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.