Events management – what could possibly go wrong?

Thoughts from the Birdbox

Perhaps this week more than any other, the subject of events management is in the media following the unfortunate happenings at the Conservative party conference in Manchester. Prime Minister Theresa May faced a catalogue of hitches during her keynote speech, some of which were preventable.

No-one who has been involved in events management could fail to sympathise with the organisers of the conference or with the speaker herself who gamely battled on in the face of pranks, glitches and her own failing voice.

In this article, I reflect on some top tips that I have learned while managing events over many years.

Managing celebrities

High profile events involving celebrity performances and guest appearances can be challenging if you are not in the business. We worked with former Hollyoaks actor and Strictly star, Danny Mac, as well as reality TV star Joey Essex at promotional events for Northampton College.

We were prepared for screaming fans and long queues for selfies. But large crowds encountering celebrities can quickly become chaotic and need careful management. Always provide a ‘green room’ for your guest with refreshments, access to a bathroom and a mirror. Think about the route your guest will follow around the venue from arrival to departure. Make sure someone is free to accompany your guest and have marshals in place to manage queues. Be wary of time commitments; your contract may only cover two hours or less so check how long they can stay.

How robust is your risk assessment?

Much of the time preparing for an event should focus on the risks. Thinking about what could go wrong is best done as a team. Give yourself time to brainstorm ideas. Even if you think the risk is low, include it in your plan. It is far better to construct responses in the relative calm before the event than to be forced to manage them live. Be prepared to spend time on risk assessment; it can be more of an art than a science. The Health & Safety Executive provides plenty of tips on where to start.

See and hear clearly

For events using audio visual equipment, you will need to work closely with your technical team. Make sure you match the equipment to the venue; are the projection screens big enough to be seen by the entire audience? If you are using rear projection, make sure nobody walks behind the screens during the event or their silhouette will be magnified for all to see. Is the sound amplification sufficient? If your keynote speakers aren’t familiar with using mics, allow them time for a run-through and help with a little advice on technique. If you are using slides, provide a copy for the technicians with any stage directions and notes.

Fed and watered

Everyone enjoys the hospitality at outside events and it is often a highlight of any event. If you are serving alcohol, make sure there is a personal licence holder present and that you have a checking process in place to prevent children under 18 from being served alcoholic drinks. Monitor your numbers and let your caterer know one week before the event how many people you expect so that they can keep on top of costs. Think about the timing of when food is served. Will your guests have enough time to enjoy it? Should you open the buffet before or after any formal proceedings?

Unrehearsed events

Many events involving customers or the public simply cannot be rehearsed. Despite the best laid plans, it is rare for everything to unfold with military precision. Always factor in the human element, and the fact that those involved in your event have not lived and breathed it 24/7 for months before in the way that you have. Try and take small glitches in your stride and handle them with good grace and humour. Even the most formal events benefit from a little informality. Think of the warm applause for Theresa May when the Chancellor, Philip Hammond handed her a cough sweet in her moment of need!

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