We’ve all had tasks land in our in-tray that aren’t strictly part of our job description, and sometimes had to deal with situations which lay way outside what’s required of us. But as professionals we adjust our mindset, take a positive viewpoint and tackle them head-on, mostly with great effect – because that’s who we are and what we do.

Being a true professional certainly has its good points: others view us as ‘doers’ and someone who will almost always know the answer to a problem. This is a good thing and we generally get the respect and admiration that we deserve. However, as ‘doers’ we can often be challenged to perform in ways that actually damages our confidence and hinders our professional growth. Being appointed an Event Manager is one such example.

It’s just an event – how hard can it be?

I know so many employees who have started their day a PS or EA and finished it as an Event Manager. The powers that be have decided that the organisation of the AGM, office party or conference now lies not with a professional event agency but should be dumped on the desk of the PA.

In a previous role as an Administrator, I was faced with such a scenario and asked by my boss: ‘how hard can it be, it’s only a small event and it shouldn’t take you any time at all’.

The commonly held belief that events are straightforward is a myth that needs to be rectified. You can start by following a few simple guidelines. Firstly, learn to say ‘no’ – I know how hard it is to utter that tiny word, but it can be said with tact, diplomacy and respect. You may have to come up with an alternative solution such as outsourcing the event, but this is infinitely better than taking on an extra project if you don’t have the capacity for it.

If saying no is undiplomatic, then try communicating clearly that whilst you are prepared to take on such a large project, it does mean that other jobs and tasks may have to take a back seat. Allow your boss to see your full list of current and future tasks and ensure that they work with you to agree your priorities. This will in turn help reduce your level of stress going forward.

Tackling the route of the issue

There is also the valid argument that you are not qualified to organise an event. I’ve been in the industry for over 15 years and yet I still have lots to learn. It would also be like me taking on the role of an experienced PA – something that I think I could learn how to do in time but not a discipline I would claim to be an expert at.

Your checklist for success

If however, you find yourself with the role of Accidental Event Manager, follow this seven step guide to help you create the very best event possible.

Step 1 – Know what is required of you

Get a clear written brief from the client/manager
Before you begin to put any plans together make sure you find out exactly what is needed from the event. Can you challenge any areas of the brief as there may be elements of the event which you disagree with or think can be enhanced. Challenge yourself too – why do you disagree with them and how can they be made better?

Highlight areas of the event that need to be clarified and explained in more detail and ensure you prepare a list of further questions to be asked

Be strategic in your initial approach to the project – if you get into this good habit at the outset, you’ll certainly benefit further down the line.

Events, be they parties, AGM’s, conferences or product launches should always have set objectives or desired outcomes. Make it your business to find out what they are and how they will be measured after the event. In short make sure they are SMART:
• S – Specific (i.e. we want to have 100 potential new clients attend the event)
• M – Measureable (i.e. we want 30 per cent of attendees to sign-up to our new programme)
• A – Achievable (i.e. do we have the in-house resources to manage this extra 30 per cent?)
• R – Realistic (i.e. we require one celebrity to endorse the new programme)
• T -Time-bound (i.e. we have six months to prepare our new programme/organise the event)

Some questions you may want to ask are:
• Does the event fit within your organisation’s overall mission?
• Will the event compliment the organisation’s brand values?
• Does your organisation have a budget for this, from which department/s will it be drawn from and when will you have access to it?

Ensure the brief is agreed and signed off by yourself, your team and senior management. This will create a sense of shared ownership, and ensure that the event is not your sole strategic responsibility.

Stage 2 – Form event ideas through brainstorming

Brainstorming with others is a great way of exploring creative ideas for your event. It is a way of allowing yourself the freedom to look at alternatives to what has been done in the past, think ‘outside the box’, and generally consider anything (within the realms of legality!).

However there are some rules that if you observe, can make this creative journey smoother and easier to navigate. Try putting the following into place:

• Set up a brainstorming group of colleagues and agree roles and responsibilities for yourself and the rest of the team
• Ensure all brainstorming group members are fully aware of your event and have read and understood your signed-off brief before meeting. Clearly communicate to the group that negativity hinders creativity, so suggest they come with open minds and lots of enthusiasm.
• Bring stimulus to the meeting (such as products, visuals, previous ideas etc.)
• Ask one member to take notes, and ensure all ideas are written down for future reference as you may wish to re-visit ideas and concepts.
• Choose the location of the brainstorming session carefully. Can you hold it out of the office and away from work related distractions?

Stage 3 – Creating an event concept and budget

At this stage you’ll have gathered all your creative ideas together, distilled them and have a clear picture of what you’d like to achieve from your event and how it is going to look. It is now time to get down to the nitty-gritty of creating a budget to ensure that all brainstormed ideas can fit the budget. This will make it easier to convince your client/manager about the approach you are suggesting.

Step 4 – Presenting your idea (pitching) to your manager

Now that you have an understanding of what the event will look and feel like, it is time to present your concept to whoever has commissioned the work. Think about who is best suited to attend the pitch to give you the best chance of convincing your manager of your approach. This could be a creative person to help bring your idea to life, or a technical manager to help discuss sound, lighting or audio visual questions. Try to get all the key decision makers together for your presentation to aid a speedy decision and avoid any miscommunication of your concept.

Practice your presentation to ensure that you are happy with what you are saying and that all content flows well and makes sense. The use of props and visual aids will help in bringing event ideas to life (i.e. if your event is a Christmas Party, can you dress the board room table at your pitch with the same table centre piece that you are proposing for the event itself?).

Be prepared for questions after your presentation. Think about areas where you may meet resistance from your audience and how will you go about being prepared to answer any objections.

Step 5 – Pre-production (planning and co-ordinating the event)

This is perhaps the most time consuming and intricate part of the process, so it essential to be organised from the outset. Diarise and schedule planning meetings with all concerned to discuss progress. Also, check the diaries of key people in your organisation leading up to the event to ensure they are booked to attend.

Create a task list covering everything that needs to happen and a critical path so that you know when, constantly update them, and where possible delegate responsibility to other team members. This is also the stage where you decide on the outsourcing or otherwise of various elements of the event such as audio visual, theming, floristry, catering and registration. Book early to avoid disappointment! Remember the earlier you book, the more chance you have of securing the best people, companies and venues for the job.

It is vital to set up effective administration systems. Generate the relevant paperwork to facilitate communication and to create a paper trail of what has been booked and paid for. You will also need a contingency plan for technical failures, poor weather and key members of the team being ill just before the event.

Nearer to the event itself you will need to carry out a risk assessment for the event and supply all relevant health and safety documentation to the venue and other key personnel, and create a running order of the event. Be as detailed as possible with this and include emergency contact numbers, key addresses and a site plan.

Step 6 – On the Day

Try, when possible, to factor in a rehearsal day for your event, where you can choreograph speakers, conduct walk rounds with suppliers and tackle last minute issues that may arise.

Who should be on site on the day? You! Remain on site at all times to advise staff and suppliers, check that everything is running to your plans and to troubleshoot when it doesn’t. When you arrive at the venue, walk through your event and look at it from an attendee point of view. Try to envisage any problems or issues that may occur.

Issue copies of your running order, parking plans, attendee lists and emergency contact numbers to the relevant staff and colleagues and check in with them regularly so that they can let you know that everything is as it should be.

Ensure all equipment has been tested thoroughly before the presenters/artists/guests arrive and allow for rehearsal time for everyone concerned on stage. Plan for delays and over-runs, but also remember that they might impact on catering and hire charges.

Once the event is over you will need to oversee the set-down/clear-up operation. If necessary use a fresh team for de-rigging, and ensure your health and safety insurance covers this process as well. Ensure you liaise with your venue regarding the safe disposal of rubbish before everyone leaves.

Step 7 – Debrief and post-event

It is always essential to get feedback and debrief fully whilst the event is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Book a debrief meeting with key people within one week of the event. For that meeting you will need any data such as income figures, guest attendance list and expenditure totals so that you can compare plans and budgets with actual outcomes.

Pay bills promptly to create good working relationships with suppliers, and send out letters or messages of thanks to everyone who helped. See if you can develop initiatives that will keep the momentum of the event going into the long term. If appropriate, issue a post event survey to attendees and collate results.

Write a report on the event with your recommendations for the future. This should include the above, plus a list of things that did and did not go well, and discuss with your client or manager.


This checklist is by no means exhaustive as each event is different, and other factors will determine what else is added. But it will stand you in good stead when you find yourself accidentally organising and managing an event!

You can download a full checklist in an easy to follow format covering all of the points in this article, by visiting www.eventcourse.com/check-list

Claire Lister is the former Owner of Pitman Training Group (www.pitman-training.com). Pitman is a market leader in the PA and secretarial training industry, delivering exceptional results for tens of thousands of students each year. Pitman also provide ... (Read More)

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