Top 3 Super-Secret Event Planning Tips

I have absolutely zero formal training when it comes to planning events. Before this became part of my job duties, I hadn’t planned so much as a birthday party for my child.

Of course, I have zero formal training for a lot of the things I do in my job as a marketer and communicator. About the only thing I was ever formally taught to do was write, and so much of that came to be seen as good simply because I did it so often that I was bound to get better.

That said, I now have some pretty deep and wide experience planning events for the various companies that have employed me over the years. From 1,500-person electric cooperative annual meetings that brought in an audience so diverse that some arrived in Jaguars and other arrived via horse-and-buggy, to legislative seminars and prayer breakfasts and client appreciation events — I know what I’m talking about when it comes to planning.

I’ve learned a lot of things about event planning. Here are John’s Top 3 Super-Secret Event Planning Tips:


1. Delegate

The first event I was ever tasked with planning was what was then an annual meeting for the rural electric cooperative I worked for as marketing and communications manager. To say such a task was overwhelming at first is an understatement. Somehow, I had to find a way to welcome, feed, entertain and inform more than a thousand people from vastly different walks of life.

I learned to delegate real fast.

The most important thing about delegation is finding the sweet spot between remaining in control and accountable for the overall success of the event and letting talented co-workers do their thing without you breathing down their neck.

When you’re faced with planning an event, break it up into its individual pieces. Then, find the best people in your organization to lead and assist in each piece. Your job is to remain as the chief executive and lead problem solver. Their job is to figure out how to turn what they are responsible for into the best part of the event.

You want your food/catering people to want to shame the door prize/raffle people, your entertainment committee to want to laugh at whoever it was wrote the speeches.

Competition is a healthy thing. Incentivize it by offering a reward for the committee whose section scores highest on the feedback forms (more on that in a moment). Then let those people do their thing and help them by clearing their paths so they can be successful.


2. Practice, practice, practice

“Excuse me, sir. How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Have some skill, son. Have some skill.”

Of course, that’s not how the popular saying goes. Having talented people helping you execute and having good leadership skills and grace under pressure yourself is essential to planning a successful event. But so is practice.

It astounds me how many companies will spend months planning an event without leaving any time for dry-runs of the entire thing. So let me state this clearly: The day of the actual event is not the first time you should see, hear, taste or experience anything. If you’re serving chicken and haven’t at least sampled a piece prepared similarly to what you’re going to serve, you’re dumb. If the featured speaker is part of your organization and you haven’t heard her deliver her speech, you’re dumb. If your entertainment hasn’t actually hooked his equipment up to your sound system before, you’re dumb. If you haven’t driven a whole bunch of cars toward and out of the parking area at the same time before, you’re dumb.

You get the point.

Practice is the only way for you to discover what’s going to go wrong at your event. And trust me, things will go wrong. They always do. But practice helps you cut down on the number and severity of things that will go wrong.

Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, it’s hard to build time to practice into an event schedule when it feels like you’re going crazy just to get everything done the second before it starts. But if you’re not practicing everything and insisting that everyone involved is practicing with you, your event and company’s reputation are going to suffer.

When I find myself bored during the actual meeting, I know I’ve done a good job. That happens because of practice. Make the time. Take the time.


3. Guard the feedback forms

I call it the post-event high. Finally being done with something you’ve been planning for months and months and months feels good. I often celebrate when I get home with a cigar, a glass of the best bourbon and a pile of feedback forms tightly in my grasp.

I’ll state this plainly: Nothing ruins that post-event high faster than the higher-ups reading the feedback forms.

I think feedback on events is great, especially if you’re going to try to do a similar thing in the future. But feedback taken as anything other than in aggregate is an annoyance. At one annual meeting, we once received more than 400 feedback forms rating the various parts of the event. On one form was there a complaint about the chicken. But because I hadn’t learned this lesson and the higher-ups saw this particular form, there was a move afoot the next year to change food vendors because “We received complaints.”

First of all, no you didn’t. You received complaint. Second of all, the average score on the feedback forms, with 1 being lowest and 5 highest, was something like 4.85.

The next year, I made sure I was the one who collected and guarded the feedback forms. I tallied the scores and presented the averages to the team. When leadership asked for the verbatims, I gave them a select representation of the dominant feedback themes. Never did they hold the actual forms again. (Yes, there might have been an actual burning party of the forms once I’d tallied the scores.)

Needless to say, we never talked about the chicken again.


So there you have it. My Top 3 Event Planning Secrets. None of this stuff is revolutionary. It’s just stuff that’s often overlooked. So go forth and plan with these things top of mind, and here’s to extending your own post-event high!


More From ‘Ya Pay Peanuts, Ya Get Monkeys’

3 Lessons for Employers From The Great Resignation

It appears as if The Great Resignation is going to stick around for awhile. More than 4.4 million people quit their jobs in September, amounting to 3% of the workforce. That beat the barely-had-time-to-take-its-coat-off record of 2.9% the month before. So what are the three biggest lessons for employers? While it might be tempting toContinue reading “3 Lessons for Employers From The Great Resignation”

Seven Steps to the Dawn of Dystopia

🔻 What’s Below 🔻What shows our vulnerability 👨🏼‍🦳👨🏾‍🦳What step we’re currently on 🎈What the spark would be 💥 Ahhh, Dystopia, that imagined land where we watch zombies and Katniss and Mark Zuckerberg dance a creepy new form of the tango while asking ourselves, “If that’s what things are going to be like after The Fall,Continue reading “Seven Steps to the Dawn of Dystopia”

When the Popular Vote Doesn’t Matter in Marketing

⬇️ What’s Below ⬇️Marketing: Science or Art? 🔬🎨The nature of feelings 🤗😭😡How to measure success in marketing 📊 Here’s one thing that doesn’t impress me much as a marketing guy: The popular vote. This might seem crazy, considering the goal of marketing is, at its core, to inspire the most people to buy your productContinue reading “When the Popular Vote Doesn’t Matter in Marketing”

The BM Files – Goodwill/St. Louis Aquarium

Welcome to The Bad Marketing Files, the place where we look at marketing efforts ranging from the slightly off-message to the truly horrendous. The SettingA Goodwill/St. Louis Aquarium billboard on Interstate 70 The ProblemThe billboard sends messages neither entity wants associated with its brand. Today’s BM Rating💩 out of a possible💩💩💩💩💩(Translation: It’s not good, butContinue reading “The BM Files – Goodwill/St. Louis Aquarium”

The Two Business Principles That Govern Life

For as much as we try to complicated it with heady notions such as meaning, purpose and lasting significance, life essentially can be boiled down to two principles with roots in economics. Strip away all the not-unworthy teachings from self-help books, leadership seminars and religious institutions, and what you’ll find is that humans act asContinue reading “The Two Business Principles That Govern Life”

Humble Hares Always Will Beat Arrogant Tortoises

The tale of the tortoise and the hare is one of the most misunderstood fables in literature, but it holds a great lesson for employees, businesses and business leaders. The story was written by evidently armless Greek fabulist Aesop, who was once described as “of loathsome aspect … potbellied, misshapen of head, snub-nosed, swarthy, dwarfish,Continue reading “Humble Hares Always Will Beat Arrogant Tortoises”

What This Site Is All About, As Told In 38 Gifs

So what exactly is going on here? Well, a lot. This website is various measures of creativity, therapy, safety, career exploration, vanity and insanity (plus a few mystery ingredients I haven’t quite identified yet) — all dumped into one glass, shaken (not stirred) and poured into a 32-ounce Big Gulp cup. To better understand whatContinue reading “What This Site Is All About, As Told In 38 Gifs”

Why You Should Delete All Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (And Why You Won’t)

“… to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Facebook mission statement The time companies spend crafting mission statements is staggeringly stupid when you transform the hours into the dollars being paid to the people around the table (or, as of late, in the Zoom). I have beenContinue reading “Why You Should Delete All Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (And Why You Won’t)”

The Boy Scouts are wrong: Preparation is overrated

Back in college at good old Drake University (JO 92… T-Ders will understand), I had some pretty fantastic journalism professors. There was, of course, the legendary Bob-Woodward-Not-That-Bob-Woodward, who, though he worked in Washington, D.C., during the Watergate era, did not, in fact, do any of the reporting that brought down a president. More important toContinue reading “The Boy Scouts are wrong: Preparation is overrated”

My Most Important Interview

I have interviewed hundreds of people during my career, everyone from professional athletes and presidential candidates to the woman promoting a charity bake sale. This past week, I interviewed my wife. Her dad — my amazing father-in-law — died early Sunday morning after a two-month fight with COVID and other complications. I sit here now,Continue reading “My Most Important Interview”

The Insane Mr. Powers

His name was Fenton Powers, and my first impression of him was that he was insane. I was a newly minted middle schooler in suburban New York, reveling in the bigness of not only changing classrooms after an actual bell rang but, for my Spanish class, actually changing buildings. Anything could happen in those 40Continue reading “The Insane Mr. Powers”

Mission: Operating Room

One day back when your storyteller was still Newspaper Guy, I was sitting in my office one late afternoon editing the work of my reporters for the next day’s paper. It was the end of April in Minnesota, which meant the once-mountainous piles snow were down to about 2-foot-tall rounded mounds of filthy, pebble-strewn ice.Continue reading “Mission: Operating Room”

Remembering Misti: It’s not about how she died; it’s about how she lived

“Her name was Misti, but to those who lived around her in her Fairfield apartment complex, she was River Rat.” That was more or less how I started the story I wrote about the 8-year-old girl’s death back in July 1997. I was just more than a year out of college and was the editorContinue reading “Remembering Misti: It’s not about how she died; it’s about how she lived”

Storytellers vs. Content Writers (and why your business wants the first one)

All storytellers can be content writers. Not all content writers can be storytellers. And if you’re running a business or a marketing department, you most definitely want storytellers. So what’s the difference? There are many, but the key one is the focus. Content writers are fine. The good ones will produce lots of copy thatContinue reading “Storytellers vs. Content Writers (and why your business wants the first one)”

The Jenga Kid

Sometimes stories just don’t work out. You can do all the right preparation, educate yourself on what is to be discussed, show up at the right time with all the right equipment and BAM! This story you knew had tremendous potential just disappears. That happened this week. I had planned to tell a story aboutContinue reading “The Jenga Kid”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: