We at Reach Partners are big Priya Parker fans. We devoured her book “The Art of Gathering” and even attended an event curated by her.
So when Parker penned an opinion column that ran in The New York Time before Thanksgiving, we paid attention. Titled “Abandon Your Thanksgiving Script,” the column addressed the need to think differently about holiday traditions during a year when nothing has been normal.
Parker challenged her readers to think imaginatively: “That begins with shifting our attitudes from fighting the current constraints to taking inspiration from them.”
As someone who studies and designs gatherings, she most often sees two responses to constraints on gathering: cancellation and rebellion. She encourages a third option: improv.
We’ve seen this play out in our own work and experiences over the last year.
As we were working on conference details for a client, something didn’t feel quite right. I knew there was something that the client wanted to change from the previous year’s event. Unfortunately, I couldn’t remember exactly what it was. (In my defense, it had been over a year since we had planned that particular conference. That’s a long time to remember things!)
Thankfully, I knew exactly where I could find what I needed. The detail was included in our post activity report, also known as the PAR.
Whenever we plan an event, an in-depth meeting, a social gathering, or virtual experience Reach Partners will always argue for the same thing. Every time.
This thing is the most important detail for every planned interaction. It is the life blood of our work and what drives us to do better every day. Most importantly it’s the power, the energy that fuels the work at hand.
How do you tap into this energy? How do you make it work for you? Draw the right audience? Craft the right marketing activities? Align stakeholders? Create value?
You start by defining purpose.
Project managers are good at risk management.
One of the things we do is identify what we can’t control and then find solutions or actions to mitigate these things. Typically, this means we’re thinking through things like potentially bad weather affecting an outdoor event or how to contain a protester at a women’s event.
These types of risk management plans are appropriate, necessary, and responsible.
And then along came the coronavirus pandemic. We’re not going to lie – this challenges even those of us who spend a lot of time identifying and planning for risks.
From the exquisite gala to the unglamorous gathering, we spend a lot of time at Reach Partners researching and thinking about the unsung aspects of events.
One question we ask every single time we design an event is essential. Why will (or should) a person attend the event? Time is a rare and limited resource. If we want someone to spend precious minutes at our gathering or get-together, we better understand and communicate why they should do so.
At Reach, we always stress that purpose is the driver for any event. When that purpose is well defined, creatively and accurately articulated, it informs the language we use for everything else. It becomes part of the call to action – what we want our attendees to do.
Every time we facilitate or manage an off-site meeting or event, we bring a lot with us.
Our vehicles are usually packed with necessities like centerpieces, easels, easel pads, signage, folders, programs, our documents . . . you name it.
Arguably, one of the most valuable items we haul is our trusty Husky toolbox.
It took us a while to realize we needed a container where we could prepack all the small office supplies one needs or might need when away from their office. We had been making do by grabbing a scissors from a desk and Post-it notes from the supply cabinet. But then we’d forget to return the scissors to the right person, and Linda wondered where her stapler was. And don’t even get us started on how much time it took to pack those items. Every. Single. Time.
Once the last event attendee has left and the vendors have packed up, go ahead and put your feet up.
Only for a minute or two, though.
The event may be done, but that doesn’t mean the work of an event planner is complete. Every event should include an evaluation or survey that helps you determine whether the event accomplished what you set out to do.
Consider evaluations your reality check. They confirm whether you’ve done what you wanted to do and help improve your next event or program.
After all, we don’t plan events or programs for ourselves or because we’ve always done it. Events fall flat if the participants didn’t learn anything or didn’t enjoy the day. If you’ve done your homework and established a great strategy, you’ll want to know what participants thought.
Every milestone deserves a good celebration.
For its 20th anniversary, Aldevron wanted to host a party for employees and their families after its annual all-staff meeting.
But the Fargo company’s staff were stretched to meet the daily demands of a quickly growing firm in the biotech field. To throw the fun celebration they imagined without adding pressure on full-time employees, they needed additional support.
Ellen Shafer, senior director of marketing and communications, contacted Reach Partners about two months before the event.
“She needed someone she could trust to handle the details,” says Rachel Asleson, co-owner of Reach Partners.
Staff had already identified the framework for the celebration – an open-house picnic with family-friendly activities. Reach Partners managed the details of the day.
We established the best way to layout the elements and served as a liaison between the event vendors – audio-visual professionals, caterers, entertainers, etc. – and Aldevron staff. We identified vendors, managed the contracts, and confirmed everything was set up as planned. If a contractor had questions or needs on the day of the event, we served as the point of contact.
We also established a process for tracking RSVPs.
While we hovered in the background, the work we did ensured that the day’s activities rolled smoothly. More than 275 people attended.
“Thank you for jumping in on such short notice, working with me and the team, and helping with all details to make a great event,” Ellen wrote to us afterwards. “Your management of the day gave me the peace of mind to take care of what I needed to take care of.”
A year later we received the best compliment of all – a request to help again with the all-employee picnic. This time the celebration coincided with a ground-breaking event for Aldevron’s newest facility in Fargo.
We are always grateful when we can help our partners focus on the daily demands of their work while we take care of the details that make one-time or occasional events run smoothly.
What We Delivered:
Planning an event or activity takes time and coordination. From the moment the brainstorming starts until the last attendee leaves, you need to know what’s going on and keep track of the details.
We believe in – and practice – documentation. Lots of it. We track everything leading up to the event welcome and detail the day of the activity until the last swag bag is grabbed.
Why? If you don’t write it down, you forget. And it becomes even more challenging to make sure a group of staff, volunteers, stakeholders, and others are on the same page.
It’s true. Every event is different. But these documents can help your gathering run smoothly.
This won’t be a big surprise to many of you, but we love conferences and big events.
Yes, it’s true that we enjoy organizing them. We also enjoy attending them.
After all, you can gather information by watching online videos or reading about the latest industry trends via article or book. However, nothing replaces the face-to-face interactions that happen when people gather for a specific purpose.
When you attend a shared event or conference, you have opportunities to connect with others. You may gather new insight or hear a different perspective. When done right, conferences are energizing. You will walk away with at least a few tips that can make your personal or professional life stronger.
That said, every successful conference requires you to put forth some effort.
Here’s how you can make the most out of your time at a large event or gathering.