Event management, Published on Medium

10 things to know when planning your first real event

Event management has always been a very exciting industry for me. I’m taken in by how many intricate details can come together to create one memorable experience, and how it always leaves an incredible sense of fulfillment once it’s over. I’m not going to glamourize event planning or management to be a stress free occasion but as with any job you enjoy, the work satisfaction outweighs the stress (and sometimes there is a lot of it).

I’ve been in event management for more than 10 years now (mostly corporate events), and have had to plan more than 40 events annually in my previous employment… you’d think I’d have everything at my fingertips, but there were days when the pressure was a little overwhelming.

What I found helpful during those times was keeping a few basic things in mind, which I’ll be sharing with you here. Hopefully it’ll come in handy for you and make things that little bit more organized.

Always get an early start – the earlier, the better.

I love getting a head start on almost anything, but it is pretty crucial for events. The minute a project is handed to you, get started on it. Generally, a month is enough time to plan a small scale event like a networking cocktail evening for 40 people (this includes selecting a venue, vendors, getting the invitations out and RSVP in, etc), but you’re going to be hustling to get everything done in time. The more time you have, the less overwhelmed you’re going to feel, and it’ll allow for any change of plans.

Have a checklist ready.

It’s a little difficult to have a complete checklist ready when you’re just starting out. I would suggest checking out a few free downloadable checklist that are available online and build on it. You’re going to modify each checklist according to your event, and eventually, you’ll create a template that works best for you and your work. This was a lifesaver for me. When you have to remember and consider so many different aspects of a project, it’s so easy to accidentally leave something out.

I would also suggest using a project management app if you’re planning a large scale event like a 3-day conference. It really depends on what you need at the moment, but a checklist is basically the foundation of it all.

Things don’t always go according to plan.

Nothing is perfect, and neither will your event be. It may sound harsh, but the reality of it is that while it will go smoothly, you’ll still have a few bumps here and there. A vendor may show up late for set up, your key speaker has suddenly fallen ill, or the wine wasn’t chilled properly. You’re going to feel a little helpless and overwhelmed.

In my opinion, the best way to overcome this is to…

Prepare for the worst.

I’ve always planned an event with Murphy’s Law in mind, and that’s why you should always try to have a back up plan. Even if you don’t, just stay calm and face every hiccup with your problem solving cap on. If you’re the project lead, the worst thing you can do is panic and feel like everything is your fault. It isn’t. Analyze the problem and run through any plausible solutions in your head to find the best and most effective one. If you’ve already thought about it during the planning stages, you won’t be surprised when it happens.

Over budget if possible.

The beauty about planning for a corporate event is sometimes you’re allowed to request for your event’s budget. When that happens, overbudgeting just that little bit will allow you some room for last minute changes (like when your boss absolutely needs to have that band that’s 500 bucks over what you had planned for). Additionally, it’s going to look good if you managed to save some money for your company by not overspending.

Regardless of your budget…

Always have more than one vendor to choose from.

Some companies may require you to have a quote from 3 different vendors. Even if they don’t, it’s a good idea to explore your choices before making your final selection. This can also be a back up plan for you — if the first selected vendor does not work out for any reason, you’d have two more (which you’ve already initiated contact with) to choose from.

That being said, if you can streamline all your vendors to one main point of contact, do it (e.g. your caterer can also manage the venue in terms of their kitchen/pantry needs). This will not only free up some time for you, but also make it easier for you to keep track of everything.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you’re the sole project lead for an event, it can sometimes feel a little lonely. It may seem that people will only come to you with problems instead of solutions and it can get frustrating. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or suggestions on how you could possibly do things better together. When your mind is occupied with all the tiny details, you’re probably going to miss out on some great ideas that could amp up your event. Always be open to suggestions because sometimes even the simplest idea could be the one to completely transform the event.

Be early, but not too early.

So the day of your event has finally arrived! You’ve confirmed the time of your vendors to be there and you’re anxious to be there as well to make sure everything is done right. There really isn’t a point to be there too early (you’ll end up just standing around waiting for everything to be done) but generally, you should be there about 2 hours after the AV system and lights are there. By that time, everything should already be in place and you can run through your checklist to see if everything is in order. You’ll also have time for a thorough briefing and a few dry rehearsals before kick off.

Always prepare extra of everything.

Itineraries, posters, speeches, reserve tags, guestlists… always prepare extra of everything including stationeries and even a change of clothes and shoes. Trust me, accidents can happen and it’s always better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Someone could have lost the entire guestlist or you might find that that pair of shoes you chose to wear wasn’t as comfortable as it looked. I usually have all that prepared in a separate bag/folder and have it stashed somewhere close where I can get to it quickly (usually behind the stage).

Last but not least…

Have fun.

Remember to bask in the excitement that everyone else is feeling. You’ve worked this hard to execute everything, why shouldn’t you be able to enjoy it just a little bit? Mingle with your guests when you have the chance, or taste that delicious looking dessert you see on the buffet table. Some will even tell you that you’re doing a great job and that’s just incredibly rewarding.

However, the best feeling will come right at the end when the final guest leaves. If I had to describe it, it would be ‘relieved and satisfying AF’. It’s when you know everyone had a good time and didn’t even notice all the behind the scenes bumps.

So there you have it — my little bag of tricks for managing an event. I hope it helps and I wish you all the best on your first event. You’re going to kick ass.


Also published in Medium