Elaine Commissiong, Contributor
ROSA PARKS, regarded as the 'mother' of the civil rights movement in the United States of America, died last month, at the age of 92. At the age of 42, she refused to give up her seat in the front of a bus to a white man. In effect, by sitting down she stood up for black people all over the United States, and started a spontaneous outburst of emotion resulting in a historic march of civil disobedience led by the legendary Martin Luther King Jr.
The effects of that outstanding event still resonate today. Then, the march for freedom led to the closure of the bus company in question, as black people all over America refused to take the bus to work. It was a special event of immense proportions!
Most events, however, such as those that form a part of a corporate calendar are planned rather than spontaneous. In fact, many slogans have been written to underscore the importance of planning these functions so as to win for the company, the desired results. So we have slogans such as "If you fail to plan, plan to fail", or that made famous by Yogi Berra, "If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else", among others. They underscore the importance of not leaving the details of an event to chance, or the hope of securing just the right spontaneous reaction.
Special events are often used by companies as opportunities to create news. All plans are therefore geared towards meeting that objective. Press briefings, press conferences, luncheons or dinners used to launch an event, or to make an announcement, awards ceremonies, company tours, conferences and workshops, are among the many special events hosted by companies. Each has its own specific characteristics, but planning for special events in general, bears some common features.
It all begins with first generating a checklist of action to be taken. The checklist is the prime tool of an event planner. Items of the checklist should include the following:
a) Name and date of event: This should be clearly indicated at the top of the checklist.
b) Venue: The size and type of venue will of course depend on the event being planned. Generally speaking, a centrally located venue is recommended, that is, one that is easily accessed by the target audience and has appropriate facilities for parking. The venue should also be large enough to house everyone comfortably, but not too large so that the event appears to be under-subscribed. Details which should be addressed include whether chairs only or chairs and tables are required; the use of a head table, or lectern only, the requirement of a stage or riser, a reservation table and an awards table; and the layout of these items. Some choices of layout include, horseshoe shape, school room, theatre style, among others. If the event is being held at a hotel then that host venue, usually provides templates of layouts from which one may choose.
If the corporate event is a press briefing, then it may be held in the company's boardroom with participating persons arranged around the board table in an intimate setting. Some large companies boast their own meeting /conference rooms which allow them to accommodate even larger events.
Other important venue considerations include the availability and location of electrical outlets, for media plug-ins as well as for use by the host for microphones or for a multimedia projector and laptop. Many press conferences have been spoilt because an overloaded circuit has resulted in unwelcome blackouts. Pre-testing these features even in a hotel setting is therefore advised
If one is planning for a press conference or other event during which questions from the audience would be accommodated, then a theatre-style setting in which there is and aisle for additional audience-microphones is recommended. Lapel microphones are preferred if participating speakers plan to leave the formal lectern setting to meander among the audience.
Many companies make their media events more exciting and dramatic by including photographic and/or photo displays, which help to bring additional focus on the purpose of the presentation, and also provide scope for television and print journalists to help tell their story. Other promotional items such as a banner or other signage help to further promote both company/institution and the event.
Other items on the checklist would include 'must-dos', such as guest and media invitations, programmes/agenda sheets, menu, guest speakers, press or information kits, guests/audience participants, entertainment, ushers and other assistants such as a professional decorator. Essential personnel to an event which is being organised for publicity purposes (as most are), include the mass media. Companies are also advised (if budget allows,) to invest in securing their own professional photographer, and videographer so as to ensure that the news of the event does reach respective media, even if their journalists are unable to attend.
As with everything, acquiring the expertise of event planning improves with practice. Since no two events are exactly alike each also presents a new and exciting challenge to make the current one as memorable and as successful as possible.
Elaine Commissiong is the Executive Director of CARA LTD, a communications agency. She is also a Visiting Fellow of the Mona School of Business (UWI).