Event planning dos and don’ts: Part 2

By Mark G. Auerbach

Meeting and event planning has been on my mind a lot this year because I’ve done so much of it on behalf of my clients. I coordinated a couple of large-scale performance events, some author book tours, a business expo for a film and video collaborative, and some fundraising and friendraising initiatives for a high school reunion. I was so involved in the process and the planning, that I wrote two articles this year for Succeeding in Small Business: Crafting a successful meeting and Planning dos and don’ts for your next small meeting.

I decided to ask some of my colleagues, who are immersed in event planning, about some of the things they most recommend, and I added my own two cents to their comments. My colleagues included:

-Suzanne Hendery, chief marketing officer and vice president of Marketing and Communications at Renown Health in Reno, NV. She held a similar position at Baystate Health in Springfield, MA, where we partnered on numerous events over the years.

-Howard Sienkiewicz, vice president of Zasko Productions, a national event and production company based in Western Massachusetts. Howard returned to his hometown after two decades working globally with Ellen Michaels Presents, where he traveled internationally working on events for CA Technologies, Oracle, and Intuit.

-Julia Bradley Farmer, director of Parent Resources, and a member of the Northfield Mount Hermon School’s Advancement Department, where she’s coordinated events from school reunions for a thousand participants to small donor events for a handful.

What’s the best advice you could offer a person planning a meeting or event that no one told you when you planned your first event?

Suzanne: Be aware of taxes, lawyers and mishaps. Taxes  and service charges can be weighty.  Be sure you have the appropriate liability insurance in place. It’s good to have an expert on hand if a medical issue or accident happens during your event.

Howard: The meeting room cost that the hotel gives you does not include any production equipment; not a screen, not a lectern or podium…nothing. The screen, projector, sound system and microphone are all in addition to the price you are paying for the room. And, you need time to accommodate the set-up of the production equipment. If you want your meeting to start at 8:00 a.m. and your production needs four hours to load in and set, you will need the room the day before.

Julia: Communicate, communicate, communicate! We are all human and when dealing with different vendors, don’t forget to confirm expectations, arrival times, and who is bringing what the week prior to your event. I typically mark off a couple hours on my calendar one week prior so I can send a flurry of emails (I recommend the written word so you can refer back) to all involved–from my event staff, to linen vendors, to Dixieland jazz bands–everyone. It will make for a smoother event and a better working relationship for now and in the future.

Mark: It’s all in the timing. Allow in your scheduling: attendees arriving late because of traffic or parking issues, a speaker being late, people’s desire to mingle and network or just stretch. You want the rigidity to keep to schedule, and the flexibility to accommodate elements that unexpectedly happen.

What tools do you use to keep meeting planning on track ? Any particular software you might recommend?

Suzanne: An amazing Special Events Checklist that an expert friend created— it keeps everyone on track. I also appreciate e-invitation software to automatically register participants.

Howard: There are a number of software products out on the market for planners. All of them are basically designed to manage time. It is the most mismanaged thing in meetings. So often, I see a 15-minute break for a meeting of 1,200 people. They won’t get out of the room in 15 minutes, forget getting a coffee and a stop at the bathroom. Setting a realistic timetable for the meeting day will greatly reduce stress and costs.

Julia: I don’t use particular software but use Google sheets and have an specific event templates that I use while planning all events. I find the functionality of sheets perfect because I can control editing rights but have the option to virtually update all involved parties on where things stand, link to documents or contracts, and also can ping people with questions via online conversations for all to see.

Mark: I come from the world of theatre, where everyone goes back to the script to understand their role, the timing of their entrances and exits, and is focused on satisfying the needs of the producers and the needs of their audience. As a meeting or event planner, I’m the playwright, producer, and director, but I delegate as much as possible.

What items do people often forget to budget for that ultimately add up in cost?

Suzanne: Valet parking is a wonderful convenience, as is a security officer in the street to allow easy access. A great cleaning before and after the event is a great touch as well.

Howard: This goes back to time management again. The best thing anyone planning a meeting can do is plan ahead. You can save your company so much money by planning ahead. The rooms cost less. You have more properties to choose from and more dates available. Production will be less, they won’t have to cross rent your gear, they can choose from a better pool of contractors.

Julia: As a southern lady, I LOVE FLOWERS and the devil is in those flower details! The more flowers to dress up a space the better is my opinion. With every added peony or hydrangea, it eats a little more into my budget. To keep from blowing my flower budget, I will use lots of natural pieces, including birch and moss. There are even events where I don’t use flowers at all, just leafy, dramatic centerpieces. To continue to cut costs, I have even been known to forage through the woods myself to create my own arrangements by combining evergreen, bittersweet, moss, and birch in an antique vase compliments of my grandmother. It ties all events nicely into the beauty of western Massachusetts.

Mark: I second Suzanne’s comments about cleaning, whether you’re renting a meeting space or using your conference room in your office. The meeting room should be clean. The bathrooms must be clean, as well as any hallways or common areas your attendees may walk through enroute to the meeting. Also, if you have a speaker, provide him or her with the microphone of choice, an outlet for their laptop, and fresh cold water. Plus, give your attendees wifi, so they can use their laptops or tablets.

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Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.


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