Master Event Planning

One way or another we will all be organizing events be it birthdays, weddings, or something required by our work. This blog post is more on organizing events in the context of work or organizations. It applies in organizing conferences, summits or the like. I am sharing this to the public since I think this will help us lot in maximizing events which we all invested in. As a learner, it is important for me to get the most of my time in conferences which includes networking with people, be inspired by speakers, and learn something new.
I do not own any of the ideas listed in here. It is mainly from the talk done by Intermedia Communications Training ( in the Asian Development Bank. I hope the notes below will help you in organizing events. Keep on learning!
What makes an interesting event:
  • Events is about people and not about organizations. You should make sure that there will be instances for networking.
  • Very good facilitator
  • Good time management – you need to be conscious of the time. It is either you finish on time or you finish ahead of time unless there is really something interesting happening that you cannot cut.
  • Close well – make it short, sweet, and tell people to do something. It is easier to push people to act on what they know right after a learning activity.
  • Avoid too many panelists – 2 to 4 people should be enough
  • Avoid too many bullets in your presentation.
12 Principles for Event Organizers
  1. Begin with the end in mind – you need to find the purpose/reason at the start
    • Agree on the events purpose
      • Write down the outcomes you want
      • What is the take away?
      • How do you want to influence participants?
      • What is the mood you want to create?
  2. Find a unifying theme
    • What’s driving transformation
    • What are the key questions?
    • What’s the cutting edge?
    • Ex. The Africa We want (in 50 years) – they also used the hashtag: #AfricaWeWant which got the interest of journalist
    • Find the questions that everybody wants to answer
  3. Use ‘Reverse Engineering’
    • Standard:
      1. Topic
      2. Speakers
      3. Boredom
    • Reverse Engineering
      1. Think of the effect you want in your participants: “Inspirational Session”
      2. Look for speakers who can create the effect: “Inspiring Speakers”
      3. Create the topic: “Inspiring Panel Topic”
  4. Variety and Innovation
    • Don’t do the same topic over and over again
    • Come up with different events structure
    • You can have any of the following:
      • Game show
      • Fish bowl – two circles where people in the middle will talk about a topic and the people outside listen and observe
      • Talk show
      • Unconference – every one from the participants can be a speaker
      • Mini TEDx style events
  5. Give speakers clear directives
    • Event format and topic
    • What you want them to speak about
    • Their time length
    • Deadline for PowerPoint (if allowed) – have a clear deadline so that you can still check their presentation. You don’t want them to present 95 slides on the event itself.
    • Rehearsals – this should be an opportunity for the moderator to meet the panelists
    • In some cases, you may want to require them to have a contract to make sure that they show up
  6. Strong moderators
    • Energetic and professional on stage
    • Expert in panel subject matter
    • Able to exert discipline
    • Able to create interactivity
    • Strong moderators would usually make it clear what the session is and what will happen
    • Good moderators are captains of the ship
  7. Break down the barriers
    • You should move your audience to becoming participants
    • Create an interactive atmosphere
      • Do open mic session
      • Do crowdsourcing first
      • Government people meeting CSOs in a small and interactive space
  8. Networking
    • Bring networking in the middle of your event and not just a side event
    • Make sure that your refreshments are of good quality – bad coffee spoils conversation. (Back-up info: Psychology study says that if you are holding something warm, they tend to feel warm too. If they feel comfy sitting on a chair, they feel comfy listening to you too).
    • Try to organize a pubcrawl or social event after the conference. Your event goes beyond what’s written in the program.
    • People who actually have a post-conference event usually find the conferences more memorable.
    • Think of the iceberg that you need to break it.
    • You can ask the panelist or speakers to put their contact details on their presentation or in the program.
    • You want this to happen naturally but not really pushing it
      • You can put them together in one physical room
      • There can actually be in-session events like speed-dating for people to get to know each other
      • You can set-up a board where people can go after the event. Example: Youth dinner night in a nearby pub.
  9. Twitter/Use of Social Media
    • The key to using Twitter is to create an interesting hashtag
    • The idea for using Twitter is to not just broadcast but actually to engage people
    • Make sure that the hashtag is used so remind people vitually and visually about it
    • You can tell them to use hashtags for comments during sessions
    • It is also important engage your participants prior to the event using the social media
    • Use videos or podcast to make your sessions available for those who cannot make it.
  10. The big picture
    1. Put one planner in charge of the big picture. Assign a person who can step back, move from session to another, and see how everything is going. This person will do something like participant observation.
  11. Your people (your team) must commit
    1. Ensure that your people are actually attending the whole conference and that they are mentally present.
    2. Your people should know who are coming and see who are connected to their work and meet them.
    3. Your people can help in solving problems
    4. Your people can also use the event to ask for participant’s opinion then you can use that for your other work or for assessments
    5. Give everyone a job like Tweet or take pictures
  12. Magic moments
    1. Find the “Aha!” Moment per session. For example if it transportation, you may want to present samples of innovation in transportation.
    2. Think of the “Wow!” Moment per conference. For example, you may want to present a hologram of one speaker who can give the final remarks.
    3. The important part is to actually give them something that they will remember.
  13. Make the end point a high point.
    1. It should not be a reminder of logistics
    2. It should not just be summaries
    3. Give them something inspiring to end
    4. Propose actions.
Other things to note:
The space/venue
  • Be mindful of the physical space. Try to check the venue when there’s an event. Spaces tend to be different when there is nothing happening.
  • Usually green things like plants will make the setup look good
  • Try to use red, yellow, and green as that energizes people
  • Use galleries or rolling tarpaulins.
  • How to handle high level officials who speak too long?
    • Talk to them and be clear that they have 3 minutes when in fact they can have 6 minutes.
    • Try to ask their assistant to remind them about the time constraint.
  • What type of formats we can actually use?
    • Do something like a talk show: 1 journalist interview 1 prominent person
    • Think of bringing-in like minded speakers/guests and make them talk to each other (Ex. Kapihan session)
    • For example, you can invite young people to tell what they were doing and what do they want to happen
    • For example, you can invite Mohammad Yunus to tell something about Africa. He is interesting and his insights would be interesting.
  • How can you actually get your government officials or prominent people to do rehearsals?
    • If a day before rehearsal is not possible, just give sometime for the moderator and the speakers to meet each other before the session. Around 10 minutes in a holding room will do.
    • Best format for government officials could actually be no PowerPoint.
    • You can actually coach the people first on what will happen and what is expected from them.

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