So You’re Running An Event !
by Joel Williams, Sr CPC
Maybe a client has tasked you with running an event to showcase a product rollout or you are running a training course on how to hack self driving cars, or maybe for a church or another volunteer group. Lets take look at what is involved.
Running a Meeting – Logistics
Meetings can be chaotic if you don’t do some simple planning and organizing. Let’s look at some things to keep in mind … so that you can keep your mind. Let’s assume you have volunteered to facilitate running a meeting, or maybe you were “volunteered”. You expect 20-40 people to attend. Also, let’s assume the meeting is free to attend and is open to members, and non-members. Some people will pre-register, but others will just show up at the event. The nearby headquarters of ProtocolsAreUs Inc. has graciously agreed to let you use their rather large meeting room.
Dr. Why-Fai Beacon has agreed to talk about 802.11s mesh network performance inside submarines.
Getting the word out is critical. Some groups choose to a “registration optional” policy to encourage more attendance. You also want to open this exciting topic for non-members as well. Various social media and online events calendars are available in your area, such as MeetUp. Typically, they are easy to post to. Craft a catchy short blurb. Make sure the title is attention grabbing and the first sentence hooks readers in.
Be sure to contact your sponsor at ProtocolsAreUs and get in touch with their facilities coordinator well in advance. You need to make sure everything will be ready to go, with minimal last minute surprises.
Arrange ahead of time for the furniture layout. Will it be theater seating layout with rows of chairs facing the speaker, or perhaps classroom seating. This may depend on what you need and how the room is typically set up. If you are responsible for pulling out the furniture and storing it at the end, be sure to line up some volunteers to come early and stay later to take care of this so you can stay in good graces with your host.
Go over what equipment Dr. Beacon will need and what is available from the venue. If the venue is providing it, ideally there should be someone present who can deal with problems like the proverbial burned out projector lamp, or the screen locked in a closet. If Dr. Beacon will be using his own laptop for PowerPoint slides and using ProtocolsAreUs’s projector, best to bring an assortment of VGA, HDMI, USB adapters. Make sure any needed extension cords will be available. Also make sure you can control the lights – ask about automatically programed lighting and HVAC that might be problematic. We use a venue that automatically shuts off the projector power at 8:00PM, and we need to manually turn it back on. This usually occurs at one of the most interesting parts of the speaker’s presentation.
A sound system is usually a nice addition above 20 guests and required above 40. Ideally this is a wireless mike. It is a well-established law of nature that the microphone battery will be dead unless you have extra batteries.
If you will be webcasting verify the Internet connectivity and bandwidth. If you will be recording the event, do a light and sound check.
You don’t want people wandering around the ProtocolsAreUs building looking for the meeting room. Make up some signs with arrows to guide people to the room. Also you might need a sign at the exit from the meeting room.
Building access will probably be restricted. Someone may need to be stationed at a door with a key-card to let people in. Once the meeting starts, post a sign with a cell phone number to call for late stragglers. They can call someone in the meeting (who has their mobile on “stun”) to come and open the door.
You should have an agenda with specific time blocks. Our meetings start with some introductory announcements followed by an opportunity for people to introduce themselves, then a short break where people can network. Next the main speaker is introduced. Following the presentation, there are a few quick concluding remarks, thanking the speaker.
ProtocolsAreUs wants you out of the building by 10pm sharp. That’s when they release the dogs. Be sure to time things so people can have a short time to socialize a bit on the way out, and clean up can be completed. Maybe have the speaker finish by 9:20.
Make sure Dr. Beacon has what he needs. A/V equipment, laser pointer, podium or chair or whatever. If you are having a panel of speakers, they will need a table to sit at or perhaps some high chairs for a more informal setting. Explain to Dr. Beacon your meeting format, how your introduction will go, and how much time he has, including any Q&A. Agree on hand signals for indicating time: 10min (two hands up) left, 5 min left (one hand up) and end ( hand form a T ).
If Dr Beacon is bringing some sort of exhibit, make sure there are facilities for him to set it up and operate it.
Food – Give them food and they will come.
Why is food like a super-conductor? Because they both facilitate better communications. Meetings are usually held after a full work day. Some food really helps keep people alert and engaged. What you provide varies with budgets, preferences, and volunteer energy. Some groups pay for food with a donation box, other groups fund the food from other activities or dues.
Popular menu items might include simple snacks; chips, cookies, a vegie plate, or my favorite; Hershey’s Kisses. Pizza is also popular. Be sure to include a variety that satisfies typical health restrictions (low fat, low salt, vegetarian, no dairy, …). Secret: have the pizzas sliced small so you get more slices per pie. Keep it easy, someone needs to go shopping. Pizza can usually be delivered.
When picking food, consider cleanup. Who is responsible for cleaning the room? Do you want to be crawling around on the floor at the end of the meeting, picking up those Hershey’s Kisses wrappers? Popcorn tends to create a mess.
Networking is important
Chapter meetings serve two purposes; to educate and inform and also to provide an opportunity for like mined people to get to know each other and talk. In spite of being a Communications Society, some members are not good at talking with new people. However, networking with peers is important for professional and personal development. We need to do everything we can to help them. One good way to do this is to give everyone a name badge that includes their name and company affiliation or area of expertise. This makes it easier for people to strike up a conversation. We tried using “Hello” badges with mixed results. They are messy to write and often hard to read. More on our unique solution later.
Registration is important
Groups need to get a head count and want to also maintain a mailing list. For people who do not pre-register, you need to get this on-site, at the event. You accumulate this mail list by having people sign-in and provide an e-mail address. Historically, this was done by passing around clip-boards with sign-in sheets. Problem is when you get these sign-in sheets, you discover what doctors and engineers have in common: neither one write legibly. The hand written e-mail addresses seem to be encrypted with 256-bit AES.
There is a way to solve the name badge problem and the sign-in problem. On option is to go out and buy a label printer, it comes with some software that handles shipping labels, name badges and a dozen other things. However, it is awkward to use for name badges. More important, it created an instant bottleneck, everyone queued up in front of one laptop. You needed a better way.
Shameless promotion alert: What you need is a system like they have at conferences, multiple laptops where people could self-register and print out a name badge. Alas, such systems are well beyond the budget for a small event, and complex to administer. However there is a low cost scaled down event registration and name badger printer system that brings big conference registration to groups and companies that hold smaller events for sales meetings, training sessions, social mixers, volunteer groups, schools and the like. This is a small system that accommodates several laptops or tablets to allow several people to register at the same time. Essentially, it is a captive Wi-Fi network and web server in front of the printer, with some custom badge formatting and printing software. It also creates a spreadsheet that captures the registration information. Using this system allows you to pre-print badges for those who have pre-registered or easily register them and print a name badge at the door. (Check out www.ez-badge.com) Contact this author to get one for your needs.
After the event
After the event, there are still chores to be done. If you have a web site, you may want to post the speakers slides, or a brief report on the talk. Send a thank you note to the speaker. It might be appropriate to also thank the venue sponsor. Take the registration information and merge e-mails into your mail list.
If you have recorded the meeting, someone should quality check it and edit out dead spots before uploading to the master viewing site.
These thoughts should hopefully make running your next meeting run smoothly and be less stressful.
About the author
Joel Williams is a past president and a Senior member of PATCA. He is an independent consultant specializing in networking and Linux and is also an expert witness in patent cases. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org