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August 28, 2013

Expect the Unexpected | Lessons Learned While Planning a Business Event

Author: Valerie Baker

Looking back at last week’s logo and brand launch day, I am sitting here at my computer with a bit of pride, but mostly severe exhaustion. I have planned and hosted events before (more than I can even count), though there was something different about Atilus’ open house that relaunched our company and introduced a new logo and brand. This was definitely the first product/brand launch that I undertook of this magnitude and the first one that encompassed over four months of marketing planning and preparation. The night went off without a hitch, and I am so thankful for the team I have that made it all sparkle.

There are certain things you look for to determine the success of the event:

  1. The number of guests that showed up.
  2. The number of guests that stayed until the end (or past the end time).
  3. How much buzz it’s generated since.

I certainly would have liked to see more people arrive, but we had a lot of people show up (many that I wasn’t expecting) and the party went well past the published closing time. Since then, Facebook has been abuzz with photos and thank-you, comments and shares. Atilus’ brand has been successfully re-launched with excitement and activity. As I mentioned earlier, I am awash with appreciation and sentiment; not only for my team members that helped me pull this off, but with our company’s friends and fans that made it (and are continuing to make it) so successful.

So what is there to learn? Lots! I have always been the kind of guy that wanted to learn whether I got it right or not, because each situation, however similar, is always different. With our company rebranding celebration, there are 4 specific company event planning tips that I am making sure to remember and I hope they prove valuable to anyone who plans an event.

Event Planning Tip #1: Environment is Everything

I was first taught this principle while planning for a senior adult breakfast hosted by my high school youth group. As a leader in the group, I was given the opportunity to plan the event from scratch and the number one piece of advice I was given is that “environment is everything.” If people are not comfortable in your event space, they will not stay. Everything matters; the room may be too hot or cold, the music may be too soft or loud, or not there at all, the food may not taste right (let’s hope you never have to deal with someone getting sick at your party), the drinks may not be right, spacing may not allow for good conversation, etc. The list goes on and on. The easiest way to fix this is to think about a time when you were with a group of people and it as a great time. Do you want people sitting down and getting into long conversations? Then provide comfortable seating. Do you want people networking like it is a business function? Then remove chairs altogether and provide good space so people can mingle and mill about the room. The more comfortable people are in the correct setting for the event, the better their experience will be.

Lastly, take one lesson well taught by Monica Gellar of FRIENDS: the more you program your event with overly structured activities, the more you will get made fun of as an event planner.

Event Planning Tip #2: Event Expenses are Guaranteed to Surpass Your Budget

I would love to sit here and tell you that if you plan well enough, everything will be thought of and you can perfectly plan a party using the exact budget you start with from the beginning. I wish I could tell you that. However, something always comes up, and by its own nature a party is a live event. When dealing with real people and a future event, you have to be willing to be flexible and plan for changes. Whether it is an unknown shipping expense or a last minute increase in food costs due to some extra RSVPs (I won’t even mention the ever changing cost of food), give yourself freedom in the budget with initially planning so that you will not find yourself out of money while party-goers go hungry.

Event Planning Tip #3: Less Than Half the People You Invite Will Show

This is a fairly known and trusted rule. Plans change, storms arise and problems keep people from reaching their desired location. Whatever you do, never take it personally that someone didn’t show. This can be difficult, as an event planner is working hard to create an event that affects the people they invite, even down to an emotional level. When someone you are expecting to show cancels, it is natural to take it hard. Don’t. To you this event may be the most important thing in the world; to everyone else, remember, it is just an event.

Event Planning Tip #4: You Can Never Over Plan

Winning is all about preparation. It’s as simple as that. Food takes time to prepare, and caterers usually like at least a two week lead time. For the open house, one of my caterers (I used two restaurants for this event to take care of dinner and desert) dropped out two days before the event. No matter how much I planned, I still had to be ready to scramble, and I would not have had time to call around to other restaurants and find one that would work short notice if I was still scrambling to do everything else.

Whether this is a personal gathering or a business launch of some kind, as event planner you are responsible to make sure this event is memorable and fantastic for all involved. Start early, over plan and be ready to change things all the way up to the last minute. Oh, and never expect adulation. If you are throwing a great party, then the guests should not be thinking about you. Just make sure you are overly thankful to everyone regardless and then honestly appreciative when you receive praise. Lastly, trust yourself. If you put in the effort, it will come together. Laissez le bon temps rouler (Let the good times roll)!

Valerie Baker

Valerie is the Senior Account Manager & Project Manager here at Atilus.

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