On Tuesday, May 9th, I had the opportunity to plan my largest event yet, the Michigan Construction Industry Skilled Trades Conference at the Lansing Center, which highlighted apprenticeship training programs across the state. We had more than 500 people total in attendance, with interactive booths that allowed attendees to practice welding, driving a bulldozer and other skilled trades.
Because this was my first time taking on an event of this size, I turned to one of my favorite sources of institutional knowledge: LinkedIn. Over the years, I have worked to build a robust network of professionals at every skill level from a variety of industries, and I know they are always willing to help lend advice and brainstorm.
In the lead up to the event I asked my network: What is one thing you learned you should never forget for a large event or trade show?
Eleven of my friends and acquaintances weighed in with some great advice, and I wanted to share some of the advice they gave me:
“Never forget the people the conference/event is for. It’s for them, not for the organizers. That’s harder to learn than you’d think ;)” – Jess Knott, Learning Design Manager at Michigan State University
“Hi Elizabeth, seems like you have received quite a few great tips! Definitely wear comfortable shoes!! I like to download all the important documents to a flash drive and bring it to the event venue. Another thing I usually do is to put all frequently asked questions to my automatic reply email, like parking map, directions, etc. That way people can get the information without getting hold of me! Good luck on your upcoming event!” – Maya Craft, Career Events Manager at MSU Career Services Network
“People love free stuff! Download a ‘Spin the Wheel’ app on your iPad! Have participants put their business card in a bowl and spin the wheel to win a prize. Depending on where the participant lands, give them the appropriate ‘prize.’ This could be any marketing material or service that you want to give away!” – Meg Harris, Community Outreach Coordinator at the Greater Lansing Association of REALTORS®
This was great advice and helped me feel confident leading up to the event. It also set the tone for the three most important lessons I learned when planning a large event like this one:
Keep it focused.
Every decision you make for an event should have your core focus or mission in mind. Questions that may come up could include: “Where should I host my event?” “Should I invite more people?” “What kind of materials or giveaways should we provide?” If the answer doesn’t lend directly to your mission, move on. It’s easy to lose focus on what’s important. Staying on-task will save you time and lead to a better event for participants and attendees.
This event started small, but continued to grow — and grow! The main goal of the event was to attract legislators to the Lansing Center so they could view exhibits about skilled trades apprenticeship training programs, so we decided to surround the Capitol with large trucks and trailers from the construction industry, including this crane that displayed an American flag in front of the new Senate Office Building:
When it comes to advertising your event, being creative is key. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box, especially when your target audience has a lot of demands on its time.
Expect the unexpected.
Flexibility is key when it comes to planning a large event. Lean on your team and your network to brainstorm any last-minute ideas to try to prevent any major flaps during the event, and approach last-minute contingencies with a cool head. Chances are your attendees won’t notice if something on the list gets missed, and you’re better off focusing your energy on the rest of the day.
Planning large events can seem like a daunting task. Thankfully here at Martin Waymire, I have plenty of teammates to bounce ideas off of and to draw from their experiences. Do you need help planning a large-scale event? Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with me on LinkedIn to join a network of professionals looking to help each other.