From entertainment to corporate and tech-related events, the internet is full of advice for event planners. Our blog is no exception! There are no shortage of topics to cover in such a creative, fast-paced industry. However, many event planners find that the best way to learn how to handle certain scenarios on the job is to first learn how not to handle them. We all make mistakes, the important thing is that we learn from them, and allow them to shape future experiences. Here are seven of the most common mistakes event planners make- and how to avoid them.
1. They Don’t Expect the Unexpected
This may seem like an obvious one, but you’ve got to have a Plan B in place- especially if yours is an outdoor event. We all know that weather conditions are unpredictable no matter where you are. If you choose to set up a rain date, make sure it’s included in all of your event promotions from the start. But if you’d rather save your original date to make sure the maximum number of people can make it, there are other options.
Some event planners choose an alternate venue, which has its benefits- namely the certainty that your event will still take place, regardless of weather conditions or unexpected complications. But this idea has its drawbacks, too. For one thing, you’ve likely already mapped out your venue space and made intricate plans for how to use it on the day of your event. If you want an alternate venue, now you’ve got double the mapping to do- and the added responsibility of bringing your vision to life in a very different space.
You’ll also have to think outside the box- or in this case, the venue. Setting up a drop-off/pick-up spot for ridesharing in both venues won’t take that much extra work, but you also need to take the location into account. Is transportation to and from both locations relatively easy and uncomplicated? How convenient is your location for ridesharing? Is the new venue centrally located and convenient for the majority of your guests? If your first -choice venue close to a popular new restaurant, a Starbucks, an airport, or perhaps a large shopping center? If so, it’s necessary to ask yourself if your alternate venue is also close by attractions or facilities that will interest your niche audiences.
But you may have another option: You can keep the venue and modify your agenda. For example, let’s suppose you’re holding a business conference at a resort. The idea is to boost your company’s morale by making the conference feel more like a luxury retreat than work as usual. Maybe you’ve scheduled outdoor massages and spa treatments on a deck with a view. Perhaps your guests will be treated to drinks by the pool post-conference. In your mind, the whole event should feel like a tropical oasis rather than one long business meeting with travel expenses. But what happens if it rains?
Well, a versatile venue like a spa has plenty of zen-like, atmospheric indoor options. Why not have massages and facials inside the spa, and give the relaxation rooms a tropical feel by using flowered decor and adorning the setting with vivid potted plants? Event planners are true visionaries. You can make even a bland indoor space into a scenic paradise, an art gala, or a real-life scene for a fairytale, for that matter. We’re not saying that the venue doesn’t have to be convenient and have sufficient space for your vision. We’re just reminding you of your natural-born super power, which is to utilize one space in various, creative ways.
Aside from weather-related issues, other circumstances may interrupt even the best-laid plans. But there are practical ways to deal with them ahead of time. For example, the chances of power outages interfering with your agenda can be decreased by having an onsite generator. You should also make sure your parking plan accommodates the maximum number of guests. Even if you’re not expecting overflow parking to, well, overflow, plan your event as if it will. Designate another location for overflow parking and be sure to have ridesharing codes set up for guests.
You can easily set up easy ridesharing for guests by using Uber or Lyft. These ridesharing companies provide your attendees with promo codes or a link to request a ride to and from your event within minutes. Just make sure your designated pick-up/drop-off spots are conveniently located (i.e., within close walking distance to your venue, in a place that won’t hold up traffic to and from your venue, etc.).
2. They Think You Can Do It All on Their Own
A common mistake made by many event planners, especially newbies, is trying to save on costs by stretching themselves- and their staff- thin. Planning an event is an expensive endeavor even for seasoned event planners, so it’s an easy mistake to make. You’ve got DIY capabilities, an expertly trained and talented staff, and your combined creativity- why not stretch those resources thin enough to pull off your event without breaking the bank? We’re here to tell you why not.
First of all, let’s talk about your staff. Although the staff members you hire are likely doing a lot of your grunt work, their job entails so much more than that. They need to be quick, creative thinkers who know how to solve problems quickly, and with finesse. In the case of an emergency, such as a power outage or weather emergency that requires you to move your event to a different space, they need to be able to set up new space in a way that aligns with your vision. That’s why it’s a good rule of thumb to hire staffers who have experience with planning the type of event you’re hosting. Hire professional staff members who come highly recommended, preferably for events similar to yours.
To optimize your staff’s performance, educate them thoroughly on what your event is all about, your attendees (including niche audiences you are targeting), and who they should contact if they have a question or problem. And we can’t stress this enough- make your expectations crystal clear, and keep communication open throughout the entire event planning process. Event planning requires everyone to do more than their share of work, including you, so we know it can be irritating to have to add one more phone call or conversation to the list.
For the sake of saving time and energy, designate points of contact for staffers ahead of time. If email is easier for your point of contact to respond to, make sure your staff knows to only contact by email. In case of emergency, give your staff other, more immediate ways to reach their point of contact, such as by phone.
Planning an event takes a village- a village who is aligned with your vision for your event, and is able to think on their feet. The more staff you hire, the more smoothly your operations will go. A general rule of thumb for event planners: Expect the unexpected. For example, even if you have a super-efficient plan in place for drop-offs, pickups, and managing traffic, you still might run into a glitch. Let’s say that the street where your venue is located becomes backed up for some reason you can’t control. Maybe there was an accident or a larger-than-average dinner crowd at a local restaurant. You can’t predict every possible delay, so traffic might build up on the street.
In a situation like that, it’s easy for event registration workers to be overwhelmed, causing the check-in line to build up. Guests are hungry, thirsty, tired, and frustrated- and the event hasn’t even begun yet! Here’s where the additional staff (which you so wisely hired after heeding our advice) comes in. Extra event staff can assist the registration process, moving it along faster. Your staff can also provide additional service to other areas that need it. Having additional staff on hand can help you resolve problems quickly, answer questions for attendees, and direct guests around the venue. Just by doing that, you’re improving the quality of guests’ experience- and increasing the likelihood that they will attend your future events.
3. They Don’t Prioritize- and Optimize- Communication
Experiential marketing is trending in event planning, so it’s important to connect with your guest list- and target audience- in the months and weeks before your event. Not only is this communication important because it helps build long-term relationships and a loyal customer base, but it keeps attendees updated on any last-minute changes that might affect them. If your pickup/drop-off spot has changed, communicate this via email and post it on your event website/social media profiles. The same goes for any changes to your agenda that will affect attendees on the date of your event.
There’s a thin line between keeping your attendees excited and informed and burdening them with information overload. Between the media and our busy lives, most of us are inundated with too much information on a daily basis- and when we’re overloaded, we tune out everything but what we absolutely need to know. Keep this in mind when you’re reaching out to attendees pre-event. If your emails and social media communications are too long-winded, they won’t hold your attendees’ or audience’s attention. It’s best to get straight to the point.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you want to send boring emails that include only the bare-boned details. To make your event stand out, you’ve got to put your own unique touch on your brand. By using visuals such as creative infographics, videography that tells a story about your brand, and an interesting website design, you make your brand your own. Tech personalization is essential to experiential marketing, but we venture that the most important part of pre-event communications is your personal interactions with guests. When you reach out often, get to know your attendees by interacting on social media, and improve your agenda based on their shared interests, you are showing your guests that you care about their wants and needs.
If you’re passionate about your event and genuinely interested in what your attendees have to say, they’ll share in your excitement as your event approaches. Another helpful exercise is to put yourself in your attendees’ shoes. Ask yourself how much or how little you would want to hear about an event that you’ve signed up for or expressed interest in. What would you want to know in order to maximize your experience?
Think in practical as well as experiential terms. Chances are, you would probably want to know the full agenda, including featured speakers, workshops, and other activities. In terms of transportation, you’ll need clear directions or ridesharing information. You’re also likely to wonder what local resources are nearby (think food, shopping, etc.).
When guests do reach out to answer questions, make sure to answer them in a timely manner. We know this is easier said than done, as most event planners and their staff have overflowing workloads in the weeks leading up to an event. In order to minimize the amount of questions you and your staff will have to field, keep your guests well-informed via emails, social media, and your event website. If yours is a networking or industry event, it’s probably a good idea to circulate a guest list to all attendees. Armed with this information as well as the full agenda, your attendees can strategize to get the most benefit from your event.
4.They Aren’t Prepared for Technical Difficulties
As if you needed another reason to hire extra event staff, here’s one more. Technical difficulties frequently arise and being well prepared for them could save your event. It goes without saying that your technology team should be professional and come as highly recommended as the rest of your staff. They should also run a complete technology check to make sure that everything is working properly several hours before your event begins. TV screens, projectors, microphones, adapters, software, and any other technology should be working optimally at the start of your event.
When carrying out a technology check, many event planners and technology teams forget one important thing: All event technology should be adjusted to work optimally in the context of real time. For example, the microphones and music might sound great during tech-check- but will the sound still be loud and clear enough when hundreds of people are congregating in your event space? These fine details are best addressed by a sound expert. You’ll also want to make sure that any compatibility problems are addressed before your event.
5. They Don’t Cater to Catering
In the midst of planning workshops, entertainment, and vendor schedules, many event planners overlook the importance of catering. Sure, you’ve secured an excellent caterer and you know the food will be delicious- the rest is in the capable hands of the catering company, right? Not exactly. It doesn’t just matter what your guests eat- it matters when they eat, too. That’s why you’ll want to keep an open line of communication with caterers. Make sure they know exactly when to bring out food throughout the event. For example, fresh fruit or other perishables might be set out between workshops to fuel guests, and then taken away before their freshness is compromised.
In order to please all your guests, make sure the food selections at your event cater to different cultural preferences and dietary requirements. (Think vegan, kosher, diabetic, and other considerations). Incorporating variety also ensures that there’s something for every palate in a large group of people.
The catering design should be more than just presentable- it should be artfully crafted into a visual masterpiece! Remember, most of us are highly visual creatures who take pleasure from both food and food design at events. Make sure yours is not only impressive, but located in an area that is easily accessible to everyone- and accommodates the space guests will need to eat comfortably while mingling with other guests.
6. They Fail to Capture the Moment
Some event planners assume that if an event is enjoyable enough, it speaks for itself. To a certain extent this is true- if guests had a great time at your event or came away with new knowledge and skills, they’ll talk about it. They’ll snap pictures on their iPhones, post Instagrammable moments, and share their positive experience with your brand. But that’s not enough, and neither is using your own iPhone to capture the event.
Cell phone or otherwise unprofessional videos fail to capture the full quality of your event. Even the most expensive new phones are notoriously bad at capturing good lighting and background detail in all its glory. Besides, phones only capture snippets of your event, giving viewers a sneak peek rather than a visually captivating recap.
Professionals with high-quality cameras have the expertise and technical capacity to enhance the highlights of your event. Good videography tells the story of your event and adds suspense as it unfolds. It uses captivating visuals and personal testimonials to wow viewers. Your objective shouldn’t be just to share snapshots of your event, but to capture the energy of it. If you can’t get personal testimony from attendees, share live footage of how much fun they had- or how much they learned- at your event.
If you’re an expert behind the camera with editing experience and can produce professional quality work, go for it. But for everyone else- including event organizers with moderate skills and experience behind the camera- we recommend hiring a professional to capture the heart and soul of your event. Videography is one of the biggest trends in experiential marketing right now, which means virtually everyone is doing it. That’s why it’s worth doing it well, and that usually means soliciting some help from professionals.
It’s also a great idea to hire a professional to stream your event live. There’s no better time to capture the feel of an event than when it’s happening. Sure, you may be able to livestream the event yourself, but can you edit it to look even better than it was? When it doubt, don’t DIY. Professional photographers have the ability to bring out the best of your event for viewers to see.
7. They Neglect to Follow Up
One of the main reasons why event planning businesses fail is because they fail to follow up. Failure to follow up means the loss of customers- and the opportunity to build long-term relationships with attendees. Don’t stop talking about your event just because it’s over. Share photos and videography on social media, especially visual platforms like Instagram where people engage personally with brands, influencers, and one another. Start conversations about your event and related topics, and your audience will keep them going. Beneath everything you share, be sure to use your own brief hashtag that is unique to your business/event. (You should have created one in the months leading up to your event, so stick with that one to keep attendees engaged afterward).
If yours was an industry or business-related event or conference, all of the same rules apply- but you should also be using LinkedIn before, during, and after your event. Using LinkedIn broadens your professional audience and maximizes your networking opportunities. Implement well-crafted post-event surveys as well. The best post-event surveys are brief, concise, and ask key questions. While you can use surveys that ask attendees to rate the quality of logistic or basic aspects of your event, make the most important questions open-ended. You’ll learn much more about your attendees’ experience that way. Always be sure to ask, “What could we do to improve your experience at your next event?”
Special Considerations for Corporate Events
All events should have goals, but for corporate events, it’s essential to have well-defined objectives. What do you want to accomplish for your business at this event? Do you want to educate attendees on a specific topic, teach new skills, or facilitate professional development in a certain area? Whatever your objectives, make sure they’re clear to your event planning team throughout the entire process. This way, everything your staff does is aligned with your goals.
You should also set smaller goals pertaining to registration and viewership. For example, how many attendees do you expect to register in all, and how many of them would you like to be early bird registrars? What percentage of return attendees should you ideally have? How many livestream viewers do you expect? For those who can’t make it to the live event, is there a way for them to virtually tune in? If so, keep track of virtual attendees as well. The more comprehensive data you collect from attendees before, during, and after your corporate event, the better informed you will be.
Now let’s talk about your agenda. In order to organize a compelling agenda, you need to know what it is your attendees need. Do they need to be trained in a new technical or employee skill? Is the purpose of your corporate event to help attendees learn a new business strategy or use a new kind of technology? This circles back to your objectives, which should be based not only on current data in your field or industry, but also the shared needs and interests of your attendees. Ultimately, your broader goal is always to facilitate professional development.
When you’re putting your agenda together, ask yourself a few pertinent questions about attendee engagement. First take a look at your content. Are the topics at your event new and relevant to the professionals who attend? Does your agenda align with your goals for your business- and the needs of your attendees? This is the one time you want to mix business with pleasure. The purpose of a corporate event is not just education- it’s enjoyment, too. Today’s corporate event planners know that people learn best while relaxed and enjoying themselves. Make workshops as fun and visually interesting as possible, and try to include educational activities that address the different ways in which people learn. If you’re teaching attendees how to use a specific technology, make sure there are hands-on opportunities for them to try it out for themselves.
Also make sure that your event features engaging speakers. You can hire the most knowledgeable person in your industry to speak at your event, but if he/she has poor presentational skills, your event will bomb. When choosing keynote speakers, investigate to see how successful they were at previous events. If they have a good reputation in your industry and a proven talent for engaging audiences over time, they’re likely an excellent choice. Do they have interesting, unique ways of engaging their audience? As we know, audience participation is key to a successful presentation. When speeches and presentations aren’t interactive, they don’t hold attendees’ attention for very long.