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Primer on Organizing Chapter Events

Introduction

Organizing an event requires extensive planning and preparation with most work implemented at least a few months before the actual event. Most of the time, events seem to run like clockwork with all events flowing smoothly according to schedule. Planning ahead is the key to running a successful Chapter event.

Establishing the theme of the event

Each event follows a theme and a purpose that will drive the event set-up, the target audiences or the participants, the guests and the marketing approach. In general, a Chapter event such as a regional conference for a particular technical community will appeal to participants conducting businesses within that industry as well as sponsors who gain mileage out of publicizing their products during the event.

Apart from that, the theme of the event or seminar will also determine the type of marketing channels to be used to for publicity. This also holds true for the organizing team who will need the event theme to correctly identify target participants and companies to sell the event to.

Selecting a venue

Venue selection is highly dependent on the scale of the event. Usually the scale is determined by the number of participants, the activities during the event, and if there is additional floor space required for exhibition purposes.

The location and quality standard of the venue is also important. It is always wise to explore the possibility of a few venues and examine their location suitability, level of services, ambience, and costs before coming to a decision.

Ask about amenities. When meeting with a venue sales manager, it’s important to make sure that the property allows you to incorporate some on-site promotion for your event. The sales manager should explain limitations or availability of the following:

  • Ability to display banners/signage/directional signs.
  • Any restrictions to displaying event information.
  • Availability of concierge/information desks.

View the facilities. The venue should be updated and its facilities manager should anticipate any situation. Consider the following:

  • Adequate room size and capacity to hold event.
  • Flexibility to adjust room layout/tables.
  • No visual obstructions within room.Indoor lighting (flexibility to adjust/dim sections).
  • Ability to control natural light.
  • Limited noise distractions in hallways/behind walls.
  • Nearby restroom access.

Inquire about audio/visual & equipment. Nearly every event incorporates one or more elements of A/V. Confirm the availability of each of the following:

  • High speed Internet access (wired/wireless).
  • Microphones: lavaliere system and standing (# needed).
  • LCD projectors and hand-held remotes.
  • Appropriate screen sizes and draping options.
  • Flat screen monitors, TV screens for video needs.
  • Easels, white boards and supplies.
  • Outlets (# and locations throughout room).

Document your budget. Compile all expense items, including the following:

  • Meeting facility costs.
  • Catering costs.
  • A/V & equipment rental costs.
  • Office services costs.
  • Guarantee policy.
  • Complimentary services.
  • Payment options.

There are various options for a low cost venue. Depending on the size of the event, a venue can be at a colleague’s work premises, a university classroom or auditorium, or a function room at a restaurant.

If you are planning to serve food at the event, the costs can be quite large. At the same time, food attracts people to events so it might be a case of finding the right venue, or coordinating food to be delivered to the event. Hotels will most likely bring the highest food price so confirm with the hotel staff whether or not you are able to bring food in.

Create a great agenda

Once hosts understand that people enjoy attending events, it is important to create a program that is worth attending. The agenda should be focused on a single theme and not overwhelm attendees. For example, the following sample half day seminar schedule considers the meeting attendees’ needs:

  • 8:00 a.m. Arrivals and Breakfast
  • 8:45 a.m. Welcome Message
  • 9:00 a.m. Keynote Speaker
  • 10:00 a.m. Break
  • 10:15 a.m. Panel Discussion
  • 11:30 a.m. Closing Remarks

Be sensitive to the calendar and clock. Despite the best agenda, event attendees have preferences as to when they want to attend such programs and when they cannot. Consider the following when scheduling dates and times for your event:

  • Attendees prefer morning schedules for seminars.
  • Attendees prefer appreciation events immediately after work.
  • Tuesdays and Thursdays are popular meeting days.
  • Avoid holding meetings on Fridays if possible.
  • Avoid scheduling meetings on holidays and the eve of holidays.
  • Be sensitive to attendee travel requirements for the event.

Equally important: establish a reputation for starting on time and finishing on time.

Compile an appropriate guest list

Successful meetings have a specific topic and target audience for that message. It is valuable to compile a guest list that includes appropriate attendees, even if they are ranked in order of importance. Too often, hosts will compile a master list of prospective guests and open the meeting to the masses. This will work if you are trying to fill seats based on the numbers game.

One of the keys to achieving attendance to your meeting is by inviting people early, and continue reminding them about the event even if they have confirmed attendance. It’s important to generate excitement around the event. Traditional printed invitations are appropriate, and it is now generally acceptable to rely on technology to convey your invitation. Try this approach:

  1. Mention the event to guests before sending invites.
  2. Send a save the date early in the planning process (paper or electronic).
  3. Send a detailed invitation, including agenda highlights (paper or electronic).
  4. Forward the detailed invitation again with a personalized note (electronic).
  5. Formally call guests and extend a personal invite to the event.

Event Marketing and Publicity

Event marketing is by far the most critical and often most challenging task in event organizing, and is often regarded as the most critical factor of an event’s success. This is because the number of participants turning up for a seminar is highly dependent on the strength of marketing activities and publicity. Whether or not the event achieves its objective largely depends on the marketability of the event. This means that the right marketing strategy and seminar positioning must be adopted in order to draw adequate event sign-ups.

Most of the time, event organizers who have large budgets will turn to above the line marketing such as newspaper. Press releases may also be sent in to major newspapers, in order to create the awareness of the upcoming event. Additionally, large advertising media banners and posters can also be purchased to advertise the event in high human
traffic areas.

Inexpensive printing can be found at www.vistaprint.com.au. They ship to 120 countries.

When using print advertising, the specific magazine or newspaper used must have the target audience of your event as their primary readership base. Also all print media should be copy written with an enticing approach, highlighting the extensive benefits of participation.

However, if budget is a problem, then below the line marketing may also do wonders. If the event is industry specific, mass faxing to companies belonging to the industry would be feasible. Mass emailing has become one of the most cost-efficient methods to reach out to large target audiences. This would be really useful if the event organizer already have an existing database.

The Internet Society has developed a series of products that can be distributed at Chapter events. Find out more…

Collaboration with sponsors

Getting reputable sponsors to participate in an event will help boost the creditability of the event, as well as reduce costs. Sponsors can also help with marketing, as they also help publicize your event to their customers. Apart from that, some of the sponsors can chip in on venue rental in exchange for exhibition space or publicity for themselves. Some sponsors also require a short message of their company to be given to the participants during the event. Read more… (PDF)

Managing people and working with speakers

A seminar will not be successful without the people running it, as well as the speakers sharing their knowledge to the participants. Invite speakers who are of caliber and reputation to the event, and who will provide the participants with relevant information to their work, industry or business. Prepare the speakers beforehand and work with them on their Power Point presentations as well as pre-inform them of the logistics processes, timing as well as the expected audience size. Check with them on any special requests, such as the requirement for an overhead projector or additional microphones to be used for question and answer sessions.

All events require a good team of people handling tasks on ushering, registration, customer service as well as handling financials. Familiarize the team with any required event protocol to eliminate the possibility of confusion or error. In order to ensure smooth implementation, each person should be familiar with their individual roles. This can be ensured through a preparation of a detailed schedule of events coupled with roles and responsibilities for each person. Ideally, a project manager should control the whole team and ensure that everyone is carrying out his or her duties efficiently. Apart from that, the project manager also has the delegated authority to deal with all parties such as the venue management as well as the sponsors and event exhibitors.

Chapters, in particular, are working with a project team of volunteers, so it is critical that one person take the lead to act as project manager in organizing the event.

Actual Day – Preparation, Registration, Ushering, Feedback

All seminar planning and preparations, constituting 80% of total work involved, cascade to the actual event which may last only for a few hours or a few days. On the day before the event, visit the venue to ensure that everything is in order according the requirements and specifications. Microphones, projectors, audio and video systems must be all checked to be in excellent working order. Have a packing list prepared and get all require items transferred to the actual venue at least a day before the event. Event organizers should be dispatched to work on site preparations, including setting up decorations and posters, the day before the event.

On the actual day, staff should be present at the venue at least 1 ½ hours before commencement and must be ready to receive participants half an hour before they are scheduled to file in. Registrations must be made at the door to ensure authorized access. Name tags, door gifts and event schedules or booklets will be given out at this point and ushers will show participants to their seats in the event hall.

Staff will also be responsible for providing advice or help to participants during the event. Finally, feedback forms should be distributed and then collected from participants to determine the satisfaction level on all aspects of the event experience. This is in order to receive pointers, ideas and advice for future improvements. [Link to feedback form]

Example: A Seminar

The seminar type event is perhaps the most common event that Chapters will organize. And most seminars are scheduled either as a ½ day or a full day. For those interested in creating a checklist for planning a seminar, the following offers a high level structure for planning and executing a seminar.

And for those who are planning a multi-day or multi-session conference, consider taking a similar approach. However, your seminar planning checklist will simply be longer.

1. Confirm the Purpose of the Event

Before conducting any research into venue selection, make sure you are familiar with the basic objectives behind the event:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the topic of the seminar?
  • Where should be located?
  • Why will people attend?
  • What is the seminar’s agenda?

The Convention Industry Council has established a series of tools that should be viewed as an excellent source of best practices that will help the event or meeting planner to keep track of the details for planning events. With free download tools, it will help any event planner to create a list of relevant details. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Event profile (date, times, location, contacts, etc.)
  • Event organizer/host contact information
  • Supplier contact information
  • Attendee profile
  • Space needed
  • Food and beverage
  • A/V requirements
  • Function/room setup

2. Create an Event Profile

Once a planner has some of the basic questions around the event covered, it’s time to research possible venues for the meeting. It’s important to work closely with the event organizer/host to determine the type of venue and where the seminar may be most convenient for both organizer and guest (the list of ideas can be endless):

  • Local hotel Local conference facility Private restaurant space Private club Museum/art gallery

3. Outline Seminar Needs and Request Venue Proposals.

Most venues are happy to provide an estimate for a possible seminar. The catering or sales contact will need the following information:

  • Possible date(s) for the event
  • Number of attendees
  • Style of room setup (classroom, u-shape, etc.)
  • Time of the event (account for setup/tear down)
  • Food and beverage requirements
  • A/V needs (including screens, mics, etc.)
  • Room setup

4. Confirm and/or Develop the Agenda

It is critical for the person designated as the event planner to work closely with the event organizer/host because the event agenda will frequently change from the initial conversation until the actual day of the event. The event planner must be ready to adjust the plan and work closely with the venue to make sure everything runs smoothly.

5. Confirm the Agreement with the Venue

Once the planner knows the targeted number of attendees and logistic requirements for the seminar, he or she should secure the event space and related requirements. Most agreements should allow the planner an opportunity to reduce/increase food and beverage requirements up to a certain number of days prior to the event. However, many agreements will cap how much they will allow a group to reduce quantities, so estimate well.

6. Create Event Communications and Materials

This is an item that some planners may be involved with, while others may not. Essentially, some meeting planners will be responsible for each of the following:

  • Creating event invitations
  • Printing agenda and other material
  • Securing attendee gifts/raffles
  • Producing name badges
  • Shipping event signage and displays

7. Work Closely with Event Host to Finalize Logistics

Prior to the event, there are a couple of important steps that a meeting planner completes prior to the event. This includes confirming the following:

  • Event speakers
  • Event A/V requirements
  • Event attendee count
  • Host roles and responsibilities
  • Event materials needs (check multiple times)

8. Event Setup

Be sure to allow time in the schedule for event setup, and it’s recommended to arrive approximately 1.5 hours prior to the event. Tip: If the seminar is scheduled in the morning, ask the venue sales contact to allow your group to setup the night before (but do not leave anything valuable in public site).

All event materials, handouts, signage, displays, gifts, registration tables, name badges and more must be ready for the event.

Warning: Speakers sometimes change slides the night before and provide new presentations that need to be added to the power point 10 minutes prior to the event.

9. Event Execution

After you’ve prepared, it’s time for the seminar. Expect the following:

  • Some attendees will always arrive early.
  • Some attendees will always arrive late.
  • There is frequently some sort of technical glitch.