Lessons in event management for parenting and work

In the midst of planning a joint party for my soon to be 1 and 3 year olds, I’ve been reflecting on the similarities of good practice between organising events for children and clients. Good event management can make the difference between happy guests and dissatisfied ones, between success stories and negative word-of-mouth – the equivalent, in parenting, of a ‘disaster’ playdate where you end up hiding from the kids, pretending to look for someone’s coat whilst secretly scoffing chocolate and vowing never to host a party or go to ‘that place’ ever again. So I decided to write down 5 tips for managing successful events, whether they be for children or work.

  1. Choose your venue wisely

Picking the right venue for children’s events is crucial: venue size and layout is very important depending on whether you want your kids to safely run free or be visible so you can attempt to drink a cup of tea while it’s still hot and hold, perhaps even finish, a whole adult conversation. Facilities are again critical –  think changing room, ramp access, a cafe, highchairs – you get the picture. There are some places I can go to with my two and enjoy a relaxed and non-anecdotal time, but others (e.g. toilets on the ground floor, play area on the second, too cramped or busy) where it’s just not even worth attempting.

All of these elements can also be applied to successful events at work – If you’re hosting a celebratory event or awards dinner, you’ll want to make sure the venue is formal enough and has the right atmosphere. Is it large enough and accessible for the audience? If you’re doing speeches, ensure they have the right facilities and that people can see and hear the speaker/s; if you’re catering, making sure there are appropriate arrangements for people to eat is just good manners (please avoid standing hot fork buffets – those plastic plates with wine glass attachments are not a good workaround for this; I speak from experience).

Considering and knowing your venue well ahead of any visit or event will have enormous benefit when planning a successful event, avoiding unexpected issues and will give you confidence on the day.

  1. Always have refreshments

It’s always better to over cater than under cater. As a parent, I’ve learned the hard way to apply this good event management practice to parenting – these days I don’t leave the house without a variety of snacks and drinks; boxes of raisins, packets of dried fruit masquerading as ‘sweets’, various miniature rice cakes and breadsticks – all of which have saved my sanity at events where children are expected to stay where they don’t want to or conversely be persuaded to move from a place they do want to be to somewhere else. I am in awe of anyone who has successfully returned from a trip to town with children without edible bribes.

I believe good food and drink has the ability to turn anyone’s mood around and I’d go so far as to say it can change the entire success of an event. It can also increase your registrations so is worth promoting what you’re offering in any pre-event marketing. Making sure your guests and speakers have sufficient refreshments at the right times can also ensure they stay attentive. Treats of the sweet variety are also a very attractive draw at exhibition style events – the equivalent if you like of a kid’s birthday party bag – never underestimate the power and cost-effectiveness of the edible freebie.

a-party-without-cake-is-just-a-meeting1

Of course, in all food related instances, you should be sensitive to and offer alternatives for those with special dietary requirements.

  1. Provide plenty of entertainment

I have a ‘car crisis kit’; it has the usual essentials (wipes – how did I ever live without them? Nappies, first aid kit and so on), but the most important items are those that distract: bubbles, crayons and a colouring pad, a lotto game and books. Alongside this, I have a selection of interactive apps on my phone – the vow to never let my kids use my phone going firmly out of the window when number 2 came along! The person who told me about the Cbeebies phone app deserves a case of Champagne – that and the Peppa pig paintbox app has got me through many a longer-than-anticipated wait in a restaurant/ doctor’s surgery / fill the blank.

While adults thankfully have a slightly longer attention span than toddlers, it is just as important to provide entertainment or activities at events; it can be a particularly good conversation starter and help create a buzz. At a recent event I worked at, the client had provided a couple of hands on games that really got people competing and having a laugh. Needless to say, opening up a dialogue about the organisation was far easier once this connection had been established. If you’re organising a dinner event, you might think about live music for the drinks reception or an after dinner speaker – something that creates an enjoyable atmosphere and a talking point is almost guaranteed to get your event off to a good start or provide a boost at a lull point.

  1. Think about your guest list

How many kids is too many at a playdate? How many clients is too many at an event? Both child and work based events have similar considerations when it comes to the number and type of guests. If you organise a big birthday party for your child with 50 other guests, sure you might end up with a great, fun atmosphere, but will your child actually get a chance to play with them all – more to the point, will you actually see your child?

With a large work event such as an anniversary celebration, you have a great opportunity to get your message across to a large number of potential or existing clients, but if you’re looking to create more meaningful engagement – perhaps to generate new contracts – a series or smaller, more focused events would probably be more beneficial.

Are any guests likely to complain or cause issues? If so, you might want to arrange for someone to personally welcome (intercept) them and address any concerns early on.

  1. Be clear in your communications

Being clear about where and when an event is happening will make a huge difference to its success. So make sure your clients don’t get mixed up between two or more venues (always check sat nav details), and that the timings are very explicit (start and finish) so they can plan their travel and post event plans. This is definitely good advice for events involving children. I have got into mix ups twice over a certain Park with the same name as a certain House, and telling your toddler their friend is happily waiting for them two miles down the road when you’ve just stumped up for parking and found a table to sit at is not news I like to break regularly. Ensuring your work’s event team are all joined up and clued into the same key messages will make for a professional, successful event all round.

Letting people know about dress code will help avoid uncertainty and embarrassment, or in the case of children’s events, total meltdowns (Tommy would have come as Spiderman if he’d known Billy was dressing as Batman).  In both instances, following up after the event with a thank you email or card will help to keep the relationship going.

Encouraging honest feedback from customers or clients is really important to help plan future events, but this may be one case with children’s events where it’s better not to ask; no one wants to be told their kid’s party was akin to an outing to the zoo, even if they would probably agree.

Where else do you see parallels between planning events for kids and clients? What lessons have your kids taught you that have enhanced your work? 

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