The Devil’s in the Details
Ten Details That Hurt Events.
For the second year in a row, I’ve helped manage the oldest bike race in the United States – the Tour of Somerville. Well known in competitive cycling circles, the race has been taking place in a local New Jersey town for the past 75 years. Top cyclists from around the world have participated in this Memorial Day classic. Yet, even after 75 years, the endless list of details can overwhelm anyone. From securing permits, sponsors, porta-toilets, to coordinating a pre-race parade, the details never stop and missing an important detail can jeopardize your event. At the top of the detail list should be the event day schedule. It must go like clockwork or you risk alienating your spectators, participants and volunteers. So, whether you are organizing a professional bike race or a fundraising walk; make sure the day of event schedule runs smoothly. Countless hours have gone into the planning the event. It’s go time! Or is it?
Here are ten mistakes when organizing an event that impacts your audience and future event attendance:
- Poor direction signage to find the event or a lack of parking. Participants are driving in circles trying to figure out where to park. This is amplified if people are not familiar with the area. They see the tents, and the stage, but where do we park? Does your site have adequate parking? Can attendees find your designated parking? Make sure you have clear signage on the main thoroughfares so guests can easily access parking.
- Start the event late. How do you feel when you show up on time and then kept waiting? Your attendees have the same frustration when events don’t start on time. They’ve set aside the time to attend your fundraising event. Maybe they got up early and showed up a half an hour early and now they are hanging out while you try to get your act together setting up for the event. Not a good stewardship tactic. Plus, a late start means a late finish and people will leave if the event is dragging on.
- Dull Events with lots of down time. First and foremost, participants must have a good time. Events should be fun, energizing – a celebration of why they support the organization. With endless details, it’s easy for the guest experience to be lost in the shuffle. Do not let there be “down times” where people are standing around with nothing going on. Their attention span is short. Don’t let it happen to you.
- The event that never ends. After a late start, the event festivities finally begin and goes on, and on, and on, and on. Somewhere someone thought the longer the event the more people will enjoy it. The event is now moving slowly with no end in sight. People are leaving and you haven’t started the presentations. Even the vendors are tearing down to leave. Remember, your participants are busy people. They have family commitments, things to do and errands to run. Keep that in mind and make sure your event is not too long and ends on time. Send them home wanting more. They’ll be back.
- No timeline or script for the event. Who speaks next? When do we start the event? Are the rest stops ready? If you don’t outline exactly what happens when, and by whom, then expect chaos at your event. A timeline should be detailed to the minute. It should be distributed to all key staff/volunteers and someone should make sure you stick to it. In bike racing, it’s called “the whip.” The sole job of the “whip” is to make sure races start on time by getting the riders to the starting line.
- Have a poor or inadequate sound system. What did they say? I’ve heard this statement many times at an event. There is a huge audience. They want to have a good time. The person on stage kicks things off to start the event. Huh? What? I can’t hear. What did he say? You start losing your audience and they start up their own conversation. The crowd is there but they aren’t paying attention, because they just can’t hear. If your event is large, get a professional sound person. Let them make sure you have the right system so everyone can hear what is going on. It will make a huge difference in the success of your event.
- Inadequate support on the course. Using a walk event as the example, the event starts and half your walkers find the rest stops have no water, long porta-toilet lines and some walkers are off course because of poor signage. It’s chaos out there and the complaints start as soon as the walkers make their way in. Talk about losing your audience. Do this at a competitive run and your participants may “run” you out of town. Eight months later senior management wonder why registration is down from the prior year.
- The Board president launches his announcing career at your event. There is nothing worse than having an inexperienced person at the microphone of a large event. When someone from senior management assumes the role there is no stopping the runaway train as they forget the script, adlib and launch into their own budding career as a talk show host. The timeline is also forgotten, the sponsors are not mentioned and the endless repetition about donors not giving enough money is not warming up the crowd. Get a professional MC! They are easy to find and sometimes the local radio or television stations will do it as part of their sponsorship.
- Lack of staff or volunteers. Someone underestimated the task at hand. It’s event day and you need a small army to set up. What you have are three senior citizens unable to do manual labor and two board members trying to tell you what to do next. Now don’t get me wrong about senior citizens. They can be very helpful but not carrying cases of water, setting up tents or unloading tables from trucks. Have your seniors in the registration tent or directing traffic. Get the young help, and strong help, to do the set-up stuff. Better to have more, thank not enough and have all job assignments written down on paper to distribute to team leaders so everyone knows what they must get done without asking.
- Forget to thank your donors, your participants, your volunteers and your staff. If you’re like most organizations people help and support you because they want to be part of your mission, not because they are paid for their services. You “pay” them by thanking them and letting them know that it couldn’t be done without them. Come up with awards, recognition letters, staff party, and the more you do, the more support you will have and the better execution for your next event.
These are just ten mistakes to avoid when organizing your event. I wish this was everything, but the detail list is endless. Just remember as the saying goes, “the devil’s is in the details.” The more attention you pay to the details, the better the event. We all make mistakes and forget things. Believe me, I’ve made my share. The goal is to plan well, minimize the mistakes and be able to address challenges without losing your cool. By following a well thought out plan, with plenty of support and the right people in the right jobs will make your event day a huge success.