Organising an event - whether informally for friends and family or formally for your business or organisation - can be a great experience, revealing plenty of your untapped talents and skills. It can also be a real learning curve, especially if you’re taking on a project for the first time.
But every project, whether relatively small (like selling tickets for your band’s first live gig or promoting a yoga or fitness course you’ve developed) or a larger one (such as a festival or a major fundraiser for a charity you support), will have something in common: those essential skills needed to create a successful event.
Knowing what these skills are and whether you have them - or can develop them quickly - can really help boost your confidence and competence when it comes to getting an event going.
Lorne Armstrong, Director of Event Academy, has seen many individuals getting started with event management and develop those much-needed skills. Here, Lorne’s happy to share what he’s identified as the event management skills everyone should know and apply.
If you’re not used to arranging events, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking it’s much easier than it is. Book the venue, organise refreshments and facilities, promote it a bit on social media, and you’re there, right?
To be honest, even these “easy” parts offer the potential for problems. From unavailability of desired dates to problems with accommodating expected numbers or catering for specific diets, to finding the right channel for promoting your event, let alone the ideal audience!
To get an idea of the steps involved in planning your type of event, Pinterest offers some useful and highly visual tools. Try putting your [event type] + “plan” into Pinterest. You’ll often get a wealth of results including infographics that outline basic or more detailed planning schedules.
Although one size doesn’t fit all, looking at others’ schedules and planning processes will certainly help you identify any aspects missing from your own planning. It’s also a great way to find out where to start, if you’ve never planned an event before.
But even once you have a plan, managing an event means you’re part of a project where, when the going gets tough, so should your resolve. As Lorne always tells those stepping into event management: “It’s obviously hard work, so a sense of application is crucial.”
Remember, others will be depending on you to manage the task despite whatever issues or problems might come up. Being able to apply yourself to the task and face down problems by providing solutions are vital skills.
When it comes to managing the overall task, knowing which parts of the proposed event you’re able to handle yourself and where you’re going to need some help is a skill that Lorne feels is often under-recognised. It takes “self-awareness to know where you aren’t naturally strong and therefore will need someone to work with.”
But deciding whether to pay for professional support such as a caterer or, for instance, enlist the help of volunteers to steward the sports event you’re organising for the office, is another skill in itself.
A basic rule of thumb is: If you think it’s likely to cost more in time, money, and potential for mistakes by doing something yourself, then getting a professional in to help could be well worth it. If that is the case, start putting out some enquiries to see who is available and what they’re likely to charge, so you’re able to make informed decisions.
But remember, such decisions should always come from a starting point of knowing what you are capable of (and have the time to do). That way, you’ll always have a solid idea of which aspects you’ll need to delegate to someone else.
Whatever the scope of the event you’re organising, it’s going to involve you working and liaising with others in order to get the event on track and delivered successfully. As such, Lorne says it’s essential to have “the ability to work in teams, to communicate well, and to be a sort of social animal.”
In Lorne’s experience, this ability to communicate well covers much more than just the practical “getting it done” conversations. It should also include communicating the motivation, inspiration, and thoughts behind the event. “The ability to present and communicate ideas is important,” says Lorne.
Say you’ve just been asked by your boss to plan an event or have decided that a promotional event would be just the thing to launch the next phase of your own business. Lorne’s adamant that good communication isn’t limited to speaking and listening - it involves “the ability to ask questions, particularly those ‘why’ questions. Why? Because it’s very easy to deliver an event without questioning its main objectives and the reasoning behind it: You want to know why are you spending this money.”
EventMB’s 2018 survey revealed that over 80% of event professionals agreed that people skills are one of the most important event management skills needed to ensure event success. So if you’re not great with people, you need to become skilled up in becoming - or at least wearing the persona of - that “social animal” Lorne talks about.
All of which is quite a tall order if you’re naturally more of a thinker and listener than a speaker. However, top tips for “talking the talk” include:
Thankfully, organisational skills are transferable skills. So if you’ve ever organised anything in your life - studies, family routines, your wedding, or a family member’s big celebration - chances are you’ll already have a good set of organisational skills. “The ability to be organised,” Lorne points out, “is essential because event management is about detail and logic.”
Here’s the good news: Even if your organisational skills aren’t yet finely honed, the ability to be well organised - especially in the context of event planning and delivery - is something that can be learned. The more involved you get in event planning, the better your organisational skills will become.
In the meantime, it’s important to avoid getting stressed about having to cope with event planning. You can find a good resource at journalist Lisa Freedman’s Stressbusting website. Lisa offers 50 ways for improving organisation across many aspects life - work, money, home, etc. - whilst you’re being super-busy organising your event. Interestingly, you might note that Lisa’s final tip is also to delegate whenever possible!
Event Academy also offers a useful article about identifying the skills you may already have in your transferable toolkit. This could help you feel more competent and organised as you step up to manage your event.
Lorne describes “the ability to have creative ideas and to think on your feet” as essential when managing an event. After all, everyone knows the phrase “the best laid plans,” simply because we can all identify with it. Because just know that however extensive and detailed the plan, something will go wrong to a greater or (hopefully) lesser extent. This is where the ability to be flexible and creative in your thinking can really shine.
As Lorne advises, when making plans it’s critical “to think spontaneously and to be flexible - to work in a dynamic way because it never works as you planned - and to be able to blend creativity with ability to deliver. Make it happen - because you can’t not make it happen!”
This is where contingency planning comes in:
So, if plan A states a thousand party lights with illuminate the event, Plan B will be asking “What if there’s a power cut?” to help ensure that you have an alternative ready should the lights go down. In this example, your plan B might also include the response: “Then battery-powered LED lighting will be switched on.”
And yes, you do have to organise a Plan B for every aspect of the event. Remember that you can delegate some of this contingency planning, too.
Whatever the reason you have for organising an event, and however formal or informal it is, there’s a cost factor and budget to take into account.
Lorne agrees that “financial skills are important, inevitably” and recommends:
Lorne also advocates developing sharp negotiating skills alongside the financial ones. This ensures every event is cost-effective, no matter how large or small the budget.
The biggest tip for better negotiations? As anyone who’s ever watched The Apprentice will know, the best way to start negotiating is to make sure you’re talking to the right people: those in a position to say “yes” to your proposals.
From using social media to send out invites or generate interest in your event, to setting up audio, visuals, and atmospheric lighting, you’ll be using technology to support your event. Indeed, technical skills are a fast-growing skillset that’s an asset when managing events.
Lorne is clear that this aspect of event management, however formally or informally you’re doing it, is really growing and that anyone putting on an event “will need to understand how an event can come to life on the day [...] All the digital pieces that connect someone’s experiences either prior to or during an event, are really important.”
EventMB offers a useful resource section dedicated to event technology. Based on the latest research, this information is a good heads-up on the kind of digital elements you might want to consider including in your event.
If the technical side of events is another area where you’re still building up your skills, then being aware of this and calling someone in to deliver tech elements or teach you the basics can go a long way towards developing your tech skills going forward.
This leads us to Lorne’s last point, one which is especially relevant if you’ve just started organising an event without much prior experience.
Lorne believes that having the skill to learn from every experience has advantages when it comes to putting on events. “The discipline of delivering an event is inevitably very practical, hands-on, and experiential,” he explains. “It’s important to see different ways of doing things, because you’ll always need to be able to have those core skills - but also much more!”
So whatever type of event you’ve got coming up, you almost certainly have more skills than you think, yet you should also plan to make the most of the event itself to develop them further.
If you happen to get the bug for event management, you could even consider taking an accredited event management course to help build your event management skills and experience even further.