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When Event Planning Lacks . . . Planning: Questions To Ask Before Writing The Checks

By December 3, 2012June 26th, 2015Marketing Insights & Strategy
When Event Planning Lacks . . . Planning: Questions To Ask Before Writing The Checks

In helping to plan and in attending many events, I’ve learned that it’s not all about the money spent. So during the height of corporate event season, I invite you to consider what makes a successful seminar, conference, presentation or networking event.

At a free seminar I attended last year it seemed no expense was spared on the trained presenter, comfortable facility and naturally, swag. In Ralph Rivera’s excellent tips to improve your slides, he recommends using a professional designer, which this company surely did. But while the slides were visually stunning, at least half the text was illegible. The slides and the matching handouts, bizarrely, featured grey font on a white background.

Each time I use the mug with the company’s logo, I remember the frustration of struggling to read those slides. And I was sitting near the front. Event planning fail.

Hosting events can be expensive. But the biggest problem I notice in planning is not low budgets; it’s simply the failure to anticipate problems. Did nobody check the slides beforehand?

Not to belabor the obvious, but shouldn’t planning be the operative word in event planning?

Mentally rehearse all the aspects of your event and test everything that can possibly go wrong. Consider who’ll be there. Will they find their smartphones more interesting than what you’re planning? Most of us are too busy to attend events unless you provide a payoff:  something valuable we’ll learn, people we’ll meet or the satisfaction of helping others.

The first time, mistakes are inevitable. Use them to learn from failures and build upon successes, which means that obtaining feedback (especially anonymously, where people are brutally honest) is crucial. Attendees raved about one of the sessions at a conference, even asking the host to “please do that again!” Yet despite the minimal cost and difficulty of repeating it, the client told me, “Oh, we didn’t feel it was important.” The client had a proven crowd pleaser generating excellent word of mouth– publicity that can’t be purchased–yet threw it away. Another event planning fail.

Questions To Ask Before Sending Out Those Evites

  • Is this the same tired event everyone has already been to? Some events are perennial favorites, such as golf or road races/walks. But can you find a new twist? An exciting theme, activity or contest can break the ice and get people out of their seats. People like to participate and have a pretext to interact with other guests — painless networking, if you will. Encourage people to share their expertise, but don’t force them out of their comfort zones.
  • If you’re providing content, is it unique (not something you can get from a Google search!) and balanced between theory and application? A long theoretical discussion can be deadly. Don’t present reams of data with barely time to digest. Put the stats in the handout and tell stories that support the stats. Stories are not tantamount to data, but they illustrate it well.
  • How’s the lighting and sound in the room? At an event in an impressive skylighted atrium, the presentations hadn’t been tested for the lighting conditions. When the sunlight shone on the screen at the height of the day, the glare washed everything out, necessitating a quick change to a nearby cramped auditorium.
  • Are you helping your speakers and performers shine? At an outdoor benefit I publicized, no chairs were placed near the stage. When the opening speakers, public officials who came to support the cause, began their speeches, guests were too far away to hear, or looking at exhibits, distracted and unaware that they were expected to listen. The way the stage was positioned out of the way made it worse. Result: one of the speakers and a singer chose not to return the next year. You can solve this by making the stage more central, by supplying enough chairs, even by enforcing set times for activities. When you call to thank people for their time, ask for feedback. The answers may surprise you.
  • Are you communicating well about logistics, especially last minute changes? Changing the time or place and not notifying everyone is a recipe for disaster. People are unlikely to notice when they get your event reminder that something has changed unless you make it unmistakeable. But don’t change those unless you must.
  • Can people eat or drink comfortably? Don’t force people to consume a whole meal standing up or on their laps. It’s hard to juggle anything more than a tiny plate and a drink and napkin. Ever spill something on your clothing and have to clean it up with one hand or worse, two fingers? At least have a place for people to rest their plates and drinks.
  • Is time built in for mingling and networking? In my experience, there’s too much time at the start when people are not yet primed to talk and not enough later. A midway break lets people discuss what’s happening.

Have you had any of the same experiences that I’ve had, or do you have different preferences or pet peeves about corporate events? Tell us about your event planning fails.

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Yeah, I’ve attended seminars and conferences where some of these fails occurred, so I hear you. The one big pet peeve I have nowadays is when a conference venue does NOT have wifi access. Or perhaps worse, they charge you 29.95$ per day and it’s super slow…

    In this day and age, when pretty much everybody attending these conferences has either a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone (or all of the above), event planning needs to take this into consideration. In particular if the event is about marketing, social media or new technologies, and it’s expected people will connected and live-tweeting the event. This means a lot of bandwidth required, so please plan accordingly…


    • linda rastelli says:

      Yes, so true. We need to be able to use our technology–that’s why we have it! Hurricane Sandy, also, made clear how much we depend on communicating with the outside world through bandwidth.

  • Adrienne says:

    Great post Linda and you definitely shared some important issues.

    Luckily for me I’m not in charge of any more “events”. When I was in corporate America I was the executive assistant to the owner of the company so I did handled planning all our investor functions, meetings, dinners, lunches, etc.

    I’m annoyingly organized anyway but whoever was doing the presentation side of it were in charge of their own presentation. Luckily I didn’t have to worry about that but when my boss was doing the speaking you can rest assure that things were in order.

    There are so many things that can go wrong and I find it rather odd that a lot of these “event planners” don’t always catch the smallest things that can make a huge difference.

    Good luck to all of those who are still in the game.


    • linda rastelli says:

      Thanks, Adrienne. It’s funny how the little things that we take for granted are the things that can really mess up a good event. Luckily, most events are not fails, though not all are great, either.

  • Hi Linda,

    That’s a great expose about making sure you don’t mess up with your event that you’ve got here.

    I couldn’t not even dream of doing all this on my own if I had to prepare one, I would have to get some real pro to help me. I mean do it for me, would be a better term.

    How strange that someone would not realize that great on white and small characters are tough on the eye 🙂 Sometimes people just don’t think I guess!

    • linda rastelli says:

      I think the grey on white was trying to be different–which is a good thing to try for–but different needs to work, right? Thanks for your comment.

  • Adi says:

    A bug bear of mine, both from running and attending conferences is Internet provision. We live in 2012 and yet giving attendees a free WiFi connection is so often so difficult.

    It seems most venues want to charge vast sums for even a basic connection. In the UK it isn’t so bad but in America I’ve seen quotes of 5 figure sums for a WiFi connection. Absolute madness.

    • linda rastelli says:

      We seem to have the equivalent of a horse and buggy Internet compared to Europe. Don’t know why that is, Adi, but we definitely need to catch up. We pay more for worse service in the U.S.

  • T.G. Crewe says:

    Lack of bandwidth scuttled a clients event a few months ago after assurances that they could handle a volume of iPads. Our client will not be using that chain again, especially after paying for WiFi access.

    It is a necessity for any event these days to have access to WiFi, for Hotels to use it like a airline baggage fee is going to bite some chains in the bottom line as people choose other venues.