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Event Planners are busy people. Every event has so many moving parts that it is easy for Event Planning to turn into Event Doing. But the danger with all of this doing is that we can lose sight of why we are hosting the event in the first place and what success really means.
Planning is not about doing. Planning is the process of strategic and creative thinking about the event and what you really want to achieve. Planning is creating a roadmap for success. A great plan will lead to the implementation of an event that fulfills a vision. In this article we explore how to get started with the planning process.
What is a Planner?
The definition of plan is a “proposed or intended course of action”. Professionals planners help to create the vision for the event. They lead the team in researching, designing and developing the event to make sure it fulfills this vision.
Planners are interested in the big picture and the small details. They don’t just do this at the start of the project, they do it ongoingly throughout the whole life-cycle of the event and make course corrections if the vision is not being fulfilled.
Creating a plan should happen before anything else, even booking the venue. After all, how do you know what kind of venue to book until you have a vision for what the event will be?
Planning Your First Move
In this post I’m going to share with you my AIM-Outcome process which I use as the first step in planning anything, whether it is an event, a blog post, a website or a single speaker presentation. It’s a formula that has never failed me and you can be used effectively not just for the whole event, but also for individual sessions.
The “AIM” in AIM-Outcome stands for:
Let’s look at each of these components in a bit more detail.
Audience (“It’s about the people, stupid”)
There is no ingredient in your event more important than the people who are coming. This seems obvious, but it is also easy to overlook. My personal mantra, “it’s all about the people, stupid”, keeps me focused on what’s important.
Before you do anything else, create a list of the broad categories of people who you will be inviting to participate. In most cases there will be more than one category of people to consider, from loyal fans to new listeners (for a music concert), from established professors to students (for an academic conference) or from family members to new friends (for a wedding).
I recently planned an product launch that we were designing for shareholders, staff, existing customers, potential customers and media. Each of these different groups of people have a different relationship to event and a different motivation for coming. We wanted to make sure we created something special for all these groups of people and that no-one would feel side-lined.
Intention (“Why am I here?”)
What do you want to achieve with your event? What kind of experience do you want people to have and why will it be worth their time, attention and money?
The intention sets the tone or mood of the event. For example, at our product launch we wanted the existing customers to be acknowledged and appreciated, and the potential customers to feel inspired and excited. Overall, we wanted the mood to be one of celebration.
Inside the design of the event we thought about how we were going to create a mood of celebration, inspiration and acknowledgement. We created an awards ceremony for the existing customers and an inspirational video explaining the program for the newcomers.
Write up on a board all the different categories of people who will be coming to your event and ask what your intention is for each group. Once you have created these intentions you can brainstorm ways of fulfilling these at the event.
Message (“What will people remember?”)
What is the message you want to communicate at your event? What is this event about? What will people remember about it?
Your message is the central theme of the event. It needs to be simple, succinct and tell the story of your event in a single sentence. Even a wedding has a message: “We love each other and we are spending the rest of our lives together!”
A message is more than words, or a tag line. Every particle of the event builds to create the message, from the venue you choose to the way you greet people as they arrive at the registration table. Your whole event needs to present a single, congruent message. Any aspect of the event that doesn’t fit with the core message will stand out.
At the product launch a key part of our message was sustainability and the importance of protecting our environment. Name badges became an issue because we didn’t want to use plastic so we made our own name badges out of a reusable wooden veneer. Instead of giving people disposable mementos of the event we gave them small trees and flowers for their gardens. These small details reinforced the core message.
Outcome (“What results do we want?”)
Defining the outcome of your event is critical. Unlike the intention (which is focused on the audience) the outcome focuses on what you as the event organizes want to achieve. Outcomes may be things like brand recognition, profit, increased membership, new customers or great memories depending on the type of event you are organizing.
Once you have defined your outcome the next step is to think about how that outcome will be fulfilled.
Last week I attended a fundraiser at a beautiful location along with numerous movers and shakers including the Mayor of the city. The food, ambiance and speakers were all excellent. However, the organizers forgot one important detail: that their goal was to raise money. The whole event passed by without them actually asking us to make a donation!
The moral of the story is that you must create the structures to make sure you can get your desired result.
Creating an event is a lot of work and there is always plenty to do. Alongside all the activity, it is important to remember to be the planner as well as the doer. You are the person who makes sure that the vision for the event is being fulfilled.
There is more to planning than the four aspects we have outlined here: audience, intention, message and outcome. However, these are the foundational parts of your plan that never change and will act as a compass, letting you know if the rest of your planning is on track. By checking in regularly with these four aspects you will create events that are successful for both you and your attendees.