Behind the Curtains: The Logistics of Hosting a Successful Large-Scale Event
Being a planner is no walk in the park, especially when dealing with large-scale events like industry trade shows, product launches, and professional conferences. If events are puzzles, then large-scale ones are like tackling a thousand-piece, where each piece is a subtle variation of the same color. Handling these requires an added level of planning, coordination, and sheer event management tenacity.
In our industry, honing your skill set is crucial, and this holds particularly true for large-scale events. Dive into insights on overcoming the common challenges of managing extensive events and discover effective strategies to ensure that sizable groups of attendees reach their destinations safely and punctually.
Defining Large-Scale Events
Pinpointing the precise criteria for categorizing a large-scale event isn’t an exact science. While there’s no industry-set standard or specific guest number, large-scale events typically involve hosting hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of attendees. What sets them apart is their complexity – these events aren’t confined to a single space. Instead, they demand coordination across multiple event spaces, often spanning several days.
Behind the scenes: tips for large-scale event planning
1. Aligning Priorities with Stakeholders
Achieving a seamless execution of a massive event requires everyone involved to be on the same wavelength. Recognize that not all team members, whether from your company or your client’s organization, may share the same sense of urgency. Establishing a shared goal and a unified direction is crucial. This alignment is necessary for essential tasks such as budget approvals and last-minute decisions to avoid delays.
Initiate early communication with your core decision-making team. Share visuals, creative concepts, potential speakers, and venue options to foster engagement and enthusiasm for the envisioned outcome. Keep stakeholders informed by promising periodic progress reports – whether weekly or bi-weekly – providing updates on finalized contracts and design developments and posing critical questions that demand timely responses, along with awaiting authorizations.
2. Secure the Date Promptly
In the realm of event planning, locking down the date is always crucial, but it becomes even more imperative when dealing with large-scale events. As the scope expands, venue options become limited, emphasizing the need to secure the date early in the process. Initiate contact with the top executives of the organizing organization for the conference. Establish cordial relationships, primarily with their executive assistants, who serve as vital links to key decision-makers and guardians of crucial planning calendars.
Once the date is confirmed, start reaching out to workshop leaders, speakers, and VIPs. Given that their schedules fill up rapidly, they have multiple outstanding options for each VIP category. While headlining presenters typically align with the conference’s focus, large-scale events might incorporate a ‘just for fun’ element to enhance the attendee experience.
For instance, a business conference could feature a cooking demonstration and a grand tasting led by a Michelin Star chef as the show-stopping event. Narrowing down the dates early is essential to secure such high-profile contracts.
3. Foster Clear Communication Channels
When tackling large-scale event planning, where multiple teams are immersed in various components, relying on spontaneous communication can lead to overlooked crucial details. Implementing well-defined communication strategies is key to ensuring everyone stays informed and aligned. Here are some effective approaches:
- Establish a regular schedule for team check-ins throughout the planning phase. Whether conducted via conference call or in-person meetings, these sessions serve as opportunities for team members to share updates on completed tasks, address pressing issues, voice concerns, and coordinate next steps.
- Establish an individual’s access to key events in your event planning software. Given the variety of elements in play, such as keynote speeches, product rollouts, networking breakouts, and gala dinners, essential team members must contribute relevant details. This may include in-house planners, external collaborators like a stage design company, or the venue manager responsible for the ballroom buffet dinner layout. Exercise caution when sharing events to prevent errors and confusion – assign ‘Can Edit’ access to those authorized to make changes, reserving ‘Can View’ access for others.
- Delve into discussions about dietary restrictions, allergies, and ADA compliance. Devote a dedicated “all-hands-on-deck” meeting about a month before the event to address these important considerations.
4. Align Venue Selection with Event Objectives
Ensure that your chosen venue and location are in sync with the goals of your large-scale event. For events featuring speakers and panel discussions, opt for venues equipped with multiple-use spaces, especially those boasting two or more large auditoriums. This not only accommodates a sizable audience but also guarantees optimal visibility for speakers and any accompanying video or slide presentations.
If your event encompasses smaller networking meet-and-greets and breakout learning sessions on niche subjects, seek venues offering a range of mixed-use spaces like conference rooms and lounges. Considering a global audience? Opt for a location with tourism appeal. Many attendees relish the opportunity to blend conferences with sightseeing and local excursions.
If your large-scale event operates on a tighter budget, explore venues in smaller towns and cities. These locales can often provide cost-effective solutions, coupled with the charm of a small-town atmosphere that attendees may find appealing.
5. Harness Your Team's Strengths for Event Success
Maximize the potential of your team by leveraging their individual strengths, addressing weaknesses, and recognizing areas for growth tailored to the specific needs of the event. Acknowledge the diverse abilities and work styles within your team.
For those skilled in outreach to speakers and vendors, delegate tasks like checking in with contacts, coordinating schedules, and obtaining necessary information. Ensure that their approach is effective without being overbearing. Entrust your most creative team members with responsibilities such as defining the closing dinner theme or curating background music.
Encourage team members to step out of their comfort zones when possible. This not only contributes to the development of a well-rounded team but also boosts morale. Research indicates that employees derive the most satisfaction when acquiring new skills and advancing in their careers.
Consider the varied learning and communication styles within your team. Some may thrive when reviewing layout changes on shared event software, while others prefer a traditional PDF printout. Strike a balance between email updates and in-person meetings to accommodate different preferences and enhance overall communication effectiveness.
6. Mastering the Art of Saying No
When faced with requests from your CEO for A, B, or C that pose logistical challenges or risk compromising other aspects of the event, it’s crucial to diplomatically set expectations. Politely explain the limitations posed by the venue or timeline. Similarly, be prepared to decline speakers or presenters seeking extended time or expecting A/V setups beyond the scope of the vendor contract.
Saying no is a skill that requires practice. As an event planner, whether you’re naturally inclined to please or constantly on the move, committing to pause before responding to three requests per week can make a difference. Evaluate whether the request is essential to the event or aligns with its goals. If not, gently but firmly communicate a “no” with a brief explanation, ensuring clarity and maintaining the overall integrity of the event.
7. Anticipate and Prepare for the Unforeseen
With more moving pieces, the likelihood of unexpected challenges increases. Collaborate with your team to brainstorm worst-case scenarios and formulate a comprehensive Plan B for each. Having solutions ready for potential hiccups ensures a smoother response when something does go awry. Here are a couple of examples:
Issue 1: A blizzard disrupts a conference guest speaker’s flight.
Backup Plan A: Substitute a Q&A session with thought leaders from the hosting company. Ensure their schedule aligns with the guest speaker’s time slot, focusing on a topic relevant to the meeting. Provide advance notice of questions to the Q&A participants.
Issue 2: Wi-Fi fails before a seminar featuring a live-streamed speaker from a remote location.
Backup Plan B: Presenters should prepare hard copies of crucial video presentations. In case live-streaming to remote participants becomes unfeasible, there’s a fall-back option. Prepare an update email for the live-streaming audience in case of technical glitches, and record the event to share with them afterwards.
In the intricate dance of event planning, mastering the logistics of hosting a large-scale event is a paramount achievement. From meticulous venue selection to strategic communication, every detail plays a crucial role. By aligning team strengths, saying no when necessary, and preparing for the unexpected, the path to success becomes more defined. Remember, large-scale events are not just gatherings; they are experiences crafted with precision and passion. As the curtains close on this behind-the-scenes exploration, let the insights gained illuminate your future endeavours in hosting memorable and seamless large-scale events.