Perhaps more than any other profession, event planners are familiar with trepidation, an impending feeling that something will go wrong. My friend (we’ll call her Tanya) recently told me a story explaining why.
Tanya was on the planning team for a corporate gathering of close to a thousand people. The opening morning, she entered the lobby of the gathering’s venue to find it full of people milling around aimlessly. Unperturbed, she made her way through the crowd where a teammate intercepted her and asked, “Did you hear that someone forgot to order coffee and bagels for breakfast? People are pissed.”
She responded “oh no”, continuing for a few more steps before stopping dead and uttering a longer and infinitely more distressed “OOOHHH NOOOOO”. Tanya had been in charge of ordering food for the occasion and she thought they had decided to skip breakfast the first day, but upon looking at the day’s itinerary she saw that bagels and coffee were the first thing on the list. As a bout of anxiety started to take hold, she felt her chest tightening as though a “metal hand was gripping her heart” (her words verbatim).
Perhaps the result of watching Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom too many times, but I don't think anyone deserves to feel like their heart is being crushed. So, I decided to give Tanya’s story serious consideration in an effort to help other event planners trade trepidation for a measure of tranquility.
A Conventional Response to Tanya’s Story
There is a sentiment popular in the event industry that is described well with a saying I’ve often heard, “never leave your checklist at home”. It implies that each member of an event planning team has specific jobs, boxes on their checklist, and if they are all completed the event will run well. This attitude is logical at first glance, but I don’t think it holds up under scrutiny.
What if the checklist itself is wrong? Tanya’s problem was not the result of disorganization. In fact, I‘d wager most of my savings that she had her checklist and checked it more than twice. Her issue was misinformation, which resulted in her checklist being incomplete.
Of course, someone could argue “Tanya should have asked about breakfast just to make sure”. Is that really a reasonable claim? Obviously, she can’t choose to only ask about the things that are wrong. When carried to its logical extreme, that argument is saying that Tanya must verify that every single change made to an event’s design throughout the planning process. Anyone who has planned an event will agree that is grossly inefficient, and considering that Tanya requires sleep, probably an unfair request.
An Alternative View
I submit that decentralized communication is responsible for the breakfast snafu, not Tanya’s incompetence. (I know Tanya. She’s smart.) Event planners need to dispense with the idea of “your checklist” and replace it with “our checklist”. Let’s call “our checklist” the internet way of thinking.
The internet is powerful because it provides a central system of record which makes information available and quickly accessible for everyone. For instance, if you have a question simply Google it, rather than investing the time to physically seek out someone who might have the answer.
If Tanya’s team had been using a centralized checklist (like an internet for their event), I think one of two things would have happened. Either, Tanya would have seen that breakfast was still on the agenda, and asked about it. Or, someone would have seen that the breakfast box was still unchecked, and asked Tanya about it.
How should a team successfully centralize communication? Doing so requires addressing two basic categories: people and the tools they use.
By people, I mean instilling a culture where your team members feel comfortable sharing their work and progress with the rest of the group. Think about how useless the internet would be if no one put information on it. Changing culture is a discussion that exceeds the scope of this post, so the only advice I’ll give is this: reward acts of collaboration more than individual performance.
Providing good tools means picking the right technology to support your team. A part of doing so is finding the right event management software, a decision with a lot of intuitive considerations. Is it user friendly? Does it have the features required to manage everything we need to manage? Is its system for data collection robust? One that I find often goes overlooked, however, is whether it is intrusive. Good software augments and simplifies work habits, rather than forcing users to conform to the software (intrusion). Thus, two things your event software needs to do are easily integrate with other technology your team is using, and offer customization to fit your specific workflows and enable communication.