3 Event Must Haves

I attend a lot of events, and work with event planners for our acts.  This gives me a unique opportunity to observe different events, and to also critique these events as well.

I’ve started a mental list of “must-haves” for events to be successful, and I wanted to share three of them with you today.

  1. Wifi. Having wifi is a must.  But not just having wifi, but being able to handle all your attendees as well.  This was something I wasn’t aware of, but did you know wifi routers can be limited to the number of people who can get on the Internet?  This setting can be changed to unlimited but by default is capped.  When department stores like Target and JCP are offering free wifi, your event must have it!
  2. Sound And Lighting.  Us Artist Managers are always concerned about the sound and lights at events.  Mainly because we want our artists to be seen in the best light, so to speak.  Making sure you have the right sound and lights for your event is important.
  3. Social Media Use.  Being a social media guy, I love see hashtags in use.  When I see that, I want to Tweet or Facebook about what I’m seeing at the event.  I saw one the other day that was perfect: the hashtag was on the bottom right hand corner of the screen showing video.  Very similar to how TV networks are using hashtags.  Including a Twitter feed during breaks is another way to incorporate Social Media.

I didn’t mention speakers or artists because those, in my opinion, are a given.  I’m probably not at your event unless I’m attracted to the right speakers.

These are three of my event “must-haves”.  I’m curious what would be on your list.  And also, what have your attendees put on their “must-have” lists?

A Little Software Goes a Long Way

Your event is one month away, and registrations are pouring in.  You need to order supplies, assign roommates, and process a large batch of credit card payments.  Could an event planning software system help you work more efficiently?   Here are a few things such software can do:

  1. Accept registration online
  2. Process payments
  3. Manage room and roommate assignments
  4. Track supplies and ordering
  5. Manage event budget
  6. Create surveys and reports
  7. Create personalized emails to event attendees
  8. Interface with social media

There are many companies who offer event planning software including:

This list is a place to start.  Before you look at any websites, or speak with their customer service representatives, make a list of your needs and challenges.  Think through what you do, and what you would like to start doing.  Then you can see if a specific event planning software is a good fit for your needs.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed by everything a software package can offer, only to discover that while it can do lots of things, it doesn’t actually help you do what you need to.

If you find yourself interested in a software package, move forward slowly.  Attend an information session, talk to current customers and try a free trial.  Several of the companies listed above offer informational sessions in cities all over the US on a rotating basis, or will send a representative to talk with you.  If you are still interested after receiving more information, ask for a list of people who are current customers.  When you call them up, ask them what they like, what they don’t like, if there was a large learning curve, and what challenges they met when switching over to the software.  Having a few ten minute conversations with current users is instructional and enlightening.  If you decide to move forward, insist on a trial period.  It’s imperative that you try the software out before committing to pay a year-long membership fee.  Don’t expect everything to go smoothly the first week, but commit to giving the software a real test of use and implementation.

Systems that centralize planning and reporting can be incredibly helpful, so do some research if you think you might benefit.  But be sure the software you choose meets your needs.  Do you use an event planning software?  Why did you chose it and how is it helping you?

Setting The Stage…

Event planners often wear many hats. They may be interior decorator, graphic artist, chauffeur, and customer service representative within the span of a few hours. The interior design aspect of this job – preparing the stage and other meeting areas to be visually appealing, may or may not be an area of strength for you. Here are a few tips to help you grow.

Red Stage Curtain

  1. Learn something new. Take a floral design class at a community college, subscribe to a food magazine, tour other event facilities in your area. Designate a spiral binder or even a folder on your phone or computer and collect photos you think you could use later. A rush of new ideas can feed you for months.
  2. Something borrowed. When I was a newly graduated college student, working as a discipleship assistant in my church, we planned several retreats each year. Always on a rather tight budget. Once the food and location were paid for, we rarely had any money left for “frills” and this is when I learned the art of borrowing. I had close connections to a high school theater group, and they allowed us to use all sorts of props, from pillars to entire sets. As long as we picked them up and returned them in good working order they were ours for the taking. These added tasteful interest to stages and meeting rooms. We also borrowed plants, from a local garden center. We knew the owner and promised to replace anything we damaged. For one womenʼs retreat we borrowed thirty ferns and several large blooming plants. These gave the stage a lush appearance, and filled the room with a light but sweet scent.  We also placed a small couch, an end table and a lamp on the stage, taken right out of someoneʼs living room. Women couldnʼt stop commenting on the beauty and uniqueness of the stage and it hadnʼt cost us anything but a few man hours and some gas for the truck. What might you borrow to enhance your next event?
  3. Donʼt forget lights. Lighting can make or ruin a stage. Consider the difference between a candle-lit dinner, and one eaten under the harsh glare of a halogen bulb. What types of lighting do you have access to at the facility? Will you use different effects for different portions of the group meeting? Large groups of candles have become more popular in worship settings in the last ten years. They can add an air of intimacy and worship, but can also bring risks and sometimes the need for regulation. Check with the facility to see what their policies are on open flames.

Consider and plan lighting ahead of time so that it works with your goals. Creating an aesthetic atmosphere in your large group meetings that supports your goals takes planning and creativity. What can you do this week to invest in this area of your role as an event planner?

Lighting For Your Events

You’re perception of lights is probably that yeah you need some, but you don’t really know how much or what kind of lights that are needed for your event. Just like sound lighting is a specialized area that is important not to leave out. Lights can enhance an event or make it plain blah.

When you’re planning your event, here’s a few things to keep in mind for lights:

  1. What kind of talent will you have at your event? If the event only features authors or speakers, then your event might be able to get away with a spotlight or two. But if you’re having an artist or band, bringing in more lights is very much encouraged and needed to make their time special. (Side note: The act should have a rider that spells out lighting needs. If you did not receive one of these, asking the booking agent you worked with for one.)
  2. What is your budget? Sure you want your event to look fantastic with fancy movers and an LED wall, but that’s going to cost some money. Do you have the budget for that? More lights equals more money.
  3. What do you want the stage to look like? That’s a big determining factor for lights. If you’re going for something dark and moody or you want something bright and cheerful, you need lights that reflect that attitude you’re trying to achieve.

We’ve talked before about communicating your needs to your sound engineer, but discussing light needs with a great LD (lighting designer) is just as important. When you have an idea of what you want your event to look like (number 3 above), communicating that to LD will help you fulfill your needs. Those LDs will have experiences that could even lead you down a different path.

What has been your experience working with lighting designers in the past?

Taking Mobile Payments At Your Event

At past events taking credit cards was a little tricky. You either had one of those big bricks with carbon copies to swipe cards or used a fancy machine that cost a lot of money.

Now taking credit cards at your event has become very simple thanks to the introduction of several apps and card swipers that plug into your mobile device.

Here is a sampling of some credit card readers and their apps.

  1. Square is one of the most robust of these. The apps that work with Square includes being able to setup a register and keeping track of inventory for if you are selling shirts or other merch. Square is 2.75% per swipe with no additional fees. The card reader is free via their website (squareup.com) or $9.95 in stores.  That amount is later credited to your account to make the card reader free.
  2. PayPal is one of the most commonly used methods of taking payments. If you’ve purchased anything from eBay, you have a PayPal account. With the PayPal mobile app, you can take payments with a card reader or transferred from an attendee’s PayPal account. PayPal charges a fee of 2.7%, and you can have access to those funds the day you take payment.
  3. GoPayment is a great option if you use QuickBooks for your business books. GoPayment is also free, but working with QuickBooks is the major difference between this app and the others. Find out more info at GoPayment.com to see if this is the right card reader for your event.

All of these apps work with an Apple or Android device, and that’s great flexibility for whoever is helping take payments.

In the interest of fair disclosure, I’ve only worked with Square. It was quick to learn and easy to use, but what we found was it took longer to get our money. When we tried to contact them to ask about that, no one returned our email. When using an app like this, finding a company with the best customer service is very important.

Have you used an app and card reader to take payments at your event? What has been your experience?

Part 3: Video And Your Events

In a couple of previous posts (here and here), we discussed what types of video you would want to record for your events and how to record those videos.

Today I want to discuss a few uses for those videos.  We touched on it briefly in part one, but these videos could add to the way attendees interact with your event, and add social proof for what you’re advertising about your event.

  1.  Post Video To YouTube.  Once you have your videos edited the way you like them using your smartphone (and remember we’re not trying to do too much editing, just something light), upload the file to YouTube.  The great thing about using a video editor app like iMovie is you can upload these videos directly inside the app.  And uploading via your computer is easy as well.  It will require a few extra steps of pulling the video off your phone.  While we’re on the subject of YouTube, take a moment and claim your YouTube channel now.  That’s easy as well.  All you need is a Google account.  This will allow for your videos to be found all in one place.
  2.  Post To Website Or Blog.  Now that the video is on YouTube, embed the video on your website or blog.  The embed code is located under your video via the share button.  A video tab would be a great addition to your site.  New users to your site will be able to locate your videos quicker.  If you have a WordPress blog, these videos would make great blog posts.  There are several plugins that can help make adding videos really easy.
  3. Post A Link Of The Video On Your Website To Your Social Networks.  I like to push people back to your event’s website because this is the hub of all the activity.  Not only will they see your video, but also other social networks and information about your event.  This also creates traffic to your website, and Google loves that!  We’ve talked about SEO previously, and you want to create as much traffic as possible to your site.

One quick thought on YouTube.  It is owned by Google.  What does that mean?  Those videos are indexed higher in Google search results, and YouTube is also the second largest search engine behind Google.  That’s a powerful reason to use it!

What methods have you used to post videos?

Part 2: Video And Your Events

In a previous post (here), we discussed the different types of videos you could record for your events.  In today’s post, I wanted to discuss some of the various tools you can use to record these events.

I bet many of you have smartphones and most of your smartphones have video capabilities. In fact, most of those smartphones even record in HD quality.  This is a great place to record and edit your video.

And if you don’t have a smartphone, a tablet will do the job as well.

  • Shooting With Your Device:  I’ve mentioned before I’m an Apple Fanboy, so let’s begin by discussing recording video using an iPhone.  The tendency is to record this video holding your phone straight up and down.  I would recommend that you turn the phone (or iPad) on it’s side.  The recording of that video will be full screen now.
  • Framing:  To frame up a simple video of a speaker, put that speaker slight left or slight right of center.  And another idea, is to place the speaker just a hair above the camera.  This will give them the appearance of authority to the audience.
  • Apps:  The Apple App Store has a great version of iMovie for your device for $4.99.  I would do some very minor editing in adding a fade in and fade out from black.  This will give your video a little bit more of a professional feel.   The Google Play Store also offers an app called Magisto.  I have not used it, but it has stellar reviews, and the app is free.
  • Microphones:  In most cases the microphone built into your phone will do the trick.  But if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to capture better quality audio, I recommend the Belkin iPhone Directional Microphone.

What have you used to record video?  Any tips that have worked for you?   In our next post, we’ll discuss how to use these videos you’ve recorded.

Part 1: Video And Your Events

Video has become an important way for people to interact with events and brands.  I’m not talking about big, expensive videos, but simple and quick videos that could be posted on your social networks.  We’ll get to that in a later post.

These videos help humanize your event and add social proof to encourage others to attend.  I thought today we could look at what types of quick videos you could shoot for your event.

Here are 3 ideas for videos you could shoot:

  1. A short interview segment with your speakers or event leaders.  Grab them as they come off stage having just spoke and get additional information from them that they might have edited out of their talk.   You could also record video of your speakers introducing or sharing stories of upcoming speakers.  They might have a quick anecdote that your audience would enjoy hearing.
  2. Interviews with attendees talking about their experiences at your event.  This video could be used for immediate reaction on big screens during breaks or beginning of the next day.
  3. Vendors working your event.  Another way to sell advertising, is to video vendors as they discuss event specials they are offering.  If this video was shown before a session or posted on one of your social networks, these vendors could even pay an additional fee to discuss their products.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss tools for shooting quick videos.

Have you used videos like this at your events?  What other ways did you incorporate them?

Is Your Facility Visitor Friendly? How to Find Out.

Are you planning an event at your own building?  Will you be inviting people who are unfamiliar with your location?  A visitor friendly facility can make a big difference in the experience of your guests.  Here’s a few things to think about and then a wonderful way to give your location a “test run.”

Signage: Do you have signs leading up to your location at necessary turns and intersections?  On the outside of your building/buildings?  Inside, labeling rooms and indicating restrooms and exits?  Are your signs visible, readable, and consistent in style?

Supplies: Do you have tissues, water bottles, pens, paper, or other supplies your guests will need?  Imagine yourself attending the meetings or events that you will be hosting, and think through things you might need but would not think to pack.

Environment: Is a certain room always cold?  Very hot?  Are you always scrambling to find microphones in a certain location?  Identify known problems within your environment and address them.

Now to put your facility to the test.  Invite someone, or a small group of people to your location, who have never visited.  It could be a friend, or family member or business associate.  Ask them to come at a certain time, and give them the exact directions you will be providing your future guests.  Ask them to complete a list of simple tasks once they have arrived. For example: Park, find room 101, find the women’s restroom, locate the childcare facility, visit the coffee shop, sit in a seat in the main auditorium.  Have them call you when they are finished and take them out to lunch.  Ask them for their observations, and find out what they enjoyed and what they had difficulty with.  It’s amazing what you’ll discover when your building or buildings are presented to you through new eyes.

Making your facility visitor friendly is worth the effort- and should be considered before hosting any event.  If you can, do this several months in advance so that you have time to order additional signage or supplies!

First Aid at Your Event

First aid considerations change depending on the age and size of the group for which you are responsible.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:

First Aid

A first aid kit is a must have item for anyone leading a group.  Hopefully you already have one of these stowed away in your car or office, ready at a moment’s notice.  If you don’t, purchase one of the larger versions that has a little bit of everything in it, and the supplement according to your groups needs.

If you are traveling with minors, create a release form and have it signed by each minor’s legal guardian.  You can find these forms online, and with a little tweaking they are ready to use.  This form will allow you to direct medical care for the minor if their legal guardian is not present.

Find out if any of your group participants have allergies.  Ask if they carry an EPI pen and if so, where they store it.

If you are hosting an event:

  • Consider having a first aid station.  For a smaller event you could simply find someone who is trained in first aid and ask them to man the station.  For a large event, consider paying a nurse or doctor and a team of first aid responders to staff the station.  An additional option is to notify the local fire/police station of your event. Sometimes they will send an ambulance and EMT team to be on standby at your event.
  • Install an external defibrillator.  These devices are highly automated and can treat certain sudden cardiac events.  They are usually installed on a wall in easily noticed locations.
  • Train all your staff in emergency first aid.  You can contact the Red Cross and have someone come to your location to do the training, or attend a training event together.  As a group, go over several possible scenarios of emergencies at your event and how you might respond.  How will you decide to call 911? Who will make call?  Where should the ambulance park for best access? Who will meet the EMT’s and show them where the patient is waiting?

Forethought, supplies and training can make a big difference when a small or large medical emergency occurs.  You will never be sorry that you took the time to prepare.