If you find yourself planning a corporate event, there are a few don’ts you’ll want to heed. Here’s what they are.
When our parents were starting their careers, “event planner” wasn’t even a job. Even 20 years ago, the perception of an event planner was someone who tasted wedding food choices and decided whether yellow lilies can go with pink roses (debatable).
Now, lots of companies have event planners on speed dial. But regardless of your role in your business, you could be called upon to plan an event — and it involves a lot more skill than an eye for color.
Planning a corporate event involves budgeting, scheduling, acquiring permits, coordinating bus charters or other transportation, courting and arranging speakers, lining up alternate speakers, configuring location support (like electricity, wifi and other utilities), arranging decor, establishing emergency contingency plans and more.
The event planner must have, first and foremost, excellent communication and organization skills.
But it’s one thing to talk about what you, as even a de facto event planner, should do or the qualities you should possess. What pitfalls can you avoid in pulling off the perfect event? Here are some important no-nos:
Forgetting to check the weather forecast
Whether you’re planning an indoor or outdoor event, the climate and foreseeable weather matters. Contingency plans for outdoor events should be obvious, depending on where the event takes place. But even if it’s an indoor event, a conference in Boston, New York or Chicago in February, for example, is taking a risk.
You don’t want to spend people’s and companies’ money and time for an event to be a flop if there’s a huge snowstorm and no one can get there. Unforeseeable events do occur: October should be a pretty safe bet in the Northeast, but Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc. No event planner could have anticipated that a year ahead of time, but avoiding winter months in snow-prone climates is a good idea.
In the short-term sense, know the 10-day forecast before your event and continue to monitor the weather. If you’re anticipating a heat wave, perhaps extra fans or cooling stations are in order. If forecasters predict rain, plan for a place where people can leave sopping coats and umbrellas instead of carrying them around.
The more prepared you are, the smoother the event will go.
Not having a coat check
Having a coat check is always a good idea, regardless of season. If it’s a warm climate and people are unlikely to have coats, a small closet would be fine. But if people might be coming in with bulkier outerwear, a coat check is necessary. If it’s an event involving a cocktail party, people will have other things to carry around.
If it’s a business meeting, they may have laptops, iPads or notebooks. If there are any cocktail parties where people will be standing and carrying drinks or food, they don’t need to be toting around a bulky coat. Remember, the success of your event is contingent upon the comfort and stress-free attitudes of your attendees. (Click here to tweet this thought.)
Not having ample parking and good signs to and from
Reliable transportation can be one of the trickiest parts of event logistics. One of the easiest ways to ensure your guests will be transported on time and safely is to coordinate charter buses. Even if your guests are arriving from far away, arranging bus rentals to get them from airports and hotels can save a lot of hassles for everyone.
Bringing people in on charter buses saves the amount of space you need for parking. If your event is in the middle of a metropolitan area or has little parking, even having outlying “meeting spots” with shuttle buses can defray a lot of the hassles associated with having guests need to park and navigate their own way to the event.
Of course, if you must have on- or immediately off-site parking, be sure you have plenty of conspicuous signs in place. People will get lost, even if the venue is right in front of their noses.
Not making sure bathrooms remain clean
Nobody likes a dirty portable toilet. Or a dirty regular bathroom. Plenty of people are even grossed out by clean public bathrooms, but that’s their problem, not yours. Yours is ensuring that the venue’s staff is equipped to regularly clean and monitor the bathrooms so they remain clean and usable for the duration of the event.
If the venue is a hotel or conference center, it should be accustomed to dealing with crowds (and cleaning bathrooms), so it’s probably less of an issue than, say, an outdoor music festival that’s likely to have hundreds or thousands of people jockeying for time in a few portable toilets.
Because a few messes are inevitable, have enough accessible bathroom facilities so that if one or two become unusable, there are plenty more to get everyone through the event. If you have thousands of people and inadequate personal sanitation facilities, you could end up with serious public health hazards. Think Woodstock or Hurricane Katrina.
Not having enough well-trained staff or volunteers
It’s important to make sure that your staff or volunteer staff are not only abundant, but well-trained. Each person working the event should be easily identifiable, either with badges, T-shirts or some other recognizable trademark.
Everyone from the person checking in registrants to the person serving the coffee should be able to answer basic questions. Granted, it’s unreasonable to expect the coffee pourer to know the exact schedule of events and where to get additional tickets — but it’s not unreasonable to expect that they can point people to an information desk so the guest can easily locate the appropriate person.
Staffers should know the basic flow of the event and information, such as where the bathrooms are and who to talk with if there’s an issue or complaint. Above all, stress to your staffers that even if they don’t know the answer to a question, they need to be courteous, friendly, helpful and polite.
Not planning for an emergency
Emergency can have many definitions, and part of what makes it an emergency is often the unforeseeable nature of the occurrence. The emergencies every event planner should be prepared for are medical situations (heart attacks, seizures, falls down stairs or minor issues) and crowd control problems.
While you probably don’t need a physician waiting in the wings, if you’re hosting a large event without easy access in and out, it could be a good idea to have a contract with an ambulance company to have one on hand, just in case.
Know where the closest hospital or urgent care center is so that if something does happen, you know how to direct your guest or staffer to the appropriate medical services.
It’s probably overkill to anticipate a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake. But if a natural disaster does happen, or if some other issue (gas leak, water main break, power outage or episode of violence) threatens your attendees’ safety, you should have a plan to evacuate them from the premises in an efficient, expeditious manner.
This could mean having a charter bus company on speed dial to get people out if need be, or it could be as simple as having readily accessible exits. It all depends on your venue and the nature of the crowd you anticipate.
Don’t underestimate the power of mob mentality, especially if people panic. Your best defense is organization and having systems in place that will help people feel safe and calmly follow directions.
Sure, other rookie mistakes can happen, but safety, cleanliness, organization and staffing are the meat and potatoes of making an event work smoothly. The details of whether you need wine goblets or champagne flutes — that’s the fun part. If you can remember the basics, it’ll go a long way in establishing your reputation as being the event planner who gets it done right.
Glenn Orloff is the CEO of Metropolitan Shuttle, a company that provides shuttle and charter bus services for every major metropolitan area in North America. Glenn has years of experience in the event planning industry, in addition to coordinating the transportation for groups and events of all sizes through his extensive network of vendors.