A few thoughts for anyone trying to put together that ultimate event!
1. Remember it's not your day!
Whether it's your wedding, birthday party or conference, it is always key to remember that in fact, it isn't just 'your' day. It is for the benefit of your guests, customers or delegates. When I was trailing around after my fiancée to the photographer, venues, florist etc, I got quite miffed with the constant reference to my bride and 'her day' - "Oi! I'm here as well!". The honeymoon was for us; the other stuff is for others to celebrate with us.
When it comes to conferences and official events, your mind needs to be in two places at once. Ensure the event is running smoothly, but also be ready to grab opportunities that only come precisely because you are leading an event. At 'your' event, you suddenly have a magnetism that you didn't have the day before. People now want to speak to you - often seconds before you are about to give a keynote speech! It would be very easy to say "I'll catch up with you tomorrow" - but don't. This is an opportunity to show hospitality, to respond and have that conversation you have been waiting a year for, right then.
2. Ushers shouldn't be ornamental
Ushers, bridesmaids, stewards, front of house: they need to look good, be smart and presentable. That can be quite a mission in itself, but these people are more than photo-filler. They are essential to make the event work well. They need to know what you want from the event and that you expect them to play an important role. If you brief them well you should be able to watch the colour drain from their faces as they come to understand that they are not just there as eye candy.
Guests or delegates will expect your 'staff' to know stuff. Where are the toilets? What time is lunch? Did my dietary requirements get through? They should also act as a filter of issues arising from guests. As an usher at weddings, I have sorted extra places at a reception, organised an 'artistic' photographer who had forgotten this was not his studio, and gently but firmly told brides to get up and circulate with disgruntled guests (a bride in full regalia is like a fairy - everywhere she goes she creates happiness!) Much of this can take place without the real-time knowledge of the bride and groom.
3. Know who is in the room
This is such an important tip, for the workshop leader as well as the conference speaker. Beware of in-jokes and different approaches to humour. I gave a best man's speech once which had one half of the room screaming with laughter and the other side in stony silence. You need to appreciate all your guests/delegates: don't just gravitate to your friends.
4. Beware of elephant traps
Quite by accident, when we at FaithAction were preparing for an event with an imposing secretary of state, we were sent an internal civil service briefing document that asked the question 'Any elephant traps?' Considering what could go wrong is a worthwhile thought - and also who could go wrong. Is there a guest who needs to be managed? Who will you put on the case? I had an event where a VIP needed to be kept clear of a lobbyist. What ensued was a bit of a Georgian farce of entrances and exits through different doors.
Catering is another potential flash point. Despite all the signs about dietary requirements, food is rarely well labelled by caterers. Another common issue is one-line buffet tables - why not allow people to go both sides and thus double the capacity?
Spontaneous speeches can be a headache. Never hand over the microphone to a member of the audience; keeping hold of it helps remind everyone that there is limited time.
5. Get a good number two
In the theatre, it is disconcerting for the director to find that the deputy stage manager has taken over in the final rehearsals, as he/she calls the cues and runs the show. You need a good number two - someone who doesn't have to be in the limelight (probably not the best man/bridesmaid), but is dedicated to smooth running and has natural authority and problem solving abilities.
Finally consider how all these different element flow together, like scene changes in a play, are they smooth and seamless?
What goes without question is the need for team. We don't all have the same role, but we all contribute.
A longer version of the this blog is available at www.faithaction.net alongside other information, resources and training on event management.