Planning Large Events 101

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On the heels of a successful conference and event season, we had the opportunity to work with many different groups on a variety of events that ranged in size (250 – 1200+) and types (conferences, galas, workshops, socials) of events. Now that the dust has settled (a little bit), we’d like to share some of our lessons learned, in the hopes that it will help you tackle your next event, regardless of size and scope (and hey, if you need a little, or a lot, of extra support, you can always contact us).

Registration | Keep it simple

When hosting an event with a set registration time, it’s likely that the majority of attendees will be arriving around the same time. Therefore, it’s crucial that your registration process is as seamless and efficient as possible. This means doing as much as you can in advance to prepare your participants for what they need to register, such as preparing delegate bags, name badges, and even customized materials to be sorted in alphabetical order. Even if you send a “know before you go” email to attendees that outlines the registration process, they will still need clear instructions upon arrival. Ideally, when delegates arrive, they should simply have to identify themselves, and everything they need will be provided to them in a neat package within a few moments. With an organized and cohesive registration team (we had 12 people for an 800 person event) you can reduce some of the inevitable stress of an intense registration period.

Venue | Optimize space

Traffic and flow for a 250+ attendee event can be quite challenging, especially if participants will be moving from room to room throughout the day. To help minimize congestion, make sure to do a thorough walk-through of the venue and anticipate any bottlenecked areas ahead of time. Use signage, staff/volunteers, and physical barriers strategically to help delegates with wayfinding throughout the day. For our event, we learned that space optimization can really affect the attendee experience. Our registration area was quite small, making it difficult and uncomfortable for attendees as they waited in long lines to collect their name badges and delegate bags. For future events, we will consider getting creative with our venue space, and moving high traffic touchpoints to more spacious areas of the venue. Just because other events in that location had a certain layout, it doesn’t mean you have to adhere to it for yours!

Volunteers | Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Any large event would not be a success without an army of volunteers to make things happen. When working with volunteers, it’s important to communicate the different roles and responsibilities clearly before the event begins. Having an in-person or teleconference meeting the day before, or early on the day of the event (email is not enough!) will help avoid confusion and duplication of efforts onsite, as well as ensure volunteers are equipped and empowered to perform their roles.

There should be clear expectations regarding:

  • Arrival and departure times for volunteers
  • Main points of contact onsite
  • Procedures for dealing with problems onsite
  • Break times

Remember, your volunteers are devoting their time and energy to the event, so you want to make sure they have the best experience possible. A positive experience will motivate volunteers to stay engaged with the organization, and even volunteer at future events!

Logistics | Are you smarter than a five-year-old?

Finally, due to the sheer volume of people attending a large event, any unnecessary barriers to your attendees’ experience can have a huge impact on overall flow. One lesson we learned is that if any of the tasks you plan on having your attendees or volunteers complete onsite  (picking up the printed program, signing up for concurrent sessions, finding a gluten-free option for lunch, etc.) are not easy to explain to a five-year-old, they are likely too complex. It’s not a matter of patronizing your attendees; it’s about making sure your attendees are empowered to make the most of their experience and are confident enough to navigate the day without needing additional support from staff. Participants will undoubtedly ask questions, no matter how clearly you think you have communicated to them, but with easy instructions, you’ll be able to devote more of your time to making sure the rest of the event goes smoothly.

Large events can be stressful, but with adequate preparation, everyone involved can have a meaningful and rewarding experience!

 

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