How can I get better at event planning, since I'm stuck doing it?
January 16, 2014 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I have come to realize after attempting to plan my own wedding, and now landing two nonprofit jobs that involve some degree of event planning, that I hate it, and I am really bad at it. Since these are the jobs I have, how can I improve?

#1 problem is that I hate the planning. I hate thinking of every last tiny detail, I hate worrying about who is getting where how, I hate printing off endless forms and lists that have to be at every event. This stuff straight up does not interest me, and barely did when it was my own wedding I was planning. I was depressed and anxious for months beforehand and it only came off well because my now-husband and my mother took over most of the planning.

The other issue is that I just am not good at planning, even though I seem to have acquired a reputation for being good at it at both of my jobs. I always forget one of the above things (printing out a form, transportation details) and it ends up being a minor disaster, or at least something that I stress about intensely for quite awhile. I'm always remembering things that I forgot at odd moments and having to scramble to fix them, which is, I guess, better than forgetting entirely.

My boss's suggestion is to make a checklist for each event, but I feel sure I will lose track since the things on the checklist usually occur over the course of months.

Do you have any suggestions for me? Ways to use software to track? I already try to write everything down on a to-do list, use Google Calendar, and Workflowy to track progress, but it's just not cutting it.
posted by chaiminda to Work & Money (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Are you using a physical to-do list? If so, you might find it helpful to upgrade to a software-based one (my favourite is Wunderlist). This would allow you to split up to-do lists by event, to assign subtasks & due dates, & to share lists with colleagues if delegating. I have the same issue as you with deadlines occurring over long periods of time, & I find this stuff really helpful as I can just click on 'This Week' and see what's coming up next.
posted by littlegreen at 7:45 AM on January 16, 2014

I'm the kid who found out when she was 8 that it was possible to get married in a courthouse, and I was like THAT, THAT IS FOR ME, THANK YOU because I absolutely hate large parties and being fancy and the planning, oh god the planning. So I get where you're coming from.

My job is not event planning focused, but since I'm the everything person at my workplace, event planning when it does have to happen falls to me. I've had to learn to manage as best I can.

One of the things that has helped me make it through is to write everything that has to get done (every last tiny step) on a separate post it note. I have a large whiteboard in my office and I've got a grid on it. Across the top I have "need to do" "in process" "held up" and "completed". Along the side I have the different categories of stuff that need to happen. Each post it gets placed in the right strata of the "need to do" column, then moved across the board accordingly as each step is completed. (There's probably an official name for this kind of task management, but I don't know what it is.)

It's a good way for me to be able to see at a glance exactly where I stand with a particular item, and even keep track of things that are lengthy processes. (If it's "in process" I know I need to check up on it periodically. If it's "held up" then I need to go find the person responsible for that thing and light a fire under their butt. etc.)

For me, since it really doesn't come naturally to me, I find it works best to break everything up into the smallest possible units of suck and deal with each one separately.
posted by phunniemee at 7:46 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I do a lot of event planning at my job, and I have to say, the only thing that keeps me from forgetting all the details is a checklist.

For small events (like a half-day training workshop), I have a Word file that I print out, with all the standard steps listed, and I check them off as I do them. I have a metallic desk, so I use magnets to stick all the print outs on a shelf above my monitor, in order from soonest to latest. That way they are always in my peripheral vision and I can't forget about them.

For more major events, such as a big conference or similar, I have an excel spreadsheet, where I have the steps listed and when they need to be done (for example, give headcount to venue 7 days before event). I keep these on my computer and I just have to make a point to check them every so often - I am trying to get in the habit of looking at them every Monday.

The important thing here is to list every single step. No step is too small to include. For the short, Word Doc list, I inherited it from the previous person who did my job, and edited as needed. For the spreadsheet for major events, I made it in conjunction with my co-workers, at a staff meeting where we discussed everything that goes into an event.

If it helps, here are some of the steps I've used on my checklists.

Short checklist for smaller events:
-put event on website calendar with registration form
-put event on internal staff calendar
-create contract, have boss sign it, send it to presenter
-make copies of contract and website printout for co-worker's records
-publicize event
-give contract to accountant 3 weeks prior so that check can be cut for presenter
-at event, give presenter the check
-after event, record attendance statistics in spreadsheet
-send out surveymonkey link to attendees
-note money spent in spreadsheet

The longer checklist for more major events includes items such as:
-arrange travel with speaker (who will take from airport to hotel or will we reimburse for cab)
-make hotel reservation for speaker
-confirm presentation topic, time and length with each speaker
-ask venue to put a registration table near the entrance
-give event schedule to venue so they know when chairs, tables need to be moved (such as if part of the day involves a panel discussion), and when we are having breaks

Etc, etc. The point is to list every teeny tiny step, and check off when done, so you don't forget anything. In my experience, planning a major event involves too many things to try to rely on my memory about what still needs to be done.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 7:57 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Try backwards design. What is this event supposed to look like? What is the agenda supposed to be? From there you can start asking and answerimg questions.

For example: this is supposed to be a donors gala for about 50 people with 3 public speakers and a nice.

Ok, well you need a venue that is appealing, holds over 50 people, has a sound system. YOu need that venue to provide food or to accept a caterer. You need speakers and thise soeakers may need things like a projector or a pitcher of water. For that to work certain things have to be available by certain dates and times.

Keep going backwards writing down all the things that need to be done to get the next thing done.

As you develop a clearer idea of what needs to be done you mihjt even be abke to delegate some.
posted by jander03 at 8:08 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

There is event planning software and if this is your job, you need to find something that will work for you.

If you hate the work, why are you doing it?

Find something you'd rather do, and do it. Life is too short.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:08 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with Ruthless Bunny, if you hate it then you aren't really going to succeed at this without making yourself miserable. But a few tips as you asked:

- If you are doing the same types of events over and over again just have one template spreadsheet you can re-purpose for each event that already includes all the tasks so what I've used before includes all event info at the top of the sheet, column A - task, column B - who is responsible, column C - due date, column D - notes. I would update the file as I went and each event planning meeting (if others are involved).
- If you do so many events that an event planning software is required I recommend ShowGo, looks like Microsoft Outlook spinoff which makes it intuitively easier to use.
posted by xicana63 at 8:33 AM on January 16, 2014

Also if you want a rough copy of my spreadsheet, memail me. I can coach you customizing it for your needs.
posted by xicana63 at 8:35 AM on January 16, 2014

My boss's suggestion is to make a checklist for each event, but I feel sure I will lose track since the things on the checklist usually occur over the course of months.

I do a ton of event planning too, and I have similar anxieties about it, but I've come to accept that despite the stress I create for myself around it, I am good at it. I don't know if this inner-conflicted-attitude about it is true for you too, but I am working on defusing the emotional angst that goes with "OMG so many details!" A lot of what makes it hard is just the way I feel about it. Maybe you can look at your general orientation to the tasks and realize that having everything done perfectly is not really life or death.

But anyway, about working with a checklist over months: it's project management, at its heart. A Gantt Chart can be really useful.

The way I manage the longer-term projects is this. When one kicks off, I set up a physical folder for it. It's a "hot" project (I'm actively working on it, it's not done nor too far off in the distance). "Hot" projects live in a single folder-organizer thingie on a shelf in my office. Every time I have a task or a meeting related to that project, the folder goes with me. Sometimes the folder needs to grow into a binder. The checklist and/or Gantt chart associated with that project is the first page in the thing, either clipped to the folder or hole-punched and put in front of the binder. It's easy to figure out, at a glance, where you left off.

Because I might not remember the individual checklist task deadlines if they're just sitting in their folder, I also have a whiteboard in my office with the name of each project/event and the next handful of deadlines to keep in mind. They're also in my GCal, but I find I don't look ahead at GCal that much, so having it all on the whiteboard lets me do a little more forecasting of when I have to be working actively on things.

I suggest having your boss send you to a professional development workshop on Project Management. You will pick up tons of tools and hacks. They are offered everywhere - community education, universities, within fields/by professional associations, online. Look around for one and ask if work will pay you to go. It's an underrecognized but necessary skill set in nonprofits.

Good luck.
posted by Miko at 8:35 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I heart Asana and will continue to suggest it whenever I can. We use it for managing chores, planning our wedding, planning trips, all sorts of things. It's super flexible and you can create separate projects, tasks, sub tasks, assign them out, assign deadlines. I can go on and on but it's been SO helpful.
posted by brilliantine at 8:58 AM on January 16, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas, all!

Ruthless Bunny, you advised me to get a new job in one of my previous questions, me, I'm working on it!
posted by chaiminda at 10:18 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

You need to print forms to have available at events? Bring a printer, extra cartridges, and plenty of paper.

Depending on how your events go, it can be useful to have an accordian file full of sorted current forms in your car. If there are forms you rarely need that have a high cost not to have, keep them there always, just like you leave your spare tire in the car even though you don't plan to use it.
posted by yohko at 1:47 PM on January 16, 2014

I have done event planning for some fairly big name speakers. Here's what worked for me:

-always use the same checklist, and only one. It's too hard to have different documents for food, and transportation, etc. Spend the time and make yourself one big 'master checklist" that can work for ANY event. It's OK to just write "n/a" in some slots (for instance, some of my events we paid the speaker, and some we didn't, so the "speaker fee" details section was just one big N/A...that's OK. If you know your master checklist is solid, you will be way less stressed about forgetting something. My master list had these sections, roughly: Attendees and contact info, Flight Details, Lodging, Speaker Fees (including the amount, account it came from, what date to get the check, contracts/other forms needed etc.) Catering, Room Reservations, Facility Setup (tables etc), AV setup (microphones etc.)
Take the time to perfect your master checklist, and you can really go straight down it to plan an event...

- I used a master checklist internally (for myself) and then made up an itinerary I could give to speakers or attendees as needed, with every confirmation number they could need: hotel, airport shuttle, flight, phone numbers, etc as well as a timeline of when and where events were happening. Every event had a checklist for ME and an itinerary for the attendees. Mostly you can just pull info from your checklist onto the itinerary, but you will get major props for giving people a detailed document with everything they could need on it.

- visualize the attendees as literally going door to door. Imagine being in a strange city; you need someone to direct you from the airport to the taxi area, to the hotel, to the building with the event, to the restaurant for dinner, etc. Every from/to point needs either clear directions, or a "Person X will meet you, this is their phone number". Again, once you have a solid itinerary template you can go right down the list and fill in the blanks...

-use template emails as well. Since I always needed the same documents from speakers to book flights and such, I wrote a template email that laid out exactly what i needed from them, and sent the same email every time, tweaking as needed. You could also use template emails when starting to plan an event: if someone asked me about bringing in a speaker on X date, my template would roughly say: how many attendees? are we paying for flight? hotel? speaker fee? Do you want to host a dinner? Do you want to cater the event? etc. Make it easy for people to at least preliminarily answer all these questions at once, instead of in twelve different emails.
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:14 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

« Older Looking to pay (a nominal amt) for a reputable...   |   How do I adjust my attitude on my once beloved job... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.