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Planning Perfect Events
The original version of this story was published on ThinkAdvisor®
Virtually every financial advisor will produce events, sooner or later, many or few.
Some will be poorly planned, poorly executed or both. This will lead some to think, “Seminars (or whatever) don’t work anymore” — which is emphatically not true. Well-planned, well-produced events work all the time.
Poorly planned and poorly run events will, in turn, be poorly attended which, in turn, will generate poor word of mouth. Perfectly planned and produced events create buzz, which builds toward your next event. Perfect planning makes perfect events.
Perfect Events Start with a Perfect Plan
The event planning process as I have developed it for this article will take some hours to complete. You will wind up with perhaps a half dozen checklists, a set of job descriptions, a budget, and a timeline.
Yes, it will take you a few hours the first time you do it. As you get better, it takes less time. Finally, you will get to the point where you have one or more events “in the can.” To produce one, you tell your staff, “I want a golf outing Friday afternoon the fifth.” Your job is then, Show up and present, or preside over the event.
The reason for stressing perfect planning is all in the details. Just one detail you have overlooked will, and can, ruin an otherwise perfect event.
Suppose the chairs are not comfortable. During a break, one or two people may comment on it. A few others chime in and agree. These little drops of acid burn holes in an otherwise perfect event, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of your guests—all because you didn’t send someone to the meeting room to check out the chairs, the lighting, the sound system, etc. This otherwise perfect event is OK, but an OK event does not generate the word of mouth and referrals you seek.
Or consider a loud noise during the event in an adjacent meeting room. This happened to me at an event my company produced at the Marriott Marquis in New York City. The room next to mine was filled with gospel singers who were having a great, foot stomping time. Their event may have been perfect. Mine was not, because I failed to find out who was in the adjacent room. (My “Facilities Checklist” now contains a line to call the hotel a few days before to find out who, if anyone, is next door.)
No matter who your guests are—clients, prospects, or guests at a charity event—you want to produce a memorable experience. It’s the experience that alone determines how many follow-up appointments you will set, and how many referrals you receive. You will only produce a great experience if you nail all the tiny details. That’s why you need a perfect plan.
What is a Perfect Plan?
A perfect plan is a list of every task necessary to achieve the goal of the event. Each task must be assigned to someone, and a date for its completion specified. Most likely, your first attempt at creating a perfect plan will not be perfect. You will overlook something or forget something. But you begin to approach perfection as you add these items into your plan.
Your perfect plan must take at least eight categories of activity into account. In summary, they are:
Your goal, which should be written, describes the client experience you intend to produce.
Identify every letter, email, and phone call necessary to produce a flawless event. Some of these are invitations, confirmations, or even phone calls to your facility, caterer, speaker, etc.
By “get organized,” I don’t just mean have your desk neat, and your pens pointing in the same direction. I mean have a team in place to do the work, and the necessary systems to keep track of what has been done, what remains to be done, who is attending, and who does not want to attend. Without attending to these things first, your event will likely be a disaster and bear more than a remote resemblance to a cat’s hair ball.
Your production plan creates the physical aspect of the event. As you’ll see, I recommend numerous checklists. At a minimum, these include a Facilities Checklist, a Materials Checklist, and as necessary a Guest Speaker Checklist, plus any others you may require based upon the peculiarities of your event. Part of your production plan should also be a budget.
The timeline is the list of due-dates for all the actions and checklists in date order. It’s the master checklist.
These are the actions taken immediately after the seminar.
You need to thank the attendees for their time. You need to notify any “no shows” and “report card referrals” that they will receive an invitation for the next event. Most importantly, you must call for appointments before interest fades.
Your appointment process most likely is the same, no matter where a lead comes from. However, it’s not a bad idea to give some thought to whether the event dictates any change in appointment procedure.
For most events, an answer to a single question is all the evaluation you need. Was it profitable? If the answer was a resounding “no,” you most certainly want to discover “why” so you won’t repeat those mistakes. If “yes,” you want to find out what you did right, and how to improve it. Evaluation is vital.
“This looks like a lot of work,” you think. “Do I really have to do this?”
No you don’t. You can fly by the seat of your pants and produce events not unlike those pickup trucks you see flying down the freeway with kids and mattresses falling off.
But that’s not you, right? So let’s look more closely at the planning success factors.
In business, in life, or even with something as small as a single event, the person without a goal will wind up somewhere. Without a goal and a plan, you will not enjoy your final destination.
Let’s take some examples of goals.
Here’s my goal for a seminar I rolled out in July. Produce a two-day seminar that kick-starts the prospecting effort by showing the participants proven strategies, and a proven way to implement these strategies.
Here’s a possible goal for your event: Produce a client educational seminar so precisely targeted to known client interests that at least half the clients attending will bring a guest when asked.
Or try this one for a client outing: Get a few passionate fly fishermen together—some clients, some prospects—for a tune-up lesson, camaraderie, a few adult beverages, and an opportunity to meet new people.
What kind of event do you want? Write it down. Come back to it in a day or so. Take a fresh look. Make sure it states exactly what you want to accomplish. When you know where you’re going, roll up your sleeves and do the rest of the plan.
To have a perfect event, you need great content. Content is king. Without an informative and entertaining seminar, don’t think for a second that your guests will set an appointment. They most certainly will not.
Your communication plan is dictated by the content of the event. But, the starting point for developing content is actually the invitation. Writing the invitation forces you to conceive the details of the event itself. Once you are done with the invitation, you should have a very clear idea of what your event will be. Then you can get to work on the rest of the communication plan.
On my “Perfect Events” website, I’m posting a “How to Write an Invitation.” I just don’t have space to do it here.
While each event may differ, here are the bare-bones pieces that must be included in your communications plan:
- Written Confirmation
- Telephone Confirmation
- Thanks for Attending
- Sorry You Couldn’t Make It (For No-Shows)
In the communication plan I did for my series of branch office prospecting seminars, I wrote two additional emails. One goes out a week before the event. The final one goes out two days before. Each gives some additional benefits for attending, as well as reminding them when and where. I want to do everything possible to compete with “last-minute projects” that just have to be done on the days of my seminar.
Your communication plan should list each of the communications that should occur. And don’t forget calls to the facility, caterer, and guest speaker.
There is a lot of work necessary to pull off a perfect event. It breaks down into five separate jobs. I have written job descriptions for these, and posted these to my “Perfect Events” website. And no, this does not mean you need five people. Keep reading.
Event Presenter. This is most likely the financial advisor, although it could be a wholesaler, or other guest speaker.
Producer. This person has been given authority to get the plan executed. Ideally, this person does not hold any other of the key positions listed, but quite frankly, it is rare for a team to be large enough so that each person only has one job.
Event Coordinator. This person is primarily responsible for the Production Plan.
Event Marketing Director. This person is responsible for getting people to attend and such follow-up as is required by the Communications Plan.
Event Communications Assistant. This person sends out mass mailings, confirmation letters and emails, and individual letters to attendees and no-shows. In order to accomplish this, he or she must be quite adept at managing the FA’s database.
Based how much help you have, here is how I would configure these jobs.
Solo FA. You are everything, including overworked.
FA and One Assistant. The FA is most likely the Event Presenter, Event Producer, and Event Marketing Director. Your assistant is the Event Coordinator and the Event Communications Assistant.
FA, One Full-Time, and One Part-Time Assistant. This one can be tricky. The FA is still the Event Presenter, Event Producer, and the Event Marketing Director. The full-time assistant is the Event Coordinator. But a part-time person, if possible, should take over as Event Communications Assistant. It’s rarely a good idea to let the Marketing Director and the Event Communications Assistant be the same person.
FA with a Perfect Team. This perfect team consists of a full-time service assistant that doubles as Event Coordinator, a full-time marketing Director who handles the entire event marketing functions, and a part-time computer operator who becomes the Event Communications Assistant. Whoever is more administratively perfect, can take over as Event Producer. This leaves the FA as Event Presenter. As such, it is his or her job to show up, give the event, and then see people who attended.
The Production Plan
The core of the production plan is a series of checklists.
If you have not read my Research article, “The Checklist Solution,” you need to read it. I’ve posted a copy for you at Perfect Events. It explains why checklists are vital for managing complex events.
A checklist has three purposes:
- Make sure you repeat known successful actions.
- Make sure you avoid known pitfalls.
- Make sure you don’t forget anything.
At a minimum, you need these checklists:
Facilities Checklist: Location, Location, Location is vital to the success of an event. To help you with this part of your planning, I have produced three checklists for you. You will find them at my Perfect Events website.
There are actually three of these: The Facilities Inspection Checklist is the one you use for selecting a venue for your event. It leaves no stone unturned. (Would you have remembered to check on the route from the parking lot to determine if it’s well lit?)
Then there is the Meeting Room Size Calculator. It’s critical you get a room not too big, and not too small. This will help you.
Finally, the Facilities Checklist is where you record your facilities contacts, notes on who you speak to about different issues, and a place to record the materials you will take with you.
Communications Checklist: Here you figure out the letters, emails, and phone calls that people will receive. These include the invitation, confirmation, reminder messages, thanks for attending, and no-show messages, plus one or more confirmation calls.
Attendee Processing Checklist: This details database changes necessary to track attendees. It should include the design of a Record Update Form to capture enrollment information and communicate it to the computer operator.
Materials Checklist: Here you are going to identify all the materials each attendee will receive.
“Day Of” Checklist: This covers supplies you need to gather, and specifies who does what, when.
Post Seminar Processing: These are the detailed instructions on how to update the record of each person who attends, and those who do not show up. It should specify which message to send for attendees and no shows.
The timeline is your master checklist. It lays out what must be done in date order, and assigns each task to someone.
I make my timelines from bottom up. They consist of three columns:
Post Seminar Processing
Event Communications Assistant
July 18, 6:30 PM
Event Marketing Director
Event Communications Assistant
Materials Checklist complete.
Confirm menu with hotel
Post production for each event will, of course vary. A Post Production Checklist for a seminar might look like this:
Deliver questionnaires to FA.
FA reviews and makes notes of anyone urgently needing to be called.
Photocopies Reports Cards. Originals to Event Communication Assistant. Copies to Event Marketing Director.
Follow Post-Seminar Processing Checklist.
Event Communications Assistant
Call everyone not reserved by the FA.
Event Marketing Director
In a well-run office, the staff meets once a week. I recommend a 30-day and 60-day evaluation of event profitability. These evaluations can happen at weekly staff meetings.
You should have a folder for each event. In the folder is a list of attendees. When you review the event, you can check off who closed, who didn’t, and who is still in the pipeline. This gives you a huge clue as to whether you should produce a similar event.
The Planning Process
In my experience, it is highly unlikely that you will start with a goal and then proceed step-by-step. You most certainly should start with the goal you want to achieve. But I find, when planning, that I bounce from Communications Plan to Production Plan to Post Production, and back to a refinement in the goal. It’s not linear. But it’s fun. And I hope your next event is a perfect event because you did a perfect plan.
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