Organizing an event is a massive and complex undertaking. Many things can go wrong due to poor planning and execution. To help you do better, we've listed 20 of the most common event planning and organizing mistakes along with tips to help you avoid them.
1 - Poor research of your target audience
A lack of interest is one of the biggest reasons why an event might fail. Which is why researching who your target audience is and building an event that appeals to their interests is crucial if you'd like to have any turnout at all.
To understand your target audience better, divide them into the following segments:
- Demographic: This type of market segmentation includes your potential participants' basic personal information, such as age, gender, education and income.
- Geographic: Geographic segmentation includes participants' country, city and language.
- Psychographic: This entails the lifestyle choices of your participants, including opinions, attitudes, personality, values and interests.
- Behavioral: This type of market segmentation divides potential participants on the basis of their behavior, usage and decision-making patterns.
Knowing who your participants are isn't only important in developing your event's activities and sessions, but also in choosing your marketing and communication strategies. When you know the types of participants you are expecting, you can strategically choose marketing methods and channels that will guarantee a better take up of the messages that you are relaying.
2. Failure to acquire a contact list early
One of the most common mistakes, usually made by inexperienced conference organizers is failing to identify and secure a prospect list in advance. After identifying who you'd like to invite to your event, make sure you compile a prospects' list, complete with names, titles, mailing addresses, fax numbers, and e-mail addresses so you're able to easily reach out to participants when it is time to do so.
3 - Choosing the wrong date for your event
Many events fail because they were scheduled on days that were inconvenient for their target audiences. Conference organizers must choose a date that works for their speakers and attendees, and not just for themselves. As a general rule of thumb, make sure your event doesn't coincide with the following:
Similar conferences: To secure the highest number of attendees possible, it's imperative that conference organizers are aware of what their competitors are doing and when they're doing it to avoid organizing a conference simultaneously with others of a similar nature.
Holidays and peak travel/tourism seasons: As obvious as this may seem, we reiterate: it's not advisable to organize conferences during a public holiday! Yes, your attendees have better things to do! Besides public holidays, it's also not advisable to organize conferences during peak travel and tourism season, i.e. June through to August. Not only will your conference clash with some of your attendees and speakers' pre-planned vacations, but peak tourism months make it impossible for the participants to get flights and accommodation at reasonable prices and in turn, make it hard for them to attend.
College and University exams: If the target audience is made up of university and college students, make sure you get information on exam dates as well as pre/post exam breaks and ensure that your conference date does not clash with them.
4. Booking a bad venue (location)
The venue you choose says a lot about you! Make sure you choose a venue that reflects positively on your brand and portrays the right image to your audience, as well as - if not especially - your sponsors and partners. Not only do you need to make sure everything inside of the venue is great, but also, take into considerations the following:
It's important that your location is accessible to your attendees by several transportation methods, be it public or private. It's also very considerate to choose a venue that has the appropriate facilities and equipment for people with disabilities. Though they may not be needed during your conference, it's always good to be prepared. Similarly, it's always great to choose a location that's in good proximity to restaurants and tourist attraction sites.
Conference attendees always appreciate it when the location of your conference is within a short distance to where they stay. If your conference is to be held at a hotel event hall, do try to arrange for available accommodations there. You can also check if you can get discounts on rooms, the event hall or services; there is always room for negotiation!
If your conference isn't located within walking distance to your participant's lodging, do see that transportation is provided so participants arrive easily on time. Similarly, If you're expecting a great number of participants visiting from abroad, check if you can make arrangements for their flights and transportation from the airport to the hotel. While participants can make those arrangements themselves, they always appreciate it when they're being taken care of and are given more options.
5. Skimping on your event's catering and amenities
Having a tight budget is never an excuse to settle for or provide terrible services to your participants, especially for paid conferences. As a conference organizer, you have to keep your finances in check, reallocate funds where necessary, explore ways of increasing your return on investment (ROI), do your research early on and finally, - and this is an important one - put your best negotiation skills to use!
• Food and Beverage
Whether you're hiring a catering company or going with the catering services provided by your venue, the quality of the food still needs to be ascertained. It's recommended that conference organizers sample the F&B menu beforehand as well as check if meal options for attendees with specific dietary requirements either for health or religious reasons.
• Amenities and maintenance
It should go without saying that clean, well maintained and disability-friendly event halls, seating options, restrooms are a necessity and not a luxury that you can skimp on. Not only that, but having the staff to ensure the cleanliness of your facilities is recommended in case any accidents happen.
• WiFi and charging stations
Because nothing aggravates a millennial more than poor internet or worse, a dead phone! If your venue doesn't provide a powerful WiFi connection that won't be exhausted by heavy traffic, then prepare to make arrangements for a service provider have one set up, as well as have charging stations set up for anyone to conveniently plug in their devices when needed.
6. Tedious and outdated registration process
This generation doesn't know how to work a fax machine, nor do they want to travel to your location to physically purchase tickets to your event. Lucky, they shouldn't have to do either because today, there is an abundance of event management softwares out there that can make the event registration process a breeze, both for you and your participants.
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7. Choosing irrelevant speakers
Be it industry experts, public figures or even celebrities, speakers are usually one of the main selling points to any event, so make sure you make the right investment. A speaker's job, after all, is a tough one; they first need to attract attendees, then engage, entertain and educate them throughout your conference while making sure to reinforce your conference's key themes and topics. Therefore, it's incumbent that you choose speakers that are experienced, knowledgeable, relevant and charismatic to successfully engage your audience and make your events memorable.
8. Choosing the wrong host
The master of ceremonies (MC) - also called emcee, host or compère - is the official host, taking the responsibility of delivering the welcoming address, introducing special guests and other speakers, and moving the event programme forward. Make sure you choose an experienced and charismatic host to keep your audience engaged, and see that they are fully versed in your agenda to control the running order of each element or your event.
9. Leaving promotions until the last minute
The more you delay the marketing and promotion of your event, the less time people will have to schedule to attend it. In fact, it is recommended by industry professionals that you allocate at least three to four months lead time to effectively get the word out about your event, especially if you're relying on magazines, journals or other deadline-driven print media to reach to your target audience.
First, a solid marketing plan needs to be developed to keep you and your team on the right track. The marketing plan should describe all channels of getting the message out about your conference to your participants and key stakeholders effectively. It should also specify who amongst your team is responsible for each activity along with the proposed dates of task completion. It is important to keep your sponsors in the loop regarding all marketing activities as it affects them too.
The internet is everyone's main source of information; so make sure people can find information about your conference on there too. Create an engaging and professional looking website for your conference with all information pertaining to it including:
- Participants' registration form
- A detailed conference program outlining all sessions, workshops etc..
- A speakers' page or section with bios and photos if possible
- A sponsors' page with company descriptions, websites and social media
- All travel, transportation and accommodation detail with a map to the venue as well as a list of all transportation options to get there.
- A contact page with a form where participants can leave questions or suggestions as well as a general line and email address.
- Social media links and all relevant hashtags.
News Releases and Media Management
News releases are informative and credible pieces that are issued for the media to pick up and publish for free. They can also be published on your website and in any publication you own. Have your PR experienced personnel prepare an informative and concise news release to be sent to print, broadcast and online media outlets along with an invitation to attend the conference. This should be done around 10 days prior to your conference so journalists have ample notice to add your conference on to their agendas. Make sure you follow up with them and get confirmation on their attendance 2 or 3 days before the conference.
Social media is a powerful tool to communicate creative and engaging content with your audience, and the best part is, it's all for free! It's highly recommended that Conference organizers make use of all popular social media channels by designating a content manager and a designer to propose ideas, create and post content then manage audience feedback and questions.
Email marketing is a cost-effective digital marketing tool that's used by most conference organizers. Prepare informative, engaging and creative email content that most importantly, has a call-to-action button or link for your potential participants to visit your website and register for your conference.
10. Last minute sourcing of equipment
Conferences require several equipment, be it of the technical or non-technical variety which include but aren't limited to audio-visual equipment such as microphones, speakers, screens and projectors as well as furnishings such as stages, podiums, seating, tables, VIP area setups and more.
Just as your audience needs time to make room for your event in their schedules, the vendors and service providers need time to make arrangements too with regards to the availability and transportation of the equipment to your venue. A 24-hour notice is not enough! It is recommended that you secure vendor contracts at least a month before your event .
11. Not knowing how to negotiate.
Knowing how to negotiate profitable deals is key, especially when you have a tight budget.
Event organizers can make profit off of services they offer to their participants. Such profit can be made either in the form of commissions or discounts; for example, hotel rooms - for a certain duration - can be purchased at a discounted rate as per an agreement with the hotel management, then sold to participants at normal price. The same hotel might also give you a discounted rate, or better yet, waive the rental fees for using their event hall (plus catering, if you negotiate well enough).
Similarly, discounts and perks can also be negotiated with airlines and transportation providers. Though negotiating down the prices of plane tickets may be tougher, you may receive free tickets upon fulfilling a certain quota of successfully purchased tickets. It is advised that you consult a local travel agent for more information.
12. Failing to keep track of your budget and priorities
Knowing how much you've got to spend isn't the difficult part, making sure you don't exceed your budget is. To develop a realistic and strategic budget, conference organizers must first take into consideration their current financial capabilities, their expected return on investment (ROI), and finally, what their conference needs in terms of expenditures, which should include but isn't not limited to:
- Venue renting
- Marketing expenses
- Speakers and Entertainment
- Vendors and freelancers
- Production costs (printed materials, kits, goodies, décor etc.)
- Technical Equipment
- Furniture (if necessary )
- Internet + IT support and set-up.
It is highly advisable that all expenses are meticulously researched and documented in a costs spreadsheet for ease of reference. For a rainy day, it's also advisable to set aside a contingency fund of 10-15% of your total budget to cover any miscellaneous expenses or to take care of any unforeseen issues that may arise.
13. Not testing equipment BEFORE your event
To avoid finding out your technical equipment is faulty on the day of the even, it is incumbent that you get it all tested a few days before hand, and then continuing to do so in the days/hours leading up to your event. That includes any audio-visual devices as well as lighting gear that you've booked and sought out to use for your event.
As much as we all wish it was, event organizing is not a one-man show. The assumption that “I do it all myself" has doomed many events to failure. In the planning phase of your event, it is important that you map out all activities that need to be performed, then assign or contract a team that take on all of them. This will guarantee a speedy completion of tasks and have everything all set for your event, well before it approaches.
15. Communication breakdowns
The bigger your events are, the harder it is to make sure everyone is on the same page, but it must be done. While planning tasks and assigning them to team members, it is extremely important to make sure that team members are aware of what is expected from each and everyone one of them. This is to avoid clashing, by having two members working on the same task, or worse, ending up with tasks that weren't performed at all because everyone on the team thought “that's someone else's job".
To avoid such situations, it is important to clearly formulate the tasks and delegate them according to the employee's abilities and capabilities. Several team communication and productivity softwares, like Slack, Asana and Microsoft Teams, can help you and your team communicate in an organized manner during such projects.
16. Not having a strict timeline for task completion
Establishing a realistic timeline for task completion is necessary to keep everything and everyone on the right track. Your conference timeline can be as simple as a checklist or as detailed a master timeline outlining all activities to be done before, during and after your conference. What matters is that everyone on the team understands what needs to be done, and when it needs to be done. A pro tip would be to share an editable copy of your timeline online with the rest of your team so task status updates are shared instantaneously with everyone.
17. Not properly controlling the running time of each session
Several events run into this issue. Two of the most common reasons why this happens is
A) speakers are late, or
B) speakers got carried away while delivering their content.
To combat this:
In case your speakers are late, make sure your team has lined up some fillers to keep your audience entertained. This can be anything from promotional videos to entertaining acts.
Make sure you communicate with your speakers before hand so they know the time that's been assigned to their sessions. Have one of your team members act as a timekeeper on the day of the event and communicate cues to speakers on stage as their sessions are about to reach the end of their allotted time.
While receiving a large turnout is a good thing, the “we're running out of seats" crisis is not. To avoid overcrowded halls and consequently, attendee dissatisfaction, conference organizers must take into account the maximum number of attendees, staff, technical crew and guests - that can be present on-site - when selecting a venue, especially if the conference is free-entry.
19. Not following up with attendees
Following up with your participants is very important, especially if you plan on organizing more events in the future. It is an opportunity for you to boost your reputation and encourage guests to show up for your next event. But even if you'll never plan another event, it's common courtesy to follow up with guests and vendors to say thanks. You'll leave a good impression as an event organiser.
Your vendors were a key part of making your event a success. Always make sure to thank them for their efforts. A personal follow-up works best, so try to give them a call if you can. If you're dealing with a large number of vendors, you might want to at least craft an email to thank them and leave things on a high note.
20 - Not having a plan B.
Even the most meticulously planned events can fall prey to those unforeseen issues that usually occur on-site. To be better prepared for such scenarios, perform an event risk assessment as an early part of the event planning process. 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. Then figure out ways you can mitigate those risks. This exercise doesn't take a long time, and it's enormously helpful in understanding the weak links before planning even gets underway.