7 Big Drawbacks of Event Planning Spreadsheet Templates

Event Planning Templates - Drawbacks

If you have been using a computer for any length of time, it seems that spreadsheets have been around as long as computers and are as familiar as word processing programs and email.

The story of spreadsheets really starts with academics back in the 60s and 70s who needed an easier, faster way to make financial calculations. In fact, spreadsheet programs were considered the first “killer app” for computers because of their ease of use and power. And although spreadsheet apps were first developed for accounting and financial services professionals, by the 80s and 90s they were being used by people in a variety of industries who needed to compile and manage all kinds of numerical and textual data.

At that time, event professionals quickly found a use for spreadsheets in storing things like budgets, guest lists and schedules. Since then, event pros have been using event planning spreadsheets as an essential part of their business and event management processes, and for two reasons:

  1. Spreadsheets are easily customizable and flexible enough to store all types of data.
  2. Spreadsheet programs are relatively inexpensive and don’t require lots of training to use basic features.

However, with all the advances in event technology and online event management software applications over the last 10 years, the limitations of event planning templates and spreadsheets are becoming more and more apparent to event professionals who want better and faster ways to store, access and manipulate their event data.

Yes, event planning spreadsheets can and do still have a place in event management, but before you invest all your time and effort in creating detailed event planning templates for your business or organization, consider these seven big drawbacks of using spreadsheets as the cornerstone for your event planning and management activities.

Drawback #1 – They are time consuming to set up and maintain.

Not only does it take time to program an event budget template or build an itinerary/schedule in a spreadsheet, but it also takes loads of time to add and manage the data inside these spreadsheets. Often you must go field-by-field to enter specific pieces of data, and making bulk changes to select items is tedious and slow.

Spreadsheets are inexpensive as far as upfront costs go, but the time you spend creating and updating these event management spreadsheets will probably cost you far more money and resources than if you had purchased a tool built specifically for event management … which leads to the next drawback.

Drawback #2 – They were designed for managing financial data, not event details.

Would you expect an accountant to store expenses and revenues using a room layout program? Or a project manager to manage due dates with a word processing tool? Not at all. So why would you expect a spreadsheet to do a bang-up job managing your attendee list or your production schedule? It’s simply not the right tool for the job.

As we noted earlier, spreadsheets were first designed for accountants and financial professionals, which is why they still do a good job with event budgets. But now that we have programs for attendee management, schedule building, task managers and calendaring, event planning spreadsheets are no longer the best tools for managing these types of data.

And if you do use event planning templates for these scenarios, you are spending an inordinate amount of time and effort entering data and then sorting through it when you need access to particular details like RSVP information, timeline items and task due dates and assignments.

Drawback #3 – They are susceptible to mistakes and fraud.

It’s easy for someone to make a change in a piece of data or a formula in an event management spreadsheet … too easy in fact. While your cursor is in a field, you could bump your keyboard and instantly overwrite critical data. Or you could accidentally put the wrong information in a field and not notice it until you have saved over the previous version. Or you could simply make miscalculations that snowball into huge errors  .

Ditto goes for fraudulent activity in spreadsheets. Spreadsheet fraud and hacking has resulted in billions of dollars in losses, and it’s all because entire enterprises rely on those spreadsheets to be always accurate and intact.

So if you’ve ever heard the old computer adage “garbage in, garbage out”, it applies all too frequently to event management templates.

Drawback #4 – They decentralize data (which is a bad thing).

If you’ve ever worked in an organization where they rely on spreadsheets to manage data, you know how difficult it is to keep all those spreadsheets in one central place and that it’s a constant battle to have all users put files back where they belong.

In addition, when someone makes a change to a spreadsheet and they don’t store it in the correct place, all of a sudden you have two copies of the same spreadsheet but each with different data – one old and one new. And someone must reconcile these and/or track down the different versions to make sure the correct version is in the correct folder.

What all this decentralization can lead to is lost data or bad data, neither of which bodes well when every detail needs to be accurate to have a successful event.

Drawback #5 – They don’t adapt well to changing business needs/circumstances.

Event planning templates are okay when things remain static and you don’t need to frequently alter, add or remove data columns, rows and fields. But what happens when a particular business process changes or the way you organize your information needs to change? Now your templates must change too, and they probably won’t match up with older event management templates.

In addition, event planning templates are very specific to the preferences and work habits of the person who built the spreadsheet in the first place, and that person may not have considered how other event professionals manage information. So what happens if the person who built your event planning templates leaves your organization? Or if you hire a new person who must now adapt to the event planning spreadsheets that you built? They may have a difficult time figuring out how the spreadsheets were built and how they should be used.

Finally, if you are only planning a few events, you may only have to manage a few dozen or so spreadsheets. But what if you are planning 10, 20 or even 100 events? Suddenly you are managing hundreds of spreadsheets containing tens of thousands of details, and the odds that this could become overwhelming or that you lose data increase dramatically.

Drawback #6 – They were not built for collaboration.

Really the only two ways that teams can use spreadsheets is by emailing the spreadsheets to team members or by storing spreadsheets on a shared server/folder (e.g., using a tool like Dropbox) that team members have access to.

If you go the email route, your data is again scattered all over the place and you now introduce multiple copies of the same spreadsheet into the mix, each of which may have differing information depending on who makes what changes to which version.

If you go the shared server/folder route, you could have two people working on the same file at once and overwriting each other, you don’t have granular control over who can make changes when, and you don’t have a record of who made what changes if those modifications were inaccurate.

And as your teams grow, spreadsheets don’t scale well at all because you are now multiplying the chances for error and data conflict every time you share your event or meeting planning templates with more and more people.

Drawback #7 – They make it difficult to compile and consolidate information.

If you have dozens of event or meeting planning spreadsheets and want to consolidate the contents of them or compile certain pieces of information for reporting purposes, you are in for one hell of a copy-and-paste session. This is because, unlike a relational database, spreadsheets require you to reorganize the tables and/or copy data whenever you need to pull data from disparate places across many spreadsheets.

So when you want to relate the RSVP headcount in your event attendee spreadsheet to the cost-per-person of a plated dinner in your event budget template, you are going to have to figure out how to manually copy, manipulate and marry that information.

When it comes to reporting across a number of event variables in separate event management templates, you again must copy-and-paste to create those reports. Yes, you could link spreadsheets together, but again this is massively time consuming and, if one of those spreadsheets changes, the link could break or even feed bad data into the report.

In closing, spreadsheets will always have a place in practically every industry, including event management and planning. But to rely on them solely or to make them the centerpiece of your event information management process is just asking for trouble.

6 Reasons Why the Event Binder Is Dead

Event Binders Are Dead

Before laptop computers were commonplace, before tablets were even a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye, event planners and managers carried around massive event binders full of printed documents and spreadsheets as well as tons of notes regarding each and every event.

These event planning binders were the event “bible” for each event and contained all of the vital details regarding the event, including proposals, vendor bids, invoices, meeting notes, contact lists, timelines, schedules, budgets, table layouts, seating arrangements and guest lists. If you went to any meeting without the event binder, you were basically flying blind because it contained all your reference materials.

Nowadays you see fewer of these big event binders, which makes it all the more amazing when you spot someone lugging one around. And although I must admit I’m a bit of a luddite in a few ways (like I still prefer to buy music CDs instead of purchasing downloadable music … compressed music files just don’t sound the same to my ears), I’m still puzzled why so many people still insist on using event planning binders when there are so many better paperless event binder alternatives available … and so many drawbacks to relying on a printed event binder for the success of your event.

Based on conversations with hundreds of event planners and mangers over the last 5 years, we have compiled the six biggest reasons why the event planners we spoke with have rejected the event binder … and why you should follow their lead.

NOTE – In the past, many conference / meeting attendees were often provided with conference binders / meeting binders that came with meeting schedules and materials; the reasons below for replacing event planning binders easily apply to conference binders and meeting binders, too (which are quickly being replaced by event apps and other technologies).

So here are the 6 reasons why the event binder is dead …
#1 – Because losing your binder would be an unmitigated disaster.

For event professionals, the hundreds or thousands of details they need to track for every event are as precious as gold and as vital as blood, and the thought of losing all of them is enough to drive any event pro to drink heavily.

Just imagine trying to rebuild all those documents; revisit all those decisions; regather all those quotes and receipts; get those contracts resigned; and retrack down all those items? Eeeesh. It’s really an impossible task, and in the meantime you are spending your valuable time rebuilding your event documentation when you should be planning the event itself. And heaven forbid if you lose it in the weeks leading up to an event.

The Solution – Store all your details on a backed-up computer or, better yet, with a cloud-based application or service that backs up your information automatically.

#2 – Because finding specific details in a paper binder takes way too much time.

If you are lucky, it may take a minute or two to page through dozens or hundreds of physical pages to hunt down a specific detail or item. If you aren’t so lucky, it may take much, much longer. This is always frustrating, and if you are doing it in front of a client or team member, it could also be embarrassing. (Granted, using binder tabs could make this slightly easier, but you still have to dig for details among a mass of paper.)

The Solution – Compare this manual process to having details a few clicks away on your computer or tablet and it’s a no-brainer which method is easier and faster for pulling up data that you need to view.

#3 – Because updating information is clunky at best.

Once you find the piece of data you are looking for, do you cross out the old, now-inaccurate information and write the new data on the piece of paper in your binder? Or are you constantly updating spreadsheets and documents and having to print them out and replace them?

Either way, changing details isn’t exactly straightforward or time-saving. And, every event planner knows that event details are constantly changing and evolving, so you are always referring back to your data set to modify information.

The Solution – Electronic data is so much easier to find, change and modify, when you are using event software or spreadsheets.

#4 – Because event binders = lots of dead trees, wastewater and a big carbon footprint.

Typically event professionals who use event planning binders go through many reams of paper over the course of a year. With that said, here some sobering numbers on what it takes to produce paper:

As the events industry makes great strides in other areas to reduce its carbon footprint, event planning binders filled with paper run counter to this conservation effort. And when you consider how much additional paper is wasted during this process on account of printing errors or disposing of outdated binder pages – estimates run from 6 to 15 pages a day – then maintaining event binders is decidedly a very dirty practice, environmentally speaking. But if you are in favor of more ugly landfills and bleak, clearcut forests, well then, who are we to stop you?

#5 – Because a heavy, unwieldy event binder is a pain in the ass to tote around.

Which would you prefer carrying around – massively heavy binders or an iPad/laptop? And especially if you are walking around a crowded conference all day long for several days? I guess you could look at this as getting some additional exercise (binder curls anyone?) but personally I’d rather go for a nice, quiet run or go to the gym than get all sweaty lugging a big binder around a meeting.

Conversely, you probably already have a laptop, tablet or smartphone, and those tools are so much easier to tote around and access your event data. It’s super convenient, and again, if your data is stored in the cloud, you can access it on multiple devices.

#6 – Because your prospects, clients and peers will think you are a dinosaur if you carry them.

Image may not be everything in event planning and management, but in many cases it’s close. Image is most certainly an important factor in both event design as well as in the way event professionals present themselves, and nobody in this business wants to appear outdated or behind the times.

So when you see someone toting around a binder stuffed with papers and slogging through it to find details, you don’t get a picture of someone who is “of the moment” or at the cutting edge of the industry. Juxtapose that to an event professional who is pulling up details quickly and effortlessly on their laptop or tablet and you can understand why people are more likely to hire and work with the tech savvy event manager. It may not be fair, but it’s the truth.

At the end of the day, you must decide what systems and techniques will make you more efficient and productive as well as present you as a competent event professional. But every year, more and more event pros are choosing to replace the event binder with computers, tablets and online software and applications, and for all the relevant reasons listed above. And whether you like it or not, this trend will continue as better alternatives present themselves.

10 Insider Tips for Choosing the Right Caterer

Tips for Choosing a Caterer

When it comes to the things that can make or break an event, few are as important as the quality, flavor and appearance of the food and beverages you serve. A lot is riding on your decision of which caterer to hire, and if you think this decision really isn’t that important, look at it this way … amazing catering can rescue an event that’s on the rocks, but bad catering will almost always send guests to the doors (or, in your nightmare scenario, to the restrooms).

In addition, because catering is often the #1 or #2 line-item cost for most events, the caterer you choose is also a significant budgetary decision and can influence how much money you have left over to spend on other areas depending on food costs and quantities.

Add in the fact that caterers can vary dramatically in their pricing and the types of meals and services they offer, and the process of selecting a caterer can figuratively and literally feel like you are comparing apples to oranges (pun fully intended).

So we talked to a dozen veteran caterers and event managers about the criteria they recommend in selecting a caterer. And based on their recommendations…

Here are the 10 top criteria event you should consider when hiring a caterer.

#1 – Responsiveness and Personal Interest in Your Needs

Of all the event and catering professionals we spoke with, this came up over and over and over again, mainly because how responsive and interested a caterer is during your initial conversations is indicative of how they will perform during the length of their contract with you (and more on contracts later).

“Many caterers will claim to have the best-tasting food made with the freshest ingredients at the most competitive price, but it is a rare quality for one to be both quick to return calls and emails and open to critiques and new ideas,” says Cheryl Lynn Foster-Gerton, an event designer and owner of An Essential Event in Denver. “While these may seem like somewhat insignificant factors when compared with overall taste and cost, they actually mean that the caterer is truly concerned with meeting the customers’ needs and ensuring that they are pleased with both the product and the service.”

A prospective caterer should be learning as much as they can about you in your first few conversations with them, so you should expect them to be talking and asking questions about 20% of the time and you providing answers and outlining your needs about 80% of the time. “If the caterer is not asking questions about the event they may see you as simply ‘the next client’,” says Lyndsey Bunn, Catering and Conference Services Manager at Silver Legacy Resort Casino . “They should be interested in learning about your event. They should be asking about your theme, the purpose, budget and goals.”

#2 – Ability to Handle Your Specific Type of Event

Not every caterer is perfect or every type of event, and many caterers themselves openly admit this.

“All of us do a broad range of events, but we are built to service different markets more effectively than others so it’s important to ask enough questions to determine if a caterer has the right kind of experience for you,” says Arthur Bassani, owner of In Thyme Catered Events in Secaucus, NJ . “Each caterer has areas they specialize in so even a caterer with a great reputation may not be the best fit for you. For example, some are more ’boutique’ and specialize in smaller intimate-type social events. Others specialize in serving large corporate and non-profit [clients], like us.”

So when interviewing your caterers (and you should speak with at least 3 caterers for any event with a reasonable budget), you need to be specific about the type of event you are planning and the type of food and/or presentation you are expecting. Otherwise, you may end up selecting a caterer who simply isn’t a good fit for the type or style of your event.

“Some caterers excel with barbecues that are great for company picnics, some with exceptional Latin-fusion for that themed event, and others shine with elegance that work well for that black-tie gala,” says Greg Jenkins, Partner at Bravo Productions. “You should select the caterer that works for that specific function, not just because you’ve used them previously for a company meeting or employee holiday party.”

#3 – Flexibility Regarding Menu Options

Practically every caterer has a standard menu or menus to choose from, and many do provide some level of built-in flexibility to adapt these menus to your specific needs by substituting specific items and/or customizing others. “Any caterer who has been in the industry and knows what they are doing should have a few different menu options that are constantly being updated and changing to keep up with current trends,” says Rene Wunderlich, Corporate Account Manager at the Inn at New Hyde Park.

However, the standout caterers will go beyond standardized menu options and be willing to create amazing fare that matches even more specific theme and dietary needs.

“If a caterer isn’t willing to adapt its menu or challenge its staff to work with and celebrate your custom theme, that’s a red flag,” says Christine Courtney-Myers of the C3 Agency . “We revise menu proposals and attend tastings to finalize each dish’s flavors and perfect the portions and presentation to compliment or amplify our event design and our client’s theme.”

An ideal caterer should also be willing to handle (or at least consider) special requests. “Ask the caterer if they are willing to include a family recipe you provide,” says Lyndsey Bunn. “Or will they work with items of special significance to the style or theme of your event? Or can they prepare vegetarian, vegan, kosher, or children’s, meals for your guests?”

All of these are important questions to ask upfront to see how far each caterer you interview is able and willing to accommodate you.

#4 – Willingness to Provide Tastings

How will you ever know what a caterer can do unless you sample their goods? And more specifically, how will you know what the menu items you are considering will taste like unless you specifically try them?

Some people shy away from asking to sample the specific items they want for their event because it seems like a hassle for the caterer, but it is standard to ask for a sampling of what you are intending to order before you sign on the dotted line.

“Attend at least 3 tastings with separate caterers and make sure you can taste what you want,” recommends Danielle Rothweiler of Rothweiler Event Design . “Never settle for a caterer that will just give you a generic sample; you need to know what the food on your menu will taste like. Be prepared to pay for these tastings if necessary.”

In addition, you can request wine parings for these tastings if they are appropriate for your event (again, be prepared to pay a fee … it’s a small price to pay to ensure you choose the right caterer). And when you are sampling the food, also attend to how it is presented, as any caterer who takes the time to properly display a sample will probably be more likely to make that kind of effort on your event day.

Are you an event manager who needs to manage catering details, budgets and assignments?

Or are you a caterer who needs to track proposals, invoices, meal selections, inventory and other customer details?

Planning Pod has the tools to help you both manage your events and streamline your businesses … try our event management and catering software today FREE for 30 days.

#5 – Familiarity With the Venue

You may be in for a surprise if you hire a BBQ take-out joint to cater a formal ballroom fundraiser. Or if you choose a high-end corporate event caterer to serve a barn wedding. Why? Because these caterers may not be accustomed to preparing and serving food in such a setting.

This can get even more specific depending on restrictions of the venue itself, like in the case of museums and historical sites. “You want to be sure you choose a caterer who has worked at that venue before and knows all the rules that are typical of sites like this,” says Teresa Davenport, Associate Director of Development and Communications at Morven Park, a historical site in Northern Virginia. “For example, no red wine or live flowers are allowed inside our historic house museum.”

Even more traditional venues can also have restrictions that caterers must follow – like certain setup standards or disposal restrictions for waste food and water – so having a caterer that is familiar with a venue’s rules can potentially save you lots of hassle on event day.

#6 – Complete Explanation of Services/Goods Promised in the Contract

The caterer’s contract should clearly spell out exactly what food, beverages and services the caterer will be providing on the designated day(s). Moreover, it should protect you from non-performance as much as it protects the caterer from non-payment/default, so you may want to consider having an attorney look at it before you sign it.

Every detail should be included in the contract, included selected menus, number of servings and/or people to be served, beverage/bar service details (if applicable) and all pricing and additional services.

“An important thing to inquire about is what comes standard in their contracts and what is an upgrade,” says Heidi Hiller, Owner of Innovative Party Planners . “For example, do they quote paper and plastic plates while you are expecting fine china? That is important as the rental of these can add up. Also inquire about the number of staff [the caterer] intends to bring to service your event. The minimum ratio we suggest is 1:12, which not only includes the servers, but also encompasses the chef and his/her staff, the crew loading and unloading the truck, the dishwasher, the bartenders and the banquet captain.”

Even what seem to be small details or no-brainers should be included in the contract. “Even get everything in writing with clear terms for setup/cleanup and left overs,” says Anastasia Stevenson, Owner of Coastal Creative Events . “Most [caterers] will take leftover food away unless agreed upon beforehand and a liability release is given.”

#7 – A Well-Defined Cancellation Plan

No caterer with a shred of dignity and scruples enters into a contract with plans to bail at the last minute, but you need to make sure there is a cancellation clause in your contract just in case your caterer has to cancel.

“Get detailed information on how they handle cancellations and make sure it’s included in the contract,” advises Julia Pavlovski of Wedding Wise. “You should find out if your deposit is fully refundable and what the next steps are. And will they refer you to other caterers or help make some calls to see who is available?”

You don’t want to be left without recourse with only days or hours before your event, so just make sure cancellation procedures and penalties are in place so you do have a backup plan.

#8 – References You Can Call and Talk To

Of course you will need to check up on the caterers you are considering, and it’s always good to start online and check out sites like Yelp, Wedding Wire and Angie’s List for their reviews and ratings.

However, don’t stop there, as online reviews are not always reliable (or even authentic); for example, a good caterer may have had a few nightmare/hater clients who skew their ratings, while a truly mediocre caterer may have padded their online reviews. So see if you can track down some past clients of the caterers you are considering and reach out to them.

“People are often more forthcoming in private conversations about any disappointments in regards to the food or overall experience with the caterer than they are in written reviews online,” says Julia Pavlovski.

“It’s wise to check references, make calls and conduct one’s own due diligence,” adds Greg Jenkins. Translation: Don’t just rely on what the caterer tells you, or what their handpicked references tell you, or what the Interwebs say … do some extra legwork to ensure you are getting the straight story.

#9 – Insurance

Every caterer we talked to called insurance coverage “a given” for caterers, and you certainly don’t want to legally be on the hook for some oversight or accident that was the fault of your caterer.

“Any reputable catering company is going to have liability insurance,” says Julia Pavlovski. “If they don’t, this is definitely a red flag. This type of insurance protects them and keeps you from having to deal with any recourse if something were to happen and they weren’t properly insured.”

#10 – An Experienced Chef and Kitchen Staff

Surprisingly, how long a catering company has been in business may not be as critical in selecting a great caterer as you may think.

“Length of time in the catering industry doesn’t necessarily translate into great and tasty cuisine,” says Greg Jenkins. “The chef’s background and experience can be more important than the owner of the company who has awards on their shelf. It’s the chef, sous chef and kitchen staff that often seals the deal.”

So make sure to ask about the chef’s bona fides and CV because he/she will probably be the one most responsible for the outcome of the meal and whether your guests enjoy it or not.

And when do you know you have picked the right caterer? As Christine Courtney-Myers succinctly puts it, “When a caterer is willing and able to elegantly and expertly surprise and delight your guests by delivering beautiful, tasty and adventurous food with great service that compliments your event theme, you have nailed the catering aspect of your event.”

5 Lessons Event Professionals Can Learn From Startups

Lessons for Event Planners from Startups

Since launching Planning Pod as a beta version in 2012, we have had the pleasure to speak with thousands of event professionals and learn about their challenges in managing events and – for event planners, venues and caterers in particular – in growing their businesses.

Over that time, as we have grown from dozens to hundreds of users, we have found lots of parallels between best practices we have developed to grow our event tech startup and best practices that successful event planners use to run their events and businesses.

When you think about it, startups and event professionals often face similar scenarios. Much of the time we must build something from scratch and create something from nothing (be it an app or an event). We have to juggle and manage many balls in the air at once. We must be adept at using both our left brain (practical/rational/organized) and our right brain (creative). We often must perform miracles on a tiny budget. And failure is not an option.

So here are 5 best practices we have put to good use over the last several years that we know would also benefit any event professional.

1. First imagine what you can do with no budget

Most startups (ours included) have a shoestring marketing budget to use to grow our initial user base. As such, we have to rely on our own efforts and ingenuity to find our first customers, which means we often must rely on low-cost marketing tactics (like content marketing, social media, SEO, etc.) for the first few years of running the business.

Very few events are successful without at least a small budget to devote to things like food-and-beverage, venue space, entertainment, etc. However, regardless of your event’s budget, if you begin your brainstorming by first thinking about what you can accomplish at no or low cost, you can add more value to your event and squeeze more out of every cent in your budget for the things you must pay for.

A good way to start this process is to look at your existing assets and how you can leverage those. If you already have a marketing list and a reasonably good (and cheap) email marketing system in place, you can significantly reduce your marketing costs already. Also, startups are known to barter like hell to get the assets and resources we need to thrive. You might be able to trade your some of your services or assets with other vendors or contractors to drive down costs or create new synergies that benefit your events and/or your clients.

2. Use productivity tools and hacks to whittle down busywork

Like startups, event planners and most event businesses usually have either no staff or a small staff, and each staff member must take on dozens of responsibilities and manage thousands of details every month. We are both spread way too thin and have to wear lots of hats, and sometimes it feels like we are moving so fast that we are doing a mediocre job at everything instead of a great job at a few things.

This is why it is vital to find productivity tools and hacks to help you minimize busywork and give yourself more time to focus on the tasks that will really make a difference for your events and your business. We built Planning Pod to be a productivity tool that event professionals can rely on to help them streamline their event management processes, but there are thousands of tools available for managing tasks and calendars, collaborating and communicating online, and so on. For example, we use tools like Desk.com to automate and streamline our customer support tickets; Hootsuite to automate our social media marketing; Dropbox for managing all our electronic files; and MadMimi for simplifying our email campaigns and outreach.

Smart time management is the key to any small business, and if you can remove certain hats or automate certain tasks so that you free up more of your time for mission-critical tasks, the better off you will be.

Streamline how you manage your events with Planning Pod’s timesaving online tools for event planners, venues and caterers.

Try Planning Pod free today and see why thousands of event professionals rely on us. >>

3. Hire people who are eager and capable of assuming multiple roles

Due to budget limitations, most startups are forced to either use unpaid interns or hire recent grads with very little work experience because those are the only employees we can afford. And from talking with event professionals, I know you are faced with similar restrictions in hiring and retaining event staff and assistants to help them run their events.

With that said, the employees you should be seeking out are those people who are 1) very eager and quick to learn new skill sets and 2) able to take on new roles as your needs multiply. As small businesses, we can’t afford to have an employee who is only capable of taking on one small set of responsibilities. We need our staff members to be flexible because we never know when a new need will arise (and they always do).

This may mean that you have to pay a little more for someone with broader work experience. Or it may mean that you have to forgo bringing in an unpaid intern in favor of a more qualified candidate you have to pay. As we have discovered in our event tech startup, the extra investment is well worth it.

4. Look for plug-in solutions instead of creating everything from scratch

Often it’s cheaper and faster to find someone who has already built the wheel than to rebuild it yourself from the ground up.

For example, often we find that some bright developer has built a piece of code for a certain function that is cheaper for us to buy and modify than to build ourselves. The same could be said for certain event tasks or initiatives.

For example, maybe a certain keynote speaker has a pre-prepared speech on a topic related to your event; it would probably be cheaper to hire them and tweak their already-prepared speech for your event than to have it custom created by another speaker. Or maybe one of the production companies you are considering has a stage backdrop and setup they have already used for another event that they can tweak for your purposes. This could save you money and free up funds for other areas of your event.

5. Eliminate all costs that don’t contribute to the bottom line

Sometimes it’s difficult to know what you should spend money on and what you can go without until after you have spent the money. We experienced this dilemma when we signed a lease for an office space 4 years ago.

We anticipated that our small team would need a place to work and collaborate in building out Planning Pod. And for the first few months of our lease, our office was a good asset in that we could work closely in creating the first version of Planning Pod.

However, as the months rolled on, we found that most of us were more productive and hit our milestones faster if we all worked from home and collaborated online, occasionally meeting at coffee shops or shared workspaces when we needed to talk one-on-one. The $3K+ we were paying for office space wasn’t contributing to the bottom line, and in fact was taking money away from other critical initiatives like marketing and customer support. So we dropped our office after our lease was over (only a 1 year lease, which makes a strong case for having a shorter lease term if you must have an office), and this let us reallocate that money to more productive uses.

I would recommend looking critically at your event budgets upfront and trimming out all the fat – i.e., those expenditures that really aren’t contributing the bottom line or could be shaved down considerably. And for your business or department, a yearly audit where you evaluate your expenditures is always a good practice so you can identify those areas where you can streamline and reallocate your money in ways that will help you grow faster.

8 Ways To Supercharge Your Attendee Engagement

Attendee Engagement at Events

As if our attention spans weren’t short enough already pre-smart phones, now event professionals have to contend with a whole technologized universe of distractions – including social media apps, gaming apps, wearable technology, media walls, etc. – on top of fighting off good-old-fashioned boredom and daydreaming.

Getting and keeping the attention of our guests has been and always will be one our biggest challenges as event professionals, and our jobs have not gotten any easier in the 21st Century. But instead of swimming against the current, some event pros have found ways to use technology to their benefit in enhancing attendee engagement, while others have turned to tried-and-true methods and even some unconventional tactics.

So here are several event engagement strategies that some seasoned event pros are using regularly to improve attendee engagement at their events.

1. Keep Everyone in the Same Environment

“Often event engagement is tainted by the layout of the event.” says Norman Aamodt, founder and CEO of Event Strategy Group . “Breakout groups are in one space, food and beverages are in another, keynote presentations are on a different floor – you get the drift.”

Instead of creating a disjointed environment of separate spaces – which silos your attendees and hence your event – consider designing a floor plan where you have one large event space divided up into concentric areas using wall panel systems. For one of their clients, Event Strategy Group designed a layout that split one large space into four separate layers, starting from the perimeter and moving inward.

“This design made the flow of the event intuitive and easy to navigate, while creating a number of open areas that encouraged interaction.” says Aamodt. “Using a wall panel system, the perimeter encompassed 10 breakout rooms. Moving inwards, the third area contained food and beverage stations, the second-to-center layer contained a Product Showcase and finally, the center of the space held a Feature Display.”

Aamodt said that interaction at the event was “at an all-time high,” and it’s easy to understand why … because everyone was in the same proximity and there was a logical, intuitive flow for attendees.

2. Set the Tone With Assigned Seating

“There is a reason why brides go nuts about seating charts,” says Cristin Massey, a PR and events pro with Cover Story Communications . “They know that it can make or break the celebration.”

She has employed assigned seating for other events like meetings and professional networking events and has seen engagement skyrocket simply because she is forcing people out of their comfort zone and to interact with new people.

At these business-oriented events, “people are more often than not just wanting to get through the presentation, check emails and get back to the office,” says Massey. So by assigning attendees to seats and/or tables where they don’t know anyone and providing them with icebreaker activities, you have created an environment that encourages engagement from the outset, which sets the tone for engagement throughout the rest of the event.

Yes, this may be old-school, but it still works because it acclimates your attendees to interact with each other from the outset.

3. Entertain First, Then Educate

Assigned seating is one way to prime the pump regarding event attendee engagement, and providing guests with some form of entertainment first also sets the stage for increased participation and creates a lighter, more collegial mood.

“On stage, engage your guests right away with live entertainment rather than video screens or slideshows,” says Kostya Kimlat of Event Magic International . “The human connection makes people pay attention, especially if they are asked to interact and answer questions.”

In addition, Kimlat also says that entertaining first can build anticipation and raise expectations about what’s coming up at the event. “When our company hires an entertainer on the main stage at a conference, we always have strolling entertainers interact with the crowd beforehand.” he says. “It’s especially perfect for a cocktail hour. [They] entertain the crowd, but more importantly, tease them about the big show to come.”

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4. Employ Games and Activities Using Social Media

Since most people will be looking at their phones throughout the event regardless of what content you put in front of them, you might as well use that behavior to your benefit.

For example, Cristin Massey has used an Instagram scavenger hunt at her professional networking events to stimulate attendee participation. “This can be done with any social platform that allows for images and hashtags,” she says. “I did this at several professional work events as well as some city events and it worked incredibly well. Just create a scavenger hunt that is related and relevant to the event, then direct people to take pictures of each scavenger point and use an event hashtag. Not only will this get people moving around, engaging in the event, but it will also help to promote your event via the hashtag.”

Holly Holliday of Create Promotions also employs Instagram printers onsite at her festivals to bump up interaction among guests. “Attendees take Instagram photos of themselves and their friends and the amazing time they are having. Then they use the event’s designated hashtag and the hashtagged photo is automatically printed out at the event and a free takeaway for attendees. [It has] increased my event engagement during the event by 300%!”

And Rachel Rosenthal actually provides corporate meeting attendees with rented iPads for presenting content. Not only does it turn the focus away from their own devices, but the loaner iPads “allow the attendee to be engaged further through the use of surveys and participation during the session with questions.

5. Show Attendees Something New

Attendees are almost always interested in seeing something new at an event – in some cases that’s the reason they are actually attending in the first place. So you can either showcase the latest trends and ideas in the industry, or you can use new technology to wow them and enhance the event’s environment.

Augmented reality is one such tool for accomplishing the latter, and Elburz Sorkhabi of nVoid has used this successfully at many events to enhance attendee engagement. “This is becoming quite a large commodity at trade shows – especially auto shows – and in museums and educational environments. The idea is that in most of the above areas, most of the objects people are looking at – like stationary cars or dinosaur bones – are very static, so using augmented reality by projecting images and holograms can create an interactive and more engaging experience around these extremely static objects.”

Making a wall or structure come alive by superimposing a moving, morphing image on top of it certainly stimulates conversation and adds another dynamic element to your events.

6. Approach Your Attendees From a Variety of Angles (Literally)

As guests and attendees, we have been trained to look at a stage or focal point to take in the main content of events. But what if content and interaction came at us from different angles, engaging us in surprising ways?

Julie Austin of Speaker Sponsor has implemented such tactics to snap people out of their event doldrums. “If you keep your program the same every time it can tend to become monotonous,” she says. “There are some tricks that filmmakers use – especially in the horror genre – that keeps an audience on their toes. Make use of the vertical and horizontal dimensions and have information coming at them from different angles. In other words, do something they don’t expect. They expect a speaker on a stage and a power point presentation. They don’t expect something dropping from the ceiling or popping up from the ground.”

7. Innovate With Comfortable Seating and Accommodations

There’s something to be said for making your event environment comfortable for guests and attendees. COOK Medical Group has created such a welcoming meeting environment by outfitting their meeting space with lounge chairs and sofa-style seating (in white leather, no less).

“These large seats accommodate attendees by offering comfort and a less stratified form of seating. No rows of folding chairs,” says John Eckberg of COOK. And it is making a difference, making guests feel more relaxed and tuned into each other and the event activities.

8. Hire a Professional to Boost Your Content

Sometimes in the scramble to secure the perfect venue and create exotic menus, things get lost in the mix, and often one of those things is “content.” This is why many events end up with industry experts as keynotes and content providers … because it’s almost a no-brainer.

Industry experts can be extraordinarily knowledgeable,” says author and speaker Barry Maher. “But sometimes they can also be so dull it’s all attendees can do to stay awake. And panel discussions can be lively and instructive. But just as often they’re unfocused, redundant and so boring that after a few minutes it’s hard to even focus on what’s being said.”

On the other hand, professional speakers have spent many years honing their craft to grab an audience’s attention, inform them in unique ways and inspiring them to go out and take action on their new understandings. Plus they also have tons of experience custom-tailoring content for a wide variety of audiences.

So if you want content that will make your attendees put their smartphones down and engage, consider hiring a professional to create and deliver your content and keynotes.

You can also go a step further and hire a professional MC as well as script out your shows and main content sessions to ensure continuity and avoid those dull spots in your content.

Have more ideas on how to improve attendee engagement at events? Provide them in the comments below.

5 Old-School Tactics for Marketing Your Events Offline (That Still Work)

Offline Event Marketing Strategies

I will be the first to say that it’s easy to get carried away with all the great ways to promote your events and/or your events business on the Internet. Tactics like marketing via search engines, email, social media and blogging have become so popular that we often forget that there are proven offline marketing tactics for events just waiting to be used.

And before you roll your eyes and say “thanks but no thanks”, think about these stats for a minute.

  • Only 8% of internet users account for 85% of clicks on display ads. (Hubspot)
  • The average click-through rate for paid search in 2010 (worldwide) was 2%. (Hubspot)
  • 60% of all organic clicks go to the organic top 3 search results. (Hubspot)
  • When it comes to email marketing, events have the lowest click-to-open ratio of any industry (at 7.66%). (Smart Insights)

Although most online event marketing tactics still provide a great return-on-investment (just look at the stats here), the results above show that, as more and more people market their wares and their events online, there is more and more competition for people’s eyeballs and there is more online noise that potentially drowns out your message.

So if you find yourself looking for other ways to supplement your Internet marketing efforts – or if you want to explore other ways to reach an audience that may not be looking for you online – here are five time-tested, old school offline event marketing tactics that are worth trying.


Before there was Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ to spread the word, there was, well, PEOPLE ACTUALLY TALKING TO EACH OTHER. But how, you ask, can this be? And what magical fairy dust did you sprinkle on people to get them to actually talk to each other either face-to-face or on the phone about your event?

Well, let me get past being overly sarcastic and say that this is where coming up with great reasons to attend your event works wonders. For example, people are more likely to spread the word about your event when you have booked an amazing speaker or entertainer. Or when you are offering an exotic and interesting menu (foodie culture is thriving right now). Or when they were so enamored by last year’s event that they tell everyone they know that they would be a fool to miss this year’s event.

Basically, you will get great word-of-mouth both offline and online if your value propositions and event drivers are worthy enough to stir up interest. However, you can also reach out to influencers in your industry – those people who are well-connected and have the ability to influence many others – and see if they will talk up your event to anyone and everyone they interact with. You may need to entice them with free attendance or some spiffs, but it’s always worth reaching out to them and asking them to spread the word for your event, especially if your event theme or focus is in their wheelhouse.

Direct Mail

This tactic started to fall out of favor about 15 years ago when email marketing campaigns became so easy to implement and so inexpensive. And by inexpensive, I mean about 100 times less expensive than direct mail.

But cost isn’t everything. An oversized postcard may cost $0.30-$0.50 per recipient, but when you consider that response rates for sending direct mail to an existing customer average around 3.4% compared to 0.12% for email, then you start to see the value of direct mail.

In addition, because so many people have jumped on the Internet and email marketing bandwagon over the last 10 years, the volume of direct mail that your potential attendees receive has dropped dramatically, making your missives much more visible in their literal, tangible inboxes. It’s this tangibility of direct mail that makes it so valuable for appealing to attendees for everything from conferences to weddings, and it’s why many marketers still use it to market events (often in combination with email because you reinforce your message on multiple fronts).

Another great thing about direct mail as a valuable offline event marketing tactic is that it’s also easier to implement than ever before. Local print shops and mailing houses will bend over backwards to land new customers, and online printing companies like VistaPrint  and PrintPlace provide good discounts and fast service on postcard printing and direct mailing.

Promotion via Other Events

Often the best place to promote your upcoming event is at another event with an audience similar to your event. First, the people in attendance have proven that they enjoy devoting their time to attending events. Second, they probably are on the lookout for other similar events, so this is a great time to plant that seed in their head about your event.

So how do you reach out to these people? For starters, contact the event organizers and see if they are open to any type of cross promotion between events. See if they are open to mentioning your event from the stage and allow you to either say a few words or set up a table or booth to promote your event. And even if this costs you some money for booth space or advertising, you can hopefully more than recoup your costs by registering as many attendees as possible on premise at the event.

Another thing to ask is if you can distribute flyers or inserts to the event’s attendees or include them in the show “bag of goodies.” Again, this may cost you a little in printing and design costs, but it puts you in front of a receptive audience who may be very interested in your leave-behind.


Marketing through professional associates and organizations is usually a game of negotiation. Often they have an audience of members who are very receptive to the communications and recommendations they receive from the organization. And very often they also have a need for money to fund their own events and membership offerings.

This type of marketing works best when the focus of your event and the goals of the organization align. For example, if your event is a fundraiser for a local animal shelter, your local veterinary association may be a great partner to seek out for cross promotions (vets with sizeable disposable incomes can make wonderful donors). Usually, once you have found common ground with the organization, the horsetrading begins, so you should decide what you are willing to offer. It could be more cross-promotion agreements. Or a donation to their general fund. Or discounts for their members. But whatever you decide to give away, what you must get in return at minimum is inclusion of your event details in at least a few of their member communications (and the more mentions the better, because marketing is vastly more effective when people see your message repeatedly).

One thing to remember about partnering with associations or organizations for your offline event marketing efforts is that both parties need to see value in the relationship. You may need to go back to this partner again if you have a recurring event or similar events, so you want them to get as much out of the relationship as you do.

Speaking Engagements

Many people in the events industry are naturally fluid public speakers and wouldn’t think twice about taking the stage to promote their upcoming event. In addition, you or your colleagues may be asked on occasion to speak on a topic that is familiar to you.

On these occasions, you may want to ask the event promoters if you can also promote your upcoming event at some point during your speech or presentation. At times the occasion may not be appropriate for such promotion. Say, for example, you are managing a bridal show; it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to promote your show if you are MCing a wedding that you have planned. However, if you are asked to speak at a local club or industry event about the latest wedding trends, you may want to ask if you can also mention your bridal show and make that part of the negotiation for appearing.

The great thing about speaking engagements is that you are instantly seen as a person of authority and a subject-matter expert, and so the things you mention at the podium are given more consideration than if they were uttered by a random stranger.

So try out these 5 offline marketing tactics for events when you are looking for fresh event marketing alternatives, and let us know if you have any good suggestions of your own in the comments below.

4 Ways to Make “Event Management by Committee” Work

Event Management by Committee

No event plans itself. And very few successful events are due to the efforts of just one person. In fact, great events are practically always the result of the combined time, passion and abilities of many dedicated managers, planners and vendors … not to mention the impact of guests and attendees.

So we have established the fact that it usually takes a team – including event planners, managers, staff, volunteers, vendors, venues and caterers – to pull off a successful event. Each person or contractor has their responsibilities and each contributes to the good of the whole. That’s the ideal scenario for every event professional.

However, when it comes time to make decisions for an event, sometimes a committee or team tasked with making decisions collectively can muddy things and, in the worst cases, cause things to come to a grinding halt.

Back when I worked in advertising, we had a saying: “No great novel was ever written by committee.” The gist of this is that great creative works can only come from the singular minds of inspired individuals, because most things done by committee get diluted due to clashing visions and/or the desire to appease the opinions of many.

A very similar thing can be said about the management of events. Yes, you need the input and assistance of your team and your stakeholders, but in the end you also need a leader who has the authority to make decisions that are true to the goals and vision of the event.

Many organizations (and especially non-profits) embrace a consensual approach when it comes to decision making, and this often extends to their events with an event management by committee approach. The intent of this is noble, but all it takes is two strong personalities who adhere to opposing positions and you have conflict and a potential logjam.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to find consensus, but do you really want to come to consensus on each of the hundreds of decisions, both large and small, that are involved in planning every event? Do you want to get caught up in debating the minutiae when you have bigger fish to fry (and potentially bigger debates)? And, as much as you like each other, do you want to risk those friendships and the success of your event? Instead of accepting these risks (as remote as they may seem … and they always seem remote at the outset), why not take a few precautionary measures to help ensure they don’t occur.

Next time you are faced with event management by committee, here are 4 steps to take to give you and your team the best chance of planning a successful event.

1. Choose a leader first.

Before you make a single decision, before anyone has an opportunity to disagree with each other, elect a leader who, in the case of major disagreements, will be the calming and directing voice in the room.

Now, the title of this position often matters quite a bit because of the personalities and egos involved. So you may need to call this person “chairperson,” “chair,” “moderator,” “speaker,” “presider” or any other title that is palatable to everybody. You should also consider to choose a second-in-command in case the leader is indisposed or cannot make a meeting.

This person’s responsibility is not to run roughshod over everyone or make decisions willy-nilly but to make sure everyone gets their say and is heard and that decisions are made in a deliberate and organized matter. The leader should be a great listener, a good arbitrator and a person that the entire committee respects.

Another thing you should establish at this stage is giving the leader and/or event planner the authority to make smaller decisions for the event. Although it’s understandable to put major issues in front of the committee, the small things really shouldn’t require group signoff, as long as your overall goals are clearly defined (that’s next).

2. Collectively agree on a vision.

Your first order of business after a leader is selected is to outline the overall goals and vision of the event, as these will guide the committee and the leader in making decisions. Among the things that you should consider at this time include:

  • Main objective(s) of the event – Including organizational, financial, educational, etc.
  • Your intended attendees and audiences
  • Event theme
  • Locale (geographic area where the event will be held)
  • Budget

By agreeing on these early on, you give your leader the ability to guide the committee based on the overall goals of the event. Basically, this helps prevent you from getting sidetracked down the road if one or more committee members go off-message. The leader keeps you focused and on-message.

For larger events, this also helps protect the event’s brand. Just like a brand manager at a company is the caretaker of the brand’s image, message and perception, the committee leader is also the brand leader for the event, making sure every decision hews to the overall brand and vision.

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3. Always be true to your event’s audience.

As a marketer and ad agency executive, I always felt that I was not serving my client well when I did not make recommendations that would guide them to a better relationship with their audience. So I would call out my clients when their decisions were based on their own personal opinions and not on the desires and needs of their target market. Basically, I felt that they hired me to look out for their brand and to serve their target audience first, because by putting their target audience first, I was doing my utmost in serving their brand and their organization.

The same goes for event management. Every decision you make should be made with your prospective guests and attendees and mind (well, unless your target audience is your committee and your organization is very dependent on their largesse, and then, well, I don’t envy your position, because then you are trying to serve two masters).

The leader will still get resistance and pushback from committee members who are basing their ideas and arguments on personal opinions that do not always align with the best interests of your audience. It is your job to remind the whole group of your audience’s wants and preferences and that decisions should be made with them in mind. You may not win every argument, but by sticking by your audience, you make a very strong argument that is difficult to refute.

4. Funnel your external communications through one or two people

Once decisions are made and it is time to communicate them to other team members, contractors, vendor, volunteers and outside parties, it’s also important to have one or two people be responsible for these communications and following up on them. Here’s the reasoning behind this…

Doling out certain responsibilities to designated committee members is unavoidable and usually a great idea so no one person is overburdened with tasks. But what you don’t want are situations where multiple people are calling on a vendor because then you have potential duplication of efforts and miscommunication. It’s much easier to designate a single contact person (or two at the most, who are working together closely and in constant communication with each other) who is responsible for all external communications or for designated areas of your event or vendors.

Believe me … nothing is worse for a vendor than to have multiple people calling or emailing you about the same thing, requests coming from different directions, often conflicting with each other, and you have to guess who is really in charge.

Have more tips regarding event management by committee? Provide them in the comments below.