I’ve arranged more than a few events in my career, from intimate executive roundtables in private clubs to large networking presentations at industry trade shows. The level of success achieved (and my personal stress level) can often related to my thoroughness in planning, so I'd like to offer my top 5 tips for anyone planning an event.
Start planning early
Don’t underestimate the amount of time needed or the amount of planning required. For a small event, I begin planning 6 months in advance (4 months minimum). For a large event, I recommend 8 months in advance (6 months minimum) -- large venues are more difficult to secure, especially if you have budget constraints. If you’re exhibiting, it’s important to get a good booth location (close to the entrance, the food, or the wifi lounge). Send invitations 4-5 weeks in advance with an email reminder and maybe even a call a few days out.
Make it represent you: maximize the booth
Carefully review what is and is not included in your exhibitor package, such as tables, chairs, LCDs, carpet, or wifi. Don’t forget to pack power cables and international plug adapters. Even if you are going for a minimalist look, still make sure you pay attention to the details such as having a potted plant for hiding a water bottle. You also want a small table or stand for marketing material and giveaways. If staffing your booth with freelancers, think in advance about what training they need, what they should say, and what they should wear.
Stay busy: set up meetings in advance
I take every opportunity to build on relationships, whether with customers, partners, or suppliers. Set up meetings with people you know are going, even if just for a coffee or a quick discussion. If meeting space is hard to find, agree to chat while standing at one of your booths. It’s always good for a booth to look busy! If you are attending an event to prospect future customers, do some due diligence. Get as much registration info as the event coordinators will share, and have your team to evaluate the attendees. Note your high value targets and map out their booths for a plan of attack. Don't rely on trying to read people’s name badges at the lunch buffet!
Tag along: take advantage of big industry events
A big conference or tradeshow brings a lot of interesting people to the same location, including your partners and customers from other countries. Consider hosting a private event alongside it. Be mindful of the main event calendar, pick somewhere conveniently located to the main venue, and send a lot of reminders. During events schedules become more fluid and priorities change.
Stay on top of it all: Excel is your friend
Stay organized with a master spreadsheet with many tabs. Use it to track timelines, costs, and lists. Use formulas that pull data from one sheet to another for efficiency and accuracy. Keeping a central shared document will make it easier for you to work across teams, vendors, and scenarios. It also prevents little things from slipping through the cracks, like printing name cards or table tents. If you prefer a (free) online tool for collaborating with 3rd parties, I recommend Airtable, although it does not allow sophisticated data sharing between tabs.
Low on budget?
If you need to put together an event on a smaller budget, don’t automatically gravitate towards after work cocktails-- there are other options! Breakfast and lunch meetings are normally food only (no alcohol) so can be managed to a reasonable cost per person. Attendance can still be strong if the location is convenient and accessible. Dinners can be trimmed down to simpler affairs with only 2 courses followed by tea or coffee if you start the evening with a few hors d’oeuvres. For a networking + dinner event I budget 0.8 to 1 bottle of wine per person. (As people network they put their glasses down which get cleared away.)
Managing a customer-facing event has the potential to become a very stressful project, but with enough lead time and careful planning, it doesn't have to be!
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About the author
Tina manages product marketing at Gelato and is passionate about technology and its potential to change lives. She joined Gelato in Oslo and is now based in London. Her previous experience includes Deloitte and MessageLabs in the US and Samsung Electronics and PwC in Asia.