When organising an event, communications are key. When the event is about to start, and contributors and/or guests are beginning to arrive, effective communications are absolutely critical.
At some point in the life-cycle of any conference or exhibition, it is very likely that the organiser will suffer from his own, personal, information and communications explosion. Steps must be taken to avoid meltdown.
When running a conference, there are generally two critical stages. The first one is during that period in which most of the attendees are expected to arrive; the second is in the run-up to the first talk (this may well be on the following day). Once these milestones have been passed, most things which were going to go wrong, have done.
For exhibitions, the situation is somewhat different. There is the first, early morning, panic, when the exhibitors are arriving and setting up their stands, and then there is the later one which occurs when attendees start coming in. This latter is usually comparatively low-key, although if there’s a queue; then, the problems are more severe.
What goes wrong at these critical times does usually boil down to problems of communication.
There isn’t, actually, much you can do to stop these ‘panics’ happening, but there are things you can do to ameliorate them.
Plan for them. Accept that they will happen. Identify the time-critical tasks which have to be carried out in these periods. Identify also the most crucial ‘what if’ scenarios, and how these should be dealt with. A product such as Excel’s ‘Scenario Management’ will assist greatly in this.
Communicate in advance. Send out the information people need, in advance, and try to make sure that they have seen it. You could, for instance, send out the information exhibitors need in an email (details of stand location, vehicle loading/unloading times, first aid point, location of fire escapes, and so on); then, ask them to reply, or to click on a link, to confirm receipt. In delivering this, you have done your part. If the recipients choose to ignore the information which has been directly supplied to them, then any negative consequences are clearly their own responsibility. In any case, by such means you can at least reduce the flood of questions directed at you when people start arriving.
Build a good event web-site. Further to the above really. An event web-site is a resource in which everyone involved can share. All the information should be there, the processes for doing everything required to be done, before the event, should also be made available on this web-site. An FAQ page, and reports from previous year’s events can be included and represent a knowledge base, again, shared between everyone involved.
Delegate effectively. Provided you have the staff, delegation will make things much easier for you. At the critical times, everyone should be clear what their role is. Your role should be, primarily, to deal with the unforeseeable, and nothing much else. So be selfish, delegate one hundred per-cent of the known tasks if at all possible. This could even extend to having someone else answer your mobile phone, you can only have one conversation at once after all.
Dealing with especially busy times is almost always a matter of damage limitation. Life is not perfect, events hardly ever go off without a hitch. If there is a problem, it’s likely to occur at the most hectic periods in the event’s life-cycle, and what this problem will usually boils down to, is a break down of communications.
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