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Managing Events Onsite: 3 Tips For Turning Your Events Staff Into A High-Performance Team

he Bivings Group has analyzed 300 profiles from the top 100 newspapers in the country to understand how the media is utilizing Twitter. Among the findings: 62% of the newspapers included links to at least one of their accounts from their website. 38% of the newspapers are actively using Twitter, but haven’t yet integrated their presence with their website in even a minimal way. Newspapers send out an average of 11 tweets per day. 51% of Twitter accounts were updated primarily through Twitter’s web interface. The next most popular method with 28% was Twitterfeed, a service that automatically posts updates to Twitter accounts via RSS feeds. See the complete study at the Bivings Report website.

John Eckhouse and the technical team at the Realtime Conference, New York 2010.

I manage conference planning and operations for Modern Media and its clients. If you know anything about meeting planners, you know that this means I’m a control freak.  But when it comes to making a large conference run smoothly, I need to let go and rely on the team. And when you’re on site,  that can mean getting a group of people to work well together — even if some of them have just met.  Here are some of the secrets to turning a staff into a team in a hurry.

That team is critical when it comes to actually executing an event that I’ve spent the last many months preparing for. I spend a great deal of time thinking about this ahead of the event — and giving thanks when I know that great “alums” will be there and planning to arm “newbies” with what they need.

Something I’ve learned the hard way:  not everyone is going to be amazing. People come with different levels of background and experience.  But your job as the event planner is to understand how to maximize each team member’s contribution to the success of the event, and maximize the team’s performance.

Tip 1: Delegate, delegate, delegate. Possibly the hardest thing to do (what event planner is not a control freak?) is to delegate everything that can be delegated. You are the keeper of the master, minute-to-minute event plan. But you’re not the one who needs to (or should, or can) actually do everything. Your job is to know what needs to be done, decide who will do it, make the assignment and right the ship when something is not working. Step by step:

  1. Take your full staff function list and place each team member where you think they will be the best asset.
  2. Create a detailed staff schedule and job descriptions.
  3. Communicate with each team member prior to the event by email, but also set up a meeting or call to cover what that person will be doing (50% of even the very best will not have read the email).

Tip 2:  Meet, meet and meet again. “I have things to do. Another meeting, REALLY?” I’ll be honest: this is what I’m tempted to scream. But calm the inner control freak, knowing that sticking to a schedule of meetings is essential to the performance of the team.

  1. Don’t skip a pre-event meeting (or call). This is often the first time the entire team will be getting the Big Picture and hour-to-hour detail. In this meeting, unleash that control freak, and let them have a detailed overview of each day. Special events and activities, room layouts, sponsor information, staff assignments: Cover it all.
  2. When the entire team has gathered on site, have a kickoff meeting. For some on the team the event plan is now real for the first time. They will have questions—and input. You’ll also be able to spot any looks of terror on the faces of “newbies.”
  3. Each day starts with a meeting. First thing in the morning. They build ownership of individual responsibility as well as the comradery that creates a team that supports each other. Review the agenda, the timeline and everyone’s assignments.  The early hour is also an opportunity to bug anyone who arrives with a hangover: (“Hey, why wasn’t I invited?” would be my natural question; on site at an event a stern look.)
  4. Each day ends with a meeting. “Meeting Overkill!” you may mutter before forcing yourself not to cancel what may be a third, even fourth, late-night muster. But each is a chance to make sure all went according to plan that day and to uncover and resolve problems, however small. Comradery also gets a boost, especially if the team eats together and shares a bottle of wine.
Tip 4:  Walkie talkie training means your team will be connected!  When I do—very rarely—“freak out,” chances are good that losing communications with a team member is the reason. A walkie talkie is not answered. Left behind. Or not used properly for lack of training on the how tos of radio communications. So a special key to success of an on-site events team is making sure that you’re connected to it at all times.  Don’t skip that in the training session, and remind people that being on call and communicating clearly is part of their job — it’s critical.
Now that you’ve got your team organized, trained and plugged in — let the games begin!