Effective Planning for Social Events: Make Your Effort Count!

Nicole Davidson

Nicole Davidson

I’ve always had a bit of a flair for event management. Going back to my high school days, some of my favourite memories are of the time I spent as the Social Affairs Minister of our (appropriately Canadian) Student Cabinet. My role centered on planning and executing our three school dances per year, as well as organizing other various “spirit” activities. Event management happens to be one of the few areas where I feel I can be successfully creative while at the same time feeding my need to give things structure.  In my new role, one of my initial tasks has been to resurrect a long-dead social committee. Sitting in our first meeting the other day, I was struck by how many things can derail a social committee that starts out with the best of intentions.

One of the hardest things to deal with can be differing levels of commitment from committee members. It can be hard to find people who really are passionate about planning and organizing events. Often people who are outgoing are automatically considered as being people who would be good at coordinating events, but this is not often the case. Being a good event planner also involves being someone who has a good head for organization, pays close attention to detail, and is willing to deal with the many little frustrations which come up when attempting to please a large amount of people. In other words, the people who are the most fun at the party are not always the best people to plan a party.

An effective strategy I have found for dealing with this is to not expect every person to participate in every event. The leader of the committee should be listening to hear which events a member gets most excited about, and then facilitating to have that person take a lead on events that interest them. It’s also important to make sure that the same person is not the lead on subsequent events; leading two or more events in a row is a quick way to get to event-planning burnout.

Another common problem is the tendency to over-complicate things. Everyone wants to throw an awesome event, and often it seems that adding multiple small elements can create that “awesome”. In my experience however, keeping things simple (especially in execution) is essential to planning a successful event. Unless you are throwing something very large-scale, many of the tiny elements you’re working so hard for are destined to be lost in the shuffle. I remember for one Saint Patrick’s Day dance spending hours twisting more than a hundred sparkly green pipe cleaners into the shape of clovers to hang from fishing line in the dance entrance. This is a prime example of too much effort for too little effect.

The best way to avoid the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach is to set limits in the planning stage about what is and isn’t possible. Ask other members questions about how much time an idea might take to execute, and how many people might enjoy the idea (and for how long). Encourage members of the committee to think pragmatically about ideas from a cost-benefit perspective. If all else fails, defer to a strict budget to keep ideas in line.

A final, important complication is building buy-in from other employees. This is often one of the most neglected areas. A funny email or poster to remind people of an event can go a long way to encouraging them to participate. As well, every event will need at least one “champion” to talk up the event at least one week prior.  There is nothing worse than painstakingly planning an event that doesn’t turn out well because of a lack of interest. The reason for these events is to build employee engagement- if the event doesn’t resonate with your employees, the effort is being wasted. Plan your events well and make sure that your time and effort accomplishes what it sets out to do.

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