This article was written by Guest Blogger, Kara Frazier.
I’ve been a Program Manager for a small non-profit membership organization in Washington, DC for the past two years, and my main responsibilities involve organizing the operations and logistics of our annual events. While my lifelong dream was not to organize and plan large-scale events, I’ve planned six 500+ attendee events in the last two years, with 3 more on the way in the next six months. Through all of this, I’ve learned that the most important thing is to set a strong organizational foundation at the beginning, which leads to effective planning and an ultimately successful event. Here’s how:
- Create a Timeline with Deadlines
Once the dates and venues are set, write down everything that has to happen between now and the day of the event. Once you get it all down, categorize it all in a way that makes sense to you. Mine are usually grouped by aspect of the event (venue, vendors, program, etc.) and then chronologically within each grouping. Then make sure that everything has a deadline. Even if you’re not sure yet about some of the dates, just get them down. You can always change them later. Share this timeline with anyone who is going to be helping plan the event, so that they know the plan, but also so that they can help keep you accountable.
- Set Up an Organizational System that Works for You
After you’ve set your timeline, make a decision about how you’re going to keep yourself organized through this process. For me, this has two components: a set of file folders in my email inbox dedicated to the event, and a binder with dividers for all event-related information. I probably get a couple thousand emails for each event I plan, so keeping them organized is essential. The binder becomes my constant companion as the planning progresses. I’m a bit old-fashioned in that I still print out quite a bit of information for my events, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had something on hand that I couldn’t pull up in an email. Definitely do what works best for you, but make sure that you’re organized from the start.
- Document your Progress
Back in my intern days, I started keeping a log of the tasks I completed on a daily basis. I’ve carried this habit into event planning, and it’s extremely valuable. Not only does it show you that you’re making progress, but also provides a written record to refer back to. What’s more, it naturally lends itself to filling in your daily to-do list. This is especially helpful when you’re dealing with difficult vendors. In the past, I’ve just kept a spiral notebook with a page for each day that has my log and daily to-do list on it. For my last event, I used an online program called Trello for this purpose, and it worked extremely well.
One of the hardest things I’ve had to come to terms with as an event organizer is that I can’t do it alone. I used to be one of those “if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself” people, so I would take on the bulk of the event preparations, and drive myself crazy trying to get it all done. As an event manager, I’ve had to learn to assemble a capable team and delegate. While it’s hard to let go of some aspects of the planning, it’s in everyone’s best interests. You finally get to breath again, and you’re empowering others to show what they can do.
- Be Ready for Anything and Everything
The final tip is to be ready for anything and everything. No matter how well you plan and prepare, things will come up at the last minute that you weren’t expecting. However, the true measure of a great event manager is how you handle these situations. Think quickly on your feet, and always appear calm and composed to your team members and guests alike. You’re in charge for a reason. And since you were organized through the whole process, you’re better equipped to handle anything that comes your way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kara is a Program Manager at a small non-profit membership organization for international development companies based in Washington, DC. After attending American University (also in Washington, DC), Kara searched for a position that would combine her interests in international development and non-profits with her organizational skills and management capabilities. Since finding that perfect match job, Kara has applied her interests and skills by planning and managing six 500+ attendee events, in addition to countless other small-scale events and meetings. In the future, Kara plans to pursue a graduate degree focused on non-profit management and organization. When she’s not planning or managing an event, you can find Kara searching for exciting new food spots, shopping, or escaping the DC grind with a good book.