Planning public engagement events can seem a little daunting, often there is a huge amount to do in a very short space of time but fortunately there are some processes that can help. Despite events having very different looks and feels many events have similar requirements and milestones.
In this piece I’ve set out some of the most overlooked or poorly executed areas in event planning, giving you suggested times and approaches.
Rally the troops: enlisting local help
Prepare to share: Promo copy and descriptions
Recruit: Getting the people you need for smooth running
Share, Share, Share: Broadcasting your event
Induction: Bring your team together
Event pack: Have everything you need ready
Rally the troops (6 months before event)
Let’s assume you’ve just heard that your idea has been accepted or funded, hurrah! Now the work really begins. The first thing is to rally your troops – let colleagues and partners know what you are planning and how they can be part of it.
Jot down a list of people who might be interested or useful in supporting your event. If you are in a university some of those people might be: Public Engagement Manager, Impact Champion, Communication Officer, Marketing, Media Unit, Widening Participation, Head of Department and many more.
Your list will likely be comprised of highly skilled and busy individuals, the key is to work with these people and not to delegate to them. I’d recommend meeting as many as possible for a quick chat saying you are planning an event and would like their advice and to see if there was any scope to work together.
Prepare to share (4 months before event)
The last couple of months before the event will be very busy so the more you can prepare in advance the better. Before the three-month mark you want to have prepared:
Public descriptions: Enticing descriptions to attract your audience. Less is more. Less is more. LESS IS MORE. Produce a 100 word, 50 word and 20 word description. You’ll want to add more but don’t.
Partner description: Succinct summary of what the event is including format, target audience, aims and times. This will go to internal and external partners alongside the public facing description so that partners have a clear understanding of what is happening.
Images: Gather images that can be used on social media and on websites. These images need to be high quality. Avoid photos taken on iphones from the back of a room during a talk. Instead buy images which symbolise the event or topic.
Recruit (3 months before event)
If you are leading the event, assign yourself as few tasks as possible on the day. You need to leave yourself free for the unexpected things which are sure to happen. To free yourself up you will need others to help, how much help you need will depend on the size and format of the event, but I would recommend having:
Venue Manager: A named person who will manage the event and the venue. They will need to arrive early and make sure the layout is correct, meet the speakers and organise the other volunteers. A venue manager should not be involved in the actual content delivery on the day.
Photographer: Someone to take photographs or videos to have a record of the event and for reporting or advertising your next event.
Volunteers: helpers on the day who will help with small tasks like putting up signs, directing the audience and helping set up the venue. Have around one volunteer per 25 guests.
When recruiting staff, students or friends to help as volunteers make sure they understand what is required but also what they can expect in return. They might be able to develop new skills or make contacts, you might be able to provide a reference or even just some food and drink.
Share, Share, Share (8 weeks before event)
If you want a big online footprint then you’ll have to plan for it. Sketch out what you will share and when, tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram images. If you’re event will have its own hashtag then create it early, make sure it doesn’t already exist.
Facebook events and paid adverts can be a great way to reach a wide target demographics but remember not everyone is on Facebook and their event pages don’t share well on other platforms so make sure to link to websites when using something other than Facebook (but do include a link to the FB event on the event website)
You’ll want to enlist the help of some social media big hitters to get the word out, but do not email people saying, “Can you please tweet about this event”. It is difficult to write promo copy for your own event never mind someone else’s so when you email asking for someone to post about your event, include drafts. This minimises the effort on the recipient’s time and maximises the chances that they’ll help.
Induction (3 weeks before event)
With just a few weeks to go bring as many of the people involved together as possible in the venue. Walk around and discuss when and how people will arrive, what the set up will be, what everyone’s roles and responsibility will be.
Give people printed notes with all the essential information such as their role, times and emergency contact information. If you are running an evening event discuss how volunteers and staff can get home safely.
This walk around really helps smooth things on the night. It ensures performers, volunteers and staff can hit the ground running. It also provides much needed opportunity to ask questions in person.
Event pack (2 weeks before event)
With the event close on the horizon it is time to gather everything you think you need and a few things you hopefully wont. Each venue manager should be given a pack with a few essential inside:
Venue manager briefing
Annotated map of venue
Printed ticket/guest list
Printed introductory welcome statement for host
PAT tested extension cord
Sellotape & gaffa tape
Clipboards & folders
Visibility and signage
Pull up banner
Laminated outdoor signs
Lanyards /identifying markers
Health and Safety
Public Liability Insurance cover letter
Photography disclaimer signs
Once you’ve gathered these things most of the event admin is out of the way and should leave you ready to concentrate fully on the content and making your event as successful and welcoming as possible.
Delivery (Day of the event)
Relax and enjoy it, you’re going to do a great job!
Things I've missed? If you have top tips for planning events I'd love to hear them. Comment below or tweet me at @jamiebgall
You can find more tips and resources on my Planning page