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How to organise an event

Running an event is a challenge—here's some stuff you need to know to make it successful

Submitted 4/11/2006 By Thea Views 36185 Comments 0 Updated 3/20/2008

The idea

Got a good idea for an event? If you can answer the five Ws then you're ready to start planning it.
  1. Why is the event being held?
  2. Who will be the stakeholders in the event? (who will be interested or involved in the event?)
  3. When will the event be held?
  4. Where will the event be staged?
  5. What is the event content or product?

(The five Ws are Goldblatt's concept as cited on page 99 of Festival and Special Event Management, referenced below)

The plan

For events large or small, the secret to success is in the planning. Use a plan to help coordinate your decisions in organising the event. That way you can keep track of your progress.

You will need to communicate your plan to everyone in involved in the event. Everyone needs to understand what part they’ll play and how this fits in with the whole event theme and organisation. One way to do this is by writing an event manual.

A calendar or timeline may be useful to show everyone what needs to be done and when. Work backwards from the event date and put down all the fixed, non-negotiable dates first, e.g. when payment for equipment or venue hire is due.

The people

Firstly, define the roles you need people for. Keep in mind that you will probably need more people to help during the event than in the preparation and aftermath.

Whether you are working with paid staff or volunteers or combination of both, you need to make sure you manage your people well. All your people should know what they are doing and know who their points of contact are in the lead up to and during the event.

If you’re recruiting new people make sure you have a clear job description for them. You’ll also need to provide them with any necessary info or training so they can complete their tasks. They need to feel like they're a part of your organisation to feel like they're a part of your event.

With volunteers, it's all about motivation and recognition. Volunteers don't get paid, but they still need to be treated professionally. They should be selected for the position which best suits their skills and experience and briefed on their role.

Thanking volunteers is a must. You can present them with a certificate, send them an email, write them a reference for their CV or invite them to a special thankyou event. Whatever way you do it, if you thank them they're more likely to volunteer for you and other organisations again.

The money

Budget

You need to create a budget and stick to it. Cash flow is a big part of this. You need to find ways to get money and you need to receive that money in time to pay for people and equipment for your event.

You can find budget templates on the internet, but to begin you should list all your income (money you already have or that you will receive) and expenses (what you need to pay for).

Keep accurate records of what you have paid for and when, i.e. keep copies of all receipts and invoices relating to the event.

Sponsorship

Sponsors are partnerships your event or organisation can have with businesses or government departments. Sponsorships do not mean that you need to sell out on what you believe or what you are trying to achieve. You need money for your event and sponsors benefit from making contributions to the community.

You can pursue two types of sponsorship: in-kind and cash. In-kind is in the form of good and services the sponsor will provide for free instead of giving you money.

When looking for sponsors for your event, contact organisations that have similar aims to yours or that appeal to the type of people that your organisation or event caters for. Keep your communications personal. Phone rather than email or write letters and meet with potential sponsors in person if possible. They are less likely to say no if they have to say it to your face.

Sponsors want to get their organisation's name out there. What you offer them in return for their financial or in-kind support depends on the level of their sponsorship. You can thank your sponsors in a speech at the event and acknowledge them in event advertisements and publications.

If they are a major sponsor you may also consider giving them naming rights to the event or listing them as a partner in your event. Get creative, think of new ways to promote your sponsors and they will be more likely to support your future events.

Marketing

See the 'Promoting an event' page in the toolkit for more info on this.

The event

Logistics

This is all the bits you have to get right for the event to come together. It involves communications and management of people, product and facilities. Security, power, water, transport, accommodation, ticketing, and emergency procedures are all logistical concerns.

Order sheets for equipment, contact lists and maps for event staff, and signage to direct participants at the event are examples of logistical elements.

If yours is a large event it may be necessary to have a logistical manager. This person should be in contact with all other managers, e.g. artistic director, finance manager, promotions manager, volunteers coordinator.

Risk management and legal issues

Think through the risks of different elements of your event. Have a plan for how to minimise risks and how to deal with problems if they occur. Check out the legal requirements of what you're doing. For examplecontracts with staff, event insurance, permits for road closures.

Things to consider are health and safety, especially hygiene with food handling and preparation. There are risks for both event staff and participants that you should plan for, e.g. safety with equipment, crowd management.

Staging

This starts with theme-ing and designing your event. It covers your choice of venue, decorations, catering, and entertainment.

Technology is a big part of this. You need to think about sound and lighting at your event, e.g. how to present information at a public forum or how journalists can record a media conference.

Contingency or back-up planning is essential. If Plan A doesn't work out it's always good to have a Plan B. Seek advice from people or organisations who have experience with your type of event.

For more info

Allen, J, O'Toole, W, McDonnell, I, & Harris, R2005, Festival and Special Event Management, third edition, John Wiley & Sons Australia, QLD.

Your local council may have some useful publications e.g. Event Management Logistics Planning Guide by the Melbourne City Council, Victoria.

Thea has studied Event Management as part of a Bachelor of Communications (Public Relations) at RMIT University, Melbourne. She was part of the first Act Now incubator team.