September 8, 2010

Five things speakers can learn from event planners

I have two clients who are event planners. They create amazing social and corporate events as well as weddings that would charm your socks off.

If you've ever been to a conference, a wedding, a large fundraiser, a political rally, or a memorial service, chances are an event planner was involved.

All event planners have one thing in common: No matter how complicated or difficult the planning and organization, they make the event appear seamless. With vendors ranging from caterers to florists to photographers to musicians to hotels to audio/visual professionals, and every other kind of service provider you can imagine, the event planner juggles personalities, schedules, budgets, and activities to create an event that seems like it just "came together."

As speakers, there's a lot we can learn from event planners. Here are some event planning tips to help you put together your next seamless presentation.

1. Understand the purpose of the event.

Event planners have to understand what their client's purpose is for the event in order to be successful. Is it to raise money, thank donors, build morale, celebrate an important occasion, educate staff, experience their dream wedding, create industry cohesion? What are the desired outcomes or results?

As a speaker, understanding your client's desired result will help you create a presentation that truly meets the needs of your audience and guarantees that you are focusing on the proper objectives when preparing.

2. Make the best use of the venue.

Granted, event planners frequently get to choose their own venue, while speakers are mostly expected to go where the client tells us to go. However, once you know the venue, there are still a lot of things to consider, and event planners are masters at making any venue workable.

How big is the room? If it's too big, how can you make it more intimate? If it's too small, how can you make it feel more roomy? How's the lighting, the temperature, the seating? Are there enough electrical outlets for your equipment? How far away is parking, and do you have to lug your supplies a long way? (There is one venue at UC Santa Barbara that I've spoken at many times, where I have to walk from one end of campus to the other. A rolling case makes this trek much more bearable.)

3. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare.

An event planner generally does not throw together a wedding in a month. There are vendors to coordinate, invitations to be sent, a site to secure. It would be ridiculous to expect a well-organized event with such a short lead time, unless it's very small, with very few attendees and very few supplies and equipment needed.

Likewise, it would be foolish to start preparing your presentation a few days before you deliver it, yet this is quite common. Have you taken the time to determine your objective, prepare a strong opening and closing, and practice the presentation? Have you gotten input from the organizers or attendees about their needs and interests? Have you rehearsed any demonstrations, games, examples or activities? Have you checked to make sure you have extra batteries, an extension cord, enough handouts, a backup copy of your PowerPoint, and a timer?

Preparing to give an effective, engaging and memorable presentation takes time. There's no way around it. Give yourself as much time as you need so you can give the audience your best.

4. Be flexible.

"Stuff" happens. Event planners are experts at working around setbacks and figuring out solutions when things don't go as planned. They don't panic, they just get busy.

As a speaker, if you have not yet experienced one of these setbacks, it's only a matter of time before you do. Your technology will fail. Your room will be next to a loud construction site. The speaker before you will go long and your presentation will be cut by fifteen minutes. The trick is to keep going. Sometimes your audience will know there's a problem, but most of the time, you will be the only one. Keep it to yourself, fix it as quickly and quietly as possible, and move on.

At some point, after all the planning and preparation, you have to let go and accept that whatever happens, happens!

5. Enjoy yourself.

Event planners don't get to relax until their event is over; even after all the planning is done, event supervision and management is the last step in the process. But it's important that she's not too stressed out to enjoy the fruits of her labor during this last push. After all, she still has to run the show, interacting with clients, vendors and guests -- and if she's not enjoying herself, her bad mood can easily rub off on others.

Likewise, a speaker is no good to himself or the audience if he is not having a good time. Before, during and after your presentation, you are interacting with your client and your audience, and you are still working until you get in your car to leave. It's not only your job to convey information, but to ensure your guests are enjoying themselves, even (or maybe more so) if your topic is dry, heavy or intense.

These are just a few examples of what you can learn from event planners. Share more in the comments!

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3 comments. Please add yours! :

Rhett Laubach said...

This post is perfect timing! I went in with a fellow NSAer and we are hosting a personal development conference in Oklahoma City for about 100 people tomorrow. We are both speaking and hosting. The to-do list is definitely longer for this one than most events I speak at. Thanks for the tips. Hope you are well!


Lisa Braithwaite said...

Have a great event, Rhett! And remember to enjoy yourself. :-)

Ariel Yve said...

So true. Thanks for the tips Lisa!

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