When I applied for pharmacy school, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. Four intense years of pharmacology and therapeutics? Definitely. Pharmacy law? Yup. Patient counseling? Mmhm. Lots of dosage and pharmacokinetic calculations? You bet. What I certainly didn’t expect, however, was to become an amateur event planner.
But lo and behold, through my involvement in student organizations on the USG campus, event planning is what I’ve found myself spending a significant amount of time and energy doing. I’ve learned that event planning can be quite stressful and nerve-wracking. But it’s also incredibly rewarding, especially if it’s for a cause I’m passionate about and turns out to be successful. Now “successful” is a pretty subjective term. To me, it refers to an event that runs smoothly, has a turnout that meets or exceeds expectations, and has a positive impact on the intended audience.
Through trial and error, I’ve slowly begun to figure out the dos and don’ts for successful planning of student events. And I’m still learning! If you have an awesome idea for an event in mind, then I say run with it… and use some of my tips below to help you along the way.
DO get to know key players. I’ve built relationships with some truly amazing people here at USG. Shout-out to Lisa Finn, Rachel Wolohan, Kristen Koehler, Melissa Marquez, Shelby Speer, Frank & Sharon, Gordon Price, and many others. Whether it’s booking event space, advertising through social media, or printing tent cards for guests, you need to know the right people who can help you get the job done.
DO seek advice from known leaders. They’ve probably been there, done that. By watching student leaders who came before me and asking for their advice when I’m struggling, I’ve gained a lot of valuable insight for improving my event planning.
DO be flexible. Most of the events I’ve organized would have failed miserably if I had not maintained composure and come up with an alternative for things that went wrong. Sometimes, it’s possible to foresee these things and prepare in advance. And sometimes, it’s not. In these cases, don’t freak out. Hopefully, you’re not in this alone and your team members will be there to help you figure out a workaround.
DO leverage the strengths of your team members. Make sure to really listen to and consider what they have to say. For one event that I spearheaded last year, much of what I had already planned alone, prior to meeting with the full team, got flipped upside down and turned inside out after that first meeting. But you know what? I’m so glad it did, because the new plan was so much better than what I had originally come up with myself. Thank goodness for team members.
DO start early. Why procrastinate? If you’re excited about something, start planning early. It’s less stress for you down the road. Brainstorm, make a timeline, and start checking things off your to-do list. Just make sure that the entire team is in the loop and onboard before you start making any major decisions.
DO follow up with people. Poor communication is a pet peeve of mine. But it’s important to remember not to take things personally. People are busy, just like yourself. People also have different styles of communication. If you’re not getting a timely response, don’t be afraid to follow up via email, phone, or maybe even trying to see them in person. It all depends on the situation and your professional judgement.
DO your research and come prepared to meetings. Meetings in which few people come prepared are often pointless. Whoever is leading the meeting should make the meeting objectives known to all team members ahead of time so that they can perform tasks or do research needed to ensure a productive meeting. It’s difficult finding an optimal meeting time that works with everyone’s schedules, so it would be wise to make the most of that magical time when everyone is available.
DO reflect on what went well and what didn’t. So, the event’s over and that’s it? Of course not! It’s important to seek feedback from everyone including your team members and event participants. Keep what you learned in mind for next time, and write a blog post about it like I’m doing now 🙂
DON’T micro-manage. No one likes a Mr./Mrs. Bossy Pants. If you’re spearheading an event, then yes, it’s important to be kept in the loop about what your team is up to. But reviewing every email each person writes before they send it, or assigning someone tasks and following up with them every day for a status update is not appropriate.
DON’T let event planning consume you. It’s likely that you’ll get frustrated at some point because things aren’t going the way they’re supposed to. While it’s important to stay motivated, the planning of your event is not worth developing an unhealthy amount of anxiety over. If you’ve already done as much as you reasonably can to address the problem and have involved your team members to help you, but there still isn’t a resolution in sight, then it may be best to back down.
DON’T forget to be respectful and professional. With event planning, conflict among team members or with others less directly involved may arise. I’d be surprised if a difference in opinion doesn’t surface at some point during the planning process. Remembering to be respectful and professional is so important when this happens. Try not to burn bridges.
If you’re new to event planning, I hope this helps. And if you’re a seasoned event planner, I’d love to hear your opinion as well — please comment below!