which is organized by me and my team is good, was my very first experience.

Bare with me, I promise it was a total disaster.

At 17ish years old, I was involved with a few organisations including an American Corner in my small town. The people from the AC. offered me to organize for a presentation intended for highschoolers that wanted to leave and study in the US. Naturally, I found the opportunity exciting and agreed to invite people from my school – which had around 30 potential classes that I could go trough and pitch the event to. So, I went trough all of the classes and read the event invitation in front of them. And here comes my first mistake – While reading the invitation, I was informing people, not getting them interested. My pose was shaky, my timing was rushed, suddenly I got all of the pleasant excuses to shift the possible failure of the situation to other things, such as: the weather or the laziness of the students, or the (un)attractiveness of the presentation.

The next day, I went to the AC, expecting at least 10-15 people to show up, I mean, logically it made sense, I even knew that there were a few people that were interested in studying in the US. However, to my shock, from the moment I entered the room, I slowly but very painfully discovered that there isn’t anyone coming.
“The professors must not have let them” – was going trough my head, while at the same time I felt the room shrinking around me. It was one of the most painful 40-minutes in my young adult life. The organizers of coarse didn’t blame me, they realized that letting a 17 year old HS student with no experience to organize an event by himself was probably not the smartest move, but nonetheless, back then it felt like the fault was all mine… And yeah, I never showed my face there again.

The thing is, that a failure like this, or even something close to it, usually makes people pull back, blame something else, perhaps experience a bit of cognitive dissonance, and find something else to do. For me, the failure was so big that I had to find a way to redeem myself from it.

And thus, fast forward to now… I organize things on a weekly basis, and I feel great about it.
So, here are some of the all-encompassing principles I use when organizing any kind of an event.

1 – Don’t you dare sit down.
You are not the guest of the show, you are the organizer. You must always be standing, smiling and available to your guests. The moment you sit down you become unavailable. Even if the event is a lecture, find a wall to lean against and wait it out there. Further, let your guests know, that whatever they are thinking is appropriate and that you are happy to discuss their questions. Encourage them to ask questions by starting off with some self criticism and/or sharing an opinion about what is happening. The effects of this come later, usually during the break or at the end of the event where guests ask you for more details. When this happens, make sure that they find something positive in your event and make sure to get their contacts for next time. If a guest is leaving (during a party for example) don’t just wave goodbye, rather, see them trough out the door and let them know that you appreciate them coming to your event. Chances are, that everyone at one point had been asking themselves “why am I here” or “Should I have been working instead” – make sure that they don’t leave your event thinking like that.

2 – Spontaneity is a road you build for the guests to discover.
Spontaneity doesn’t just happen, there is a lot of groundwork that has to be done in order for the moments where people “become” spontaneous to happen. This includes setting the mood, setting the sitting arrangements, and most importantly pairing up the guests with the right people. By setting the mood I don’t mean picking the subject – I mean making sure that positive and relaxed emotions are present, this means that you engage in an understanding, non-judgmental and non-disagreeable manner. You can still be provocative, as long as the guests don’t feel ill intent directed towards them – as long as you are playful ;). An event is not the place to debate hot topics, personal crises, or sharing genuine criticize/opinions – an event is a place to make friends with which you can be later genuine in private. People act differently when they are in front of a group, so it takes only a little carelessness to make things go bad. If you want to tease, remember to make jokes at your expense as well, that way you are not see as a “know-it-all” type.

3 – You are in charge, mind the details.
Ok, this one is a bit general but important. There is no detail small enough for you not to mind it. You can still prioritize and select what is the most important thing for you to improve at the moment. But, in general, if there is something to improve – DO IT. Do, not ever lie to yourself with the thought “eh, that’s nothing to be concerned about/ that doesn’t really matter”. Two thing happen when you do this:
1-It does matter and you didn’t fix it.
2-The moment you renounce importance, you renounce responsibility and will gradually shift the blame about other things elsewhere as well.

4 – You re working with a team, not employees.
Everyone, starting from the security, the caterers, the DJ/band, the promoters, and the rest of the team should be happy to be there. You need to make them want to make the event a success. The moment someone thinks “this is not part of my job” you will have problems. Events are dynamic, and the last thing you need is someone looking at the clock for the closing time. So, a simple way to do this is to guide people towards the right decisions instead of making decisions for them, especially not ordering people around. The only people you can order around are the people that have an actual interest in the success of the event – everyone else needs to be asked nice. For example, instead “fill-out the glasses”, try “Should the guests pick the refreshments when they come to the table, or should the glasses be filled before they arrive?”.

5 – Don’t open your mouth if you don’t know the catch.
When your teammate is making a pitch to get someone on-board, dealing with a venue, trying to invite someone, or is working up someone else’s mood – don’t enter into their thought process unless you know their end-game and how they are planning to get there. A very costly amateur mistake is to contradict/disagree with your teammate in public. If something like this gets you out of the team, you probably deserve it. Personal, honest opinions are shared 1 on 1, not in-front of other people, especially not when making a pitch.

6 – Don’t talk about it, do it!
There is a certain surge of motivation that comes when you realize a mistake, foresee an issue or get an idea on how/what to do. Most people verbalize the things that are going trough their heads. Unfortunately, the problem with this is, that by sharing your plans, you give yourself an “out” of the situation, either by rationalizing why it might not work, or feeling as if the importance of your idea has somehow faded away. So, whatever you do, when you get an inspiration, just go for it! The idea and some details may change along the way, you will also probably make plenty of mistakes, but see it trough and have the luxury of talking to your friends about the things you have done, rather than the things that you want to do.

7 – Promotion doesn’t stop at Facebook.
A FB event is usually a must (unless you are making something private), but none of the actual promotion happens on Facebook. The purpose of the FB event is to show people that you exist. In fact, before you publish an event, you better make sure that you already have a crowd that would love to attend and is going to click like the moment you publish. Once you get likes from new people – YOU PICK UP THE PHONE, or message the potential guests to thank them for their interest (short personalized messages work the best), and politely ask them to confirm that they are coming. If they do, ask them if they could think of anyone else that might enjoy this event. These are the basics of promoting, unfortunately most people stop at 1 share… Some of them don’t even have the courage to even do that right. On a side note, some events go viral especially if they are branded VIP, people like to feel like they are special, or a part of a special audience. So, limiting the attendance both in time to apply and in numbers might not be such a bad idea (but you’d better know what you are doing). This also works for not publishing your event on Facebook. Oh, and about parties, here is a quick quality control tool: If you see people taking pictures at you party, it probably is lame – the best parties are those when people don’t want anyone to find out about.

8 – It’s not about the number of people, it’s about the right people.
If you make a professional lecture, and half of the guests are in there for the free food after, you probably missed the point. If you make a party and the guests are sitting down, you need different guests. If you invite a speaker, and no-one has questions or they don’t engage in a discussion… You get my point. Inviting the right people is more important than inviting a lot of people.
– But you need the attendance.
Yes you do, but 30 bored guests exiting a conference room or a lecture hall is going to cost you a lot more than 10 people that just had the time of their life.
In all honesty though, if you are just starting out, and slowly building a circle of friends, you might not have the luxury to pick your guests. So, find out what they are interested in, and give it to them – the situation will drastically change in a year or so (if you are doing things right).
Back to the quality issue: the best lectures don’t come from the smartest people, they come from the people that know how to animate a crowd. The best DJ’s aren’t the ones that know their music the most, but the ones that know what the guests want. The best sales events don’t come from the people that have the best products, but from the people that know how to make the clients happy.

9 – Money up-front.
When organizing an event, don’t be the accountant. Pay the people that help you, or if they are volunteers take them out for snacks or drinks after. Expect additional and unforeseen expenses and don’t take the cheapest option. If you are buying things for your event, make sure you have cash in hand and no promises in your mouth – you do not want the people that work with you to start spreading negative remarks about you being late on payment or cutting them off in the last moment.

10 – Where people quit.
People that organize events don’t usually quit per-se. They tend to slowly start finding excuses and renouncing responsibilities until they can blame the failure of the event on to something or someone else. When a teammate starts saying “that’s not necessary” or “that’s too much” – when it is clear that if that step were to be taken it would be their responsibility to see it trough, then you have yourself a red flag.
Another red flag is when teammates (or you, dear organizer) seem to be reluctant to fully stand behind the event. They feel that it is not necessary to sign their name in the headline and insist on hiding behind someone else or the(your) organization – This is a sign that they are not really invested in the event and are looking for a plan B when things go bad. If you do allow these people to participate in organizing, expect that in one moment you may need to take over their share of responsibilities If you estimate that you might not be able to manage that – find better people or cancel the event.

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