The Ultimate Guide to Event Management
Events, whether they’re face-to-face, 100 percent online, or hybrid, are a timeless and unique part of the marketing mix.
In fact, the event industry for business gatherings alone is valued at $511 billion. Although the pandemic struck a hard blow to in-person gatherings, companies quickly adjusted and a wide range of online events sprung up.
Whether you’re a major event organizer or a small tech company that wants to launch a webinar series, some of the same principles apply. Only by having an integrated events and project management system can you pull off flawless events.
What is an Event?
That may seem obvious, but it is any moment, large or small, that brings together a group of people to meet, interact, buy, sell, learn, listen, and connect.
Events differ from other media in that they have tons of moving parts, involvement by many people, and a hard-stop date. You may be able to slip a week on social media or direct marketing, but once you’ve announced the date of your event, you’ve made a firm commitment! The pressure is definitely on!
Project management for event planning is, therefore, both an art and a science. Your attendees only see a day or two of speakers, exhibits, and entertainment. But only those involved in project management for event planning know the whole (and sometimes ugly) truth!
Types of Events
Listing all the various types of event experiences in this e-book would be exhausting. But some of the most common business events are:
- Large-scale trade shows and conferences, which can span over multiple days
- Buyer events (like those organized by tech companies to bring customers and prospects together)
- Sales and training events (to celebrate successes or gather professionals to rally around a brand)
- Intimate topic-specific gatherings -- live and online
- Non-profit fundraisers
- Recruiting events
- Networking events
FACT: In 2021, 64percent of businesses said they increased their virtual events, and 58 percent reported a mix of virtual and in-person events. (Harvard Business Review)
Two Types of Events at Different Ends of the Spectrum
One of the most recent examples of a dynamic and complex event that included more than 125 hours of online programming, in addition to live experiences, was Dreamforce. Including attendees from 177 different countries, the live event attracted more than 1,000 professionals and boasted a national park theme, outdoor experiences, and a tech-powered means of reporting vaccination status. Talk about multiple moving parts! You can read more about this event here.
On the other side of the spectrum, you may find intimate gatherings of investors and board members. They are certainly not as flashy as Dreamforce, but they also require a high level of planning and care. Event planners must choose venues, sometimes arrange for transportation and lodging, oversee the agenda, and coordinate dining and entertainment. Although fewer than 50 people may actually attend, every detail matters.
The stakes are super-high in both cases. A planning glitch can result in confusion, disgruntled attendees, image problems, and internal red faces. If you’re an independent planner, a serious gaffe could ruin your business and your reputation.
The Many Many Many Decision-Makers and Make-it-Happen People
Every event involves some combination of talented people who plan and execute the event. Event planners are a unique mix of creative thinkers, detail-oriented doers, and highly-specialized talent.
FACT: the projected growth for meeting, convention and event planners is expected to increase 9% in the USA between 2019-2029. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Even a few hours of online engagement requires input from many people. Multi-day events often entail hundreds if not thousands of behind-the-scenes professionals. Those people may include:
- Marketing leaders and managers who are ultimately responsible for the event
- The creative team who comes up with the event theme, signage (live or digital) and swag
- Management teams at the venue where you’re holding a live event
- Convention and visitor bureaus and local authorities for large gatherings. They may be involved in everything from permitting and lease arrangements to after-hours activities
- Producers of all kinds who develop digital and real world assets -- from carpenters to videographers. Depending on the event, you might even have super-specialized subcontractors involved like security guards,
- Conference planners who select and interact with speakers
- The speakers themselves
- Entertainers who appear at the event. Scheduling and wrangling talent requires a special skillset
- Sales teams who manage exhibitor and sponsorship engagement
- Social media experts who promote the event
- Registration managers who oversee ticket pricing and booking
- PR pros who decide who gets a media pass and who promote the event and its content
- Exhibitors and sponsors who are creating their own messaging and working with the event organizers
- Boards of directors for non-profit events
- Professionals at event technology companies that support various parts of the registration and presentation process
- And, of course, the operations and finance professionals within organizations who are tracking spending and results
The bigger the event, the more people involved. The demands placed on event planners today are higher than ever before!
57% [of event planners] are responsible for between six and 50 virtual or hybrid meetings a year. Source: BizBash
The “Secret Sauce” of a Successful Event
Business-to-business events are similar to consumer events. Like a huge wedding, festival, or reunion, they bring together a group of people to experience specific things.
The two “make-or-break” aspects of event planning are the people behind the experience and the systems they use in planning it. But let’s look even further behind the curtain…
Like all great marketing, events must start with an objective, target market, and clear KPIs. “Because it would be fun and cool” is not a good enough reason to spend hundreds if not thousands of hours producing an event.
Know your audience. Are they more likely to travel to attend a live experience or will online media fulfill the goal? Marketers are returning to holding live events and 80 percent of people are eager to get back to them, but that still leaves 20 percent of the market that would still rather stay home and absorb content online.
Know your competition. If business travelers or attendees have choices about where to go or what online/hybrid event to sign up for, why would they choose yours?
Once you’ve figured out your objective for your event, set realistic spending targets and contingencies. Allow time in your schedule to bid out key items and don’t scrimp in important areas.
If you were organizing a concert, wouldn’t Lady Gaga be a bigger draw than your uncle who likes to sing in the shower? Although you may not be able to afford a superstar or top-of-the-line decor for your event, your attendees will notice (and perhaps be annoyed) if they paid top dollar to attend and your experience was a bargain basement one.
Think about ALL the details. This is where the next category comes in. The people who have worked on events before can quickly pinpoint costs you might have missed.
And, as if event planning wasn’t complex enough, health and security have risen as concerns for organizers, attendees, and sponsors. Event planners need to take that into consideration as they plan their budgets and protocols.
Event planning is a trial-and-error business. The people who specialize in planning and producing events have seen their share of gaffes, near-misses, and full-on disasters. People often pursue careers in event planning because they think they are fun and glamorous, but the reality is that the best event planners have a combination of creative and highly-developed operational skills.
Whether you’re engaging in-house or freelance talent, look for those professionals who have been through the event wars and have the battle scars to show for it.
True event professionals remain calm under pressure, know how to get the best work from individuals and teams, and respect both creativity and execution.
According to Eventbrite, the skills essential to being a successful planner are:
- Attention to detail
- Good communicator
- Excellent problem-solving skills
- Ability to negotiate
- Managing a budget
Interesting Tool: When hiring event planners into your organization, you can refer to this guide of 33 specific questions that can help you identify the right candidates.
The event planning world is a tightly-knit community. Event professionals gather at several major events throughout the year to share best practices, source new vendors, and discuss the many issues that have an impact on their industry.
Among these gatherings are:
Many colleges and universities now offer specialized programs in event management as well. But having the right skill set is only part of the sauce. The next ingredient is critical.
If you were producing a Broadway musical and the prop designer never saw the theater or spoke to the costume expert or director, the show would be a bomb.
Similarly, all the people involved in producing a business event must be in constant communication, to plan and troubleshoot throughout the process.
Very often, people involved in planning events are in different parts of the country (or even the world). Having systems that facilitate interaction, especially when you head into crunch time, are vital.
It starts with a tight and realistic schedule!
And everyone on the work team needs access to that schedule, so they know what’s expected of them and when. Nothing will tear an event work team apart faster than unrealistic deadlines or slippage in one area that has an impact on other planning components.
Allow pre-event time for rehearsals and fine-tuning.
Keep in mind too that the last date on the schedule is NOT the day the event ends. You should slot in activities like:
- Post-event research
- Thank you messages to sponsors, speakers, exhibitors, and attendees
- Announcement of next year’s date (if it’s an annual event) or other upcoming events
- Internal discussions and celebrations of success, which are key to keeping your event team motivated
- Analysis of results and expenses
By now, you might have a brain freeze or anxiety just thinking about everything that goes into producing even the simplest of events. But take a deep breath…
Technology can’t produce the event or turn a dull speaker into a superstar, but it CAN help you run better events and keep your valued team members motivated and calm.
Automation and Integration
You need a system that is easy-to-use, practical, and (most important) totally integrated with other technologies you use within your organization.
Events already have lots of moving parts, as we’ve outlined earlier. But if, on top of that, your planners, partners, independent contractors, and vendors must jump around from platform to platform and can’t find valuable digital assets when they need them, simple tasks become way more complex than they need to be.
Enter SmartSuite from Stage Right!
After spending hours looking at workflows for event planning and management and talking to event producers, we created the ultimate collaboration platform for them.
The platform integrates with a wide range of technologies and platforms that event planners currently use and enables stakeholders -- internally and externally -- to schedule, share, and even chat throughout the planning process.
When you’re planning events that have both live and hybrid elements, you can keep track of them all in one place.
Think of it as the ultimate air traffic control system for event management.