How to Plan a Great Event

As school wraps up for the year, school leaders are already deep in thought about their beginning-of-the-year professional development and other school year launch events for the 2019-2020 school year. If “experience in event planning” is not on your résumé, read on. I would like to share the ultimate key to executing a memorable event:

Use a checklist!


 Is there one magical checklist? Nope, but bear with me through some background. If you haven’t read Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifestohere’s the gist: Checklists are not trite tools for simpletons.  They have proven to save lives on airplanes and in surgical operating rooms regardless of the years of experience of the team. 

So what does this mean for you and your team? Checklists quickly expose strengths, weaknesses, and varying perspectives of each team member.  Checklists work because they keep everyone coordinated, better prepare your team and volunteers for the “day of” challenges, and ultimately allows you to provide better service and support to your students and teachers.

Where do you get this magical checklist? You can Google it, you can build it from scratch, or you can reach out to colleagues who may have processes they can share with you. There is not one magic list. The most important thing is that you brainstorm or borrow one, use it, and immediately edit the list as you get real time feedback and results. Make sure you store the list in an easily accessible place online and not just in your desk or on your phone so that your whole team can contribute to and follow the checklist.

To get you started, here is a set of questions to jump start your efforts:

  • Imagine the event from the participants’ eyes.  What will they see from the moment the school or event venue comes into view?  Is it obvious where to park and what entrance to use? Has the grass been cut lately?  
  • When participants arrive, will they sign in?  If so, how many and where will the sign-in sheets be located as not to cause a line?  Think back to a time you got excellent service, at a restaurant, hotel concierge, or front-line person and borrow from that experience.
  • What type of meeting is it and how many people are a strong “yes” to attend? Just because you can fit lots of people in a room doesn’t mean you should.  
  • Have you thought about the small, practical details?  Do you have one kitchen size trash bin for 50 people eating a buffet lunch? Are the restrooms clearly marked and properly supplied with tissue and soap?  
  • Does every member of your “team” have a way to contact one another?  Do they all know the physical layout of the space? Consider walkie-talkies, group text or a group messaging app.  (You can delete it later).
  • How will you memorialize the event? Designate at least two people to take candid photos throughout the event (with permission) to promote the next event.

If you’re still a little stuck, take a look at the links at the end of the article for some checklist ideas! 

A little lagniappe, for largish events: you can automate repetitive manual tasks and creating of your sign-in list by using free tools like Eventbrite’s free ticket platform at no cost to you. This provides a headcount, messaging platform, and speeds the sign-in process along.

Whether planning a meeting or managing any work that involves many people and multiple steps, checklists will always give you a leg up.  Also, checklists build organizational memory, fast track future staff training and more importantly, sort the wheat from the chaff.

As you can tell, I write from the perspective of an “operator,” the person who leads all the non-academic stuff in a school or larger system.  I’d love to hear your feedback on your experience with checklists or other strategies you have used to ensure your event hits the mark every time.  You can email me your nuggets of wisdom to share with others.

Here are a few additional resources I would recommend:

Kristen McCabe’s article The Ultimate Event Checklist

Jake Brady’s article Business Meeting Checklist

Smartsheet’s Event Planning Template


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