Choosing a Menu

If you can raise enough revenues (added to the registration fee or through sponsorship) it helps to have a catered breakfast and lunch for a one-day workshop. In this way, the participants stay together in one place and have an opportunity to network with new people. If they go away to eat, it is likely they will only go with people they already know. There is a great deal of networking that goes on around a morning muffin and fruit or in a buffet lunch line-up, at the table, around the rest rooms and outside the venue in good weather. Ensure that smokers have a suitable place to smoke and that they feel just as welcomed as everyone else. For a menu, it is often easier to have a buffet breakfast and lunch (i.e., fewer waiting staff needed). In today's climate it is best to have an array of food that will meet the dietary needs of most people.

For lunches, many groups now have prepared sandwiches with fruit and dessert trays. Some also add soups and salads. Be prepared to include a variety of foods so that everyone feels satisfied. For example, have vegetarian foods, food for people with diabetes, culturally sensitive foods (e.g., not all beef or pork meat ­ but a variety including Halal and kosher meats). The overall choices are determined by timing (hot meals must be served on time) and your budget. Often a buffet meal at a hotel or conference center ranges in price from $15 - $25 per person. A sit-down lunch can be considerably more expensive. If you include snack foods and drinks during the morning and afternoon breaks into the lunch package, the cost may be less. Negotiate the cost of food in with the room rental. For example, many hotels will not offer to reduce costs for you but if you ask for a free meeting room in exchange for a full lunch at $20 per person for an expected audience of 100, they will usually agree. You will have to negotiate a final date and time to confirm how many lunches you will require and confirm the final costs at that time so there are no surprises. Include all taxes and gratuities for serving staff in the contract.

In some community venues it may be possible to hire a small catering company to provide your meals and snacks. As well, in some venues and consistent with the theme for the day, it may be suitable for people to bring their own lunch to eat at the venue. Given many people's emphasis on conserving both money and the environment, there is much less wastage when people bring their own meals.

If the group is a well-defined one (e.g., from the same organization) you can also have a "pot luck" lunch where people bring favorite dishes to share with colleagues. These can be enormously fun as people get to exchange recipes, share stories and get to know each other in a different way.

Final Preparations

Two weeks before the workshop, send the speaker(s) detail information that includes:

1. Information on their flight (if you scheduled it) and their room accommodations.

2. The names of people, if any, meeting them at the airport, train station or hotel to welcome them.

3. Contact information for them when they arrive (your telephone numbers at work and home; the hotel's telephone number, a cab company you recommend, telephone number at the venue).

4. Expected time for them to show up at the venue and directions to it if not at the same location as their accommodations.

5. Any program changes that affect the speaker(s).

6. Number of registrants.

7. The names of any other speakers and guests at the event so the speaker is aware of their names before any introductions are made ­ helps them remember people's names and who they are.

8. The names of any people sharing a head table or lunch table with the speaker.

  1. 9.A copy of the programs and agenda.

During the last week before the event, there are things that must be done:

1. Confirm all travel and hotel arrangements for your speaker(s) and out-of-town participants.

2. Go over your specific expectations with the speaker regarding: when they need to arrive at the venue, how to contact you, not to "sell" their products during the presentations, how you can help sell their products afterwards, and how long you expect them to stay and answer questions from the participants.

3. Confirm the venue's booking, menu, room set up, contact person's name for a/v requirements and room problems during the day.

4. Call the speaker to confirm they received your package last week, to confirm their availability for the event and to answer their last minute questions (usually about the number of registrants, directions to the venue). Even though their questions were probably answered in some of the information you sent them originally or last week, they are likely involved in many events and forget specific details quite easily.

5. Prepare the handout packages for the participants. This often involves combining the handout material with the free 'gifts' by sponsors and the venue (notepads, pens) plus the agenda/program for the day, name badges, evaluation form, information on the organization putting on the event, a greeting from the mayor and other politicians (if suitable for the day), content material from the speaker(s), participants' contact list, venue site plan, tourist information (if appropriate for type of event), exhibitors' contact, sponsors's contact list, etc.

6. Name badges that hang around the neck are easiest as they do not damage clothing (like stick-on badges). The badge can include first name in larger letters, last name, job title, organization's name where they work. The badge should be checked against the registration form. Have blank badges available to make corrections on site. The badge may include a logo of the workshop title and/or your organization's name as host.

7. Ensure you have extra registration forms for last minute registrants.

8. Ensure you have receipt forms (in duplicate) for new registrants as well as receipts for those who pre-paid.

9. If you decided to record the sessions, you will need to have the necessary equipment (video recorder, audio recorder, and/or camera for still photography).

  1. 10.Prepare draft 'scripts' for:

  1. Event Chair

  2. Welcome

  3. Housekeeping (e.g., where restrooms are, introduce co-ordinator for the day who will answer any questions, lunch and break times)

  4. Thank the sponsors and exhibitors

  5. Info on any draws or contests for the day

  6. Where smoking area is

  7. Those introducing and thanking the speaker(s).

  8. Your speaker(s) may well have a basic introduction script prepared for their clients that you can modify to suit the occasion.

  9. Thanking the speaker usually includes a 30-second or less personal highlight or summary of the presentation.

  1. 11.You will need to know how to deal with:

  1. Refunds

  2. Lost badges, programs, etc.

  3. "Lost" registrations

  4. On site registrants who want to attend on "credit" (i.e., pay later)

  5. Pre-registered participants who still owe money

  6. Handling cash and checks on site and where to put it until it can be deposited ­ the venue may have a safe on site that you can use.

  7. Theft of any items

  8. Injuries or medical emergencies (have first aid kit plus contact information for local ambulance/paramedic services)

  9. Complaints about venue, food, speaker(s)

  1. 12.Have enough:

  1. pens and pencils,

  2. paper,

  3. staplers and stables, staple removers,

  4. (cellophane and duct) tape,

  5. scissors, glue,

  6. paper clips,

  7. calculator,

  8. blank name badges,

  9. ribbons to identify speakers, workshop organizers, sponsors,

  10. extra programs for the registration table at the event.

13. Ensure that you have an up-to-date registrants' list.

14. Ensure that you have extra copies of the handout packages for last-minute registrants.

15. Ensure you have cell phones for each of the planners and that they are have sufficient battery life for the day.

16. Make contact with the venue for any last minute changes, decisions, or requests.

17. Assign someone, or do it yourself, to welcome the speaker personally upon their arrival. If they have traveled in from out-of-town, it may be helpful to meet them at the airport or hotel or to have a note waiting for them at the hotel from you.

18. Assign someone, or do it yourself, to prepare and give the introduction to the speaker at the event. This person can also do any "housekeeping" announcements. Make sure they understand the importance of staying on schedule.

  1. 19.Prepare signs (or have the venue do it) showing people:

  1. where to go as they enter the building at the different doorways

  2. which way to go at stairways, end of hallways and at elevators,

  3. outside the venue room(s)

  4. if you have assigned people to certain tables, prepare table markers (either a number or name on a table stand) so people can find their assigned seats.

20. Assign someone to thank the speaker at the end of the event (if different from the person who introduced them). You may decide to give the speaker(s) a memento of the community as a gift so that will need to be on hand for the event.

21. Prepare a final check for the speaker(s) to cover the remainder of their fee. If you need an invoice, ask the speaker to e-mail or fax it to you immediately so they can be paid on time according to the speaker's contract.

22. Send out reminder e-mails (or call, if necessary) to registrants with directions to the venue, the starting and finishing times and an offer for last minute discounts to any of their colleagues, family and friends.

23. Designate "helpers" whom are visible to the participants throughout the day to help with questions, information and emergencies.

Lastly, make sure you have as much rest as you possibly can before the event so that you are relatively calm and relaxed and in control of all the last minute things that happen on the day of the event. It won't go perfectly, but if you have followed most of the steps to now, it will certainly go very smoothly from the perspective of the participants (who rarely know how much effort it takes to put on a good event!).

Day of the Event

There are several things to do on the day of the event.

1. Arrive early to set up the registration table and to make sure that the room is set up properly. Make sure there is a natural traffic flow so that people can easily stop to register or collect handout materials and move on to breakfast, snacks or their seat.

2. If a lot of people are expected, have two registration tables: (1) for those who pre-registered and just need their handout package, (2) those who need to register.

3. Introduce yourself to the audio-visual (a/v) technician on call during the day and test all audio-visual equipment and any sound system. If the a/v technician is not staying for the day, assign a volunteer to work with the technician to work out typical problems with the system so that the volunteer can meet the speaker(s) needs during the day.

4. Find out where the lights and temperature controls are and assign a volunteer to ensure that any changes to the lights and temperature during the day are done well. It is amazing how much is wasted during many events while people try to search out the lights and then figure out how to use them.

5. If you have help, ensure that everyone knows their tasks and has the tools and materials needed to fulfill their task.

6. Have a 'greeter' beyond someone at the registration desk. When people first arrive, they don't know where to go, don't know how to get rid of their coat, don't know where the restrooms are, where to sit, don't know other participants, etc. The more you can do to welcome them, the greater their enjoyment of the day. Like visitors to your home, the more personal the welcome, the more pleasant the visit.

7. Place sufficient signs around the venue so people can find the rooms easily.

8. If there is a complementary breakfast, ensure that it is well laid out and in time for early arrivals. The people from farthest away are usually the first to arrive and they have often not had anything to eat.

9. Have the speaker(s)'s greeter on standby as you are not sure when they will arrive. This person will then escort the speaker(s) to the room, help them set up, show them where the restrooms are, introduce them to the people helping with sound, lights, and the a/v equipment. They should be the speaker(s)'s assistant for the day to ensure that everything they need is available to make the day go as smoothly for them as possible.

10. If you are the only event planner for the day (as opposed to a committee member), then you need to be readily accessible to everyone else (those helping and those participating). It is best to stay near the registration table or in the event room.

11. During the day, as decisions need to be made about when to break, how to stop the speaker(s) for lunch, etc., you need to be readily available as well. Things may go wrong with the a/v equipment and you will need to find the technician. The food may be late for lunch and you can ask the speaker to go a bit longer. The room temperature will likely need to be changed from the cool of the morning to the heat of the day.

12. At the end of the event, someone will need to thank the speaker and present them with a gift (if appropriate).

13. Make sure that participants are asked to fill out their evaluations before leaving (people rarely send them in afterward). As an incentive, give each a 'parting' gift of a donated item from one of the sponsors in exchange for the evaluation form.

14. After the event, pay the speakers the remainder of their fee and pass along any general feedback you have heard from the participants.

15. Once everything is cleaned up, the speaker(s) and participants have left, take a moment with those who have helped out to say "thank you" and to celebrate in some small way. You have pulled off a successful event with their help and you all deserve to feel good about that. Most often, people just shuffle off home exhausted and relieved that the day went well. People should leave more excited than that!

Event Evaluation

It is important to evaluate the success and difficulties of any event you offer. The evaluation can help you maintain those aspects of the event that went very well while improving those other areas that were less successful. Few participants will find everything perfect. It's virtually impossible to successfully meet everyone's needs. Each participant has their own learning needs which can rarely be met within one event for everyone. What you learn from evaluations is what a majority of the participants saw as the benefits and weaknesses of your program. Like all skills, one aims to be an effective planner; not a perfect one. Perfection is impossible, but striving for constant improvement is not.

You must answer some basic questions before you can design an evaluation method.

Design Questions

1. For whom is information being collected? Who will be involved in the decision-making process?

2. When should you evaluate? (Generally at end of session with a possible follow-up 3-6 months later.) When should you not? (When information cannot be easily collected or will not be used to change program.)

3. How should information be collected?

4. Will speakers/presenters be given a copy of the evaluation for their own benefit? Once you have the background answers to those questions, you can decide what kind of evaluation method would be best. You may decide to combine various methods to get the most accurate evaluation you can. Keep in mind how much time you will have to design, implement and review your evaluation information and how that information will be used. For example, do not spend weeks working on this evaluation if the information will not be seriously used to improve your next event.

Things to Evaluate

There are different things one can evaluate to improve programs. Most of them involve a participant's learning but others involve specific aspects of the training program including some of the following. A trainer can use the evaluation process to determine how effective some of these training aspects were and revise them according to needs.

1. Preparation of materials and participants,

2. Content,

3. The speakers/presenters,

4. Written and visual materials,

5. Activities: group and individual,

6. Time limits sufficient and met,

7. Participation of learners throughout event,

8. Environment helpful to learning,

9. Performance results,

10. Learner self-evaluations. Learners can evaluate:

if their original concerns or learning needs were met,

if their participation helped or hurt the learning process for themselves and for others,

what actions they are going to take to apply what they have learned.

11. Event planning process: registration, timely information, process before the event and on site.

12. Accessibility of the rooms, lunch venues, washrooms, etc. Although you did a preview of the venue before the event, issues may arise for which you did not plan.

Evaluation Forms

Forms can be very simple or quite detailed depending on what you intend to do with the results. The more detailed the form the more you should use the information to improve the design and the delivery of the program. Participants often are not too keen to fill in evaluation forms so use them only when you intend to use the feedback to improve your programs. In appendix 12 and 13 are several examples of evaluation forms.

Finalizing Expenses and Budget

Once the relief of having a successful event is over, it is time to pay off the remaining bills and finalize the budget. You will likely have to pass along a report to your organization of the costs and revenues of hosting the event.

You may also choose to give an abbreviated version of the report to your sponsors to show them the difference their support made to the event and to funds raised. Sending out this kind of report quickly to the sponsors after the event while it is still fresh in their memory (within a week) is a great way to encourage an ongoing relationship with them for future sponsorship opportunities. In smaller communities, this may reward you even more as many of the organizations get asked a lot for sponsorship. When you go to them again in the future, they will remember how well you treated them as compared to others.

Prompt payment of outstanding invoices and bills reflect very well on you and your organization. Vendors remember who treated them with courtesy, professionalism and promptness in paying their bills. This is especially true of any vendors who provided a discount in support of the event. Prompt payment is particularly important in smaller communities where people know each other. Sometimes this familiarity leads to payments being made more slowly ("Jack is okay ­ he's in no hurry"), which may hurt your chances of getting help from these vendors in the future. When you never take people for granted, you set an outstanding example of how community events can succeed.

Final Meeting

Once the final budget is completed, it may be helpful to have a final meeting with all those involved in the event. At this meeting you can go over everything that went well and those things that could have been done differently. Get their input. It is important to focus on the successful aspects of the event and to acknowledge the efforts of everyone involved. Reward excellence in a way that reflects well on you and the recipient. If performance reviews are done in your organization, then make sure that a letter of thanks is included in their personnel file.

This type of meeting can also lead to further ideas about future events and who might volunteer to coordinate the organizing of such an event. Building upon success is always easier than starting from scratch. Offer to mentor anyone interested in acquiring the skills involved in event planning. These are highly transferable and highly valuable skills (i.e., can be used in almost any job or volunteer situation).

The Party!

Whether as part of the final meeting or later, it is important to celebrate the success of the event with a celebration. It can be a potluck lunch, an evening out together, bringing in a local school band to play for everyone during lunch, etc. There are no limits to the creative ways people can come up with to celebrate a job well done when they are encouraged to do so.

It is a lot easier to recruit volunteers for the next event when the volunteers from this event are toasted and treated with admiration and gratitude for everything they have done. It is a wonderful way to end a process that began months before.

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Event Planning Guide

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Copyright © 2006 Harry van Bommel

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