Do’s & Don’ts of Event PlanningAugust 30, 2018

Paying attention to key details can ensure your meeting (and career) is a success. By
August 30, 2018

Do’s & Don’ts of Event Planning

Paying attention to key details can ensure your meeting (and career) is a success.

IFMM-2018-00708JulAug-Do's_And_Don'ts_Of_Event_Planning-860x418Planners wage a never-ending battle against Murphy’s Law, which says that what can go wrong probably will. That’s why it’s rare that events proceed completely flawless from beginning to end.

Events typically can survive minor slip-ups, some of which attendees may not even notice. But big blunders can ruin an event or make attendees so unhappy, they complain to the event stakeholder. The resulting damage to a planner’s reputation and career can be long-lasting.

Some mishaps, such as a keynote speaker becoming ill onsite and registration systems malfunctioning, can occur even when a planner does everything right.
Other slip-ups are self-imposed. For example, a planner fails to get measurements of hallways leading from the loading dock so set pieces that just arrived won’t fit and can’t be unloaded.

Don’t Do It All

One of the most common mistakes that planners — especially solo practitioners and those who are inexperienced — make is doing everything single-handedly. Juggle too many balls without help and eventually one will drop and lead to disaster or burnout.
Some planners try doing it all before changing their approach. “I’ve learned over time that you are definitely more likely to make mistakes in the planning process when you try to do everything yourself,” says Jennifer Masek, administrative support specialist, Church Mutual Insurance Company, Merrill, Wisconsin.

“Your event is really only as successful as all of the detailed planning that’s put into it from beginning to end.”
Jennifer Masek
Administrative Support Specialist
Church Mutual Insurance Company, Merrill, WI

“There are so many pieces that all have to come together when planning an event,” says Masek. “You have travel dining, meeting details, hotel stays — just to name  a few. Things are so much easier when you have help along the way. You’re only one person, and things work out so much better when you’re not stressing, trying to handle every detail.”
Masek also observes that failing to follow-up relentlessly after a meeting starts is one of the most common things that planners fail to do.

“I’d say one of the biggest mistakes made onsite is not following up on details,” says Masek. “Your event is really only as successful as all of the detailed planning that’s put into it from beginning to end. You have to realize that things are still going to happen onsite, and your event planning is never really over until your event is over.”

Focus on Details

Hiring and working with detailed-oriented, hands-on people improves the chances that everything is done to ensure that nothing goes awry. If partners such as suppliers, DMC employees and hotel staffers aren’t detailed-driven, then the chances of mistakes increase, Masek says.

She offers an example: “In a recent event, our event manager was definitely not detail-oriented,” says Masek. “Prior to our dinner one evening, I noticed that all of the signage directing our guests to the event was wrong. Chances are our guests still would have made it to dinner, but what would it have looked like had our event name been wrong on all of the signage?”

Masek double-checked the signage and changed it. “Because we’re always planning ahead, I went down to the dinner area well in advance of any of our guests and was able to find the mistakes,” says Masek. ”After contacting the hotel event manager and letting him know the signage was all wrong, the problem was fixed (before) any of our guests arrived for dinner.”

Events can be ruined by what planners do wrong or don’t do at all. That’s why it’s best to create a thorough checklist for each event and keep in mind the following list of “do’s and don’ts” to avoid blunders.


Don’t skip the meeting plan. “This is a far more common event management mistake than most event planners imagine,” according to the International Institute of Event Management (IIEM) website. “Lack of an agreed-upon plan increases the risk that tasks related to the event will fall through the cracks, that the event will have last-minute issues, fall short on budget and ultimately miss a major objective.”

According to the IIEM, “A well-defined and agreed-upon event plan helps planners tackle every task efficiently and raises the appropriate level of awareness of all the activities involved in the execution of an event.”

Don’t skip the site visit. Virtual “walkthroughs” via 3-D event management tools are becoming popular. But a site visit is the best way to ensure a venue can deliver everything it promises, says Sheila Cleary, second vice president, recognition and conferences at National Life Group, in Montpelier, Vermont.

According to Cleary, “If you do not visit the location of your program prior to execution, you can make the mistake of assuming the hotel has shared current information about recent changes in areas such as staffing, managers, renovations, new ownership or taxes that will impact the outcome of your meeting.”

Don’t overlook other events. Find out what other groups will overlap with yours in a property or venue. Will the groups be sharing common areas? Will the groups have adjacent meeting spaces for simultaneous events?

Setup Time is Key

Don’t skimp on setup time. Plan setups in advance and have enough people to complete the tasks in time. Communicate with vendors and hotel staff to provide accurate setup times. Otherwise, programs can start late and mistakes can occur. Finishing a set up as attendees enter a room appears unprofessional, annoys guests and stresses out planners.

Don’t misunderstand event requirements. For example, suppose the event stakeholder or client doesn’t want a significant space between the stage and the audience. There is no discussion about what the exact distance should be. The stakeholder is unhappy after arriving onsite and feels the distance between the stage and attendees is too great because it creates a disconnect between the two.

Don’t wait too long before making a weather call. “No one likes to bring an event indoors when you are in an amazingly beautiful destination,” says Cleary. “However, there is a lot of pressure.  When the call is too early, you pull the event inside, and then it turns out to be spectacular weather. Or you wait too long, and bad weather ruins everything. My opinion is that no one knows the destination better than your hospitality partners. Get their input.”

Don’t underestimate event size. Too many attendees can overcrowd venues and cause the event to run out of food and materials. Confirm the number of attendees as early as possible and provide constant updates to properties and vendors. Consider venues that offer options for various group sizes and vendors who are flexible right up until they receive the final attendee list.

Don’t choose the wrong venue. “A venue might sound really amazing, but does it reflect the corporate culture?” asks Karen Shackman, president, Shackman Associates, a New York City-based DMC. “Making an assumption that a venue can accommodate any last-minute changes or electrical requirements should be avoided. Consider the demographics of attendees’, including age, gender and position in the company to determine whether the venue should have amenities, such as reality booths and Wi-Fi activation stations.”

Don’t come across as negative. Following months of planning, it’s sometimes easy to get an attitude if programs are off schedule and food and beverage orders are incorrect. Remain cool. Word can easily spread throughout the meeting about an outburst and sour a planner’s reputation.


Do perform an event risk assessment. “Set time aside with your event team to brainstorm what could happen to derail the event, cause a budget overrun or to prevent you from delivering the expected results,” according to the IIEM. “Then figure out ways you can mitigate those risks. This exercise doesn’t take long, and it’s enormously helpful in understanding the weak links before planning gets underway.”

Do think like an attendee. “Getting attendee feedback prior to planning will pay off in a big way,” says Shackman. “We are finding some of the most successful meetings we have helped manage were the result of a collaborative effort throughout the company to find exactly what kind of takeaway attendees expect for programs, including entertainment, receptions, offsite activities, food and beverage and spouse/partner programs.”

Do organize load-in times and schedules. Suppose the loading dock in a venue has space for only one vendor to offload at a time, but three show up within minutes of each other? And they have limited time to unload because they must make other deliveries. A thorough site survey can prevent such a problem.

Do ensure that all staff members, vendors, hotel staff and volunteers have a detailed event timeline. If they don’t, the event will not run smoothly.

Do provide final payments, event details, guest counts and other important information to vendors in a timely manner. This helps vendors function in a satisfied and efficient way.

Go Green

Do be eco-friendly when possible. Green events are increasingly popular among attendees, especially millenials. There is no shortage of hotels and meeting venues with “green” certifications that recycle and reuse supplies and energy.

Do track and verify change orders. “Failure to keep a track of the smallest change can mean an out-of-control budget or an impossible timeline,” according to the IIEM. “Following a formal ‘change tracking process’ is a simple but extremely effective way to keep changes documented, communicated and under control.”

In addition, according to the IIEM, “The individual requesting the change (e.g., additional seating capacity or change in food service) needs to explain the specific changes, and the event manager needs to determine how that request will impact the budget, timeline and communicate it to all other stakeholders involved. Inspect each function room well in advance to ensure that the setup includes change orders.”

Do bring a hard-copy of key contracts and agreements. Mobile devices and laptops can be lost, damaged or stolen.

Do communicate effectively. Failing to provide on-going timely and accurate information to the planning team, suppliers, venues, hotels and volunteers can spell disaster. Let everyone know what to do and when to do it.

Think Traffic

Do anticipate possible traffic snafus. Double-check during the weeks before the event to make sure there is sufficient transportation. Have backup transportation plans. A bus, van or limo could break down or not arrive for various reasons.

Such problems can ruin a function or an entire event.  “Getting your attendees stuck in rush hour or other traffic on the way to an event or after-hours cocktail party will be remembered as a major meeting set-back and, in some cases, will alter an entire day’s schedule,” says Shackman.

Maintaining good relationships with DMCs and city officials can help resolve unexpected transportation conflicts that arise from local on-meeting events.

“Utilize technology and DMC partners that can help avoid problems like this, especially if there are other major events in town during the meeting,” says Shackman. “We work closely with city officials to anticipate these potential conflicts. If a meeting group does not have access to those relationships, it can become a big problem.”

Shackman was able to resolve a transportation problem with the help of New York City officials.

“We recently had to completely alter transportation for attendees of a financial meeting at the last minute after learning from city officials that it would be conflicted by an ongoing New York City event,” says Shackman. “It avoided an hour delay. That is something that could have compromised a major business event for our clients.”

Do use dependable and reputable suppliers. Seek suppliers that have experiences with the type of event you are planning. Ask for references and proof of liability insurance.

Lastly, start planning early. It’s the best way to get the dates, hotel, venues and entertainment desired.

Planners want events to give attendees positive long-term memories, but that’s difficult to accomplish if a mistake sends everything into a tailspin.

That’s why planners must resist the temptation to enjoy a sense of accomplishment and relief once a meeting starts. Instead, keep in mind what to do — and not do — during the event to prevent mistakes. I&FMM

Back To Top