This post is sponsored by Relatu.org
The camera was hanging three stories above the ground in an abandoned prison… and the controls weren’t responding. Time was ticking— we only had the location until sunset. Three frustrated attempts later— no solution. Then it hit me- “Guys, we forgot to start today with a prayer!”
A few “oh yeah’s” and a couple bashful nods later and we were making the sign of the cross. Concluding the short prayer through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, we turned on the system again to start troubleshooting with more peace and clearer minds… the controls responded immediately, and continued working the rest of the day without the slightest intervention.
That day I learned that Mother Mary has a great sense of humor, that no amount of skill or professionalism can solve every problem, and that I’d better start every project with a prayer for the rest of my career!
During my time as producer at Relatu (an audiovisual production company for Catholic professionals and events), the Holy Spirit has blessed me with the privilege of working on some amazing projects alongside very talented people. From the distinctly spiritual to the tangibly practical, below are some common things I’ve experienced at events across the country that may help your next event or production be a little smoother and more successful.
Pre-event Planning Tips
- Getting Volunteers 101
When inviting people to volunteer or help out with the event (or even to simply attend the event), make sure you take time to carefully craft the language of your “ask.” Use language that immediately answers potential volunteers “why should I?” Communicating why it’s an opportunity that will add value to their life is going to be a lot more successful than “commit to helping us at so and so time by signing up here.”
- Soliciting the right kind of feedback when planning
When soliciting feedback on any important aspect of your future event, don’t get feedback from just the other people on your team or in your organization. Ideas that might some obvious or good to you aren’t exempt from being confusing or not helpful to the actual participants at your event. It’s often helpful to get an outside, untrained eye on various details. However, it’s critical to ask the right questions when doing so, or you may be left with bad data. For example, let’s say you have a final draft of your event schedule laid out in a two-page brochure but you feel it might be better as either a single page or tri-fold. Do not ask an “untrained eye” should it be made into a tri-fold; instead, ask them “are you able to quickly find the information you’d need to get to breakout session A?” which will help a professional graphic designer decide whether a tri-fold may be necessary since you’ve tested it in a “real-world use case scenario.”
- “Should I bring extra ____?”
When preparing for an event, you’ll inevitably encounter that question. Let me help you decide 99% of those moments ahead of time—yes. Yes, you should. 🙂
- Your staff and volunteers can (and will) fail you.
This might sound a little cold, but it’s very important to acknowledge the reality: volunteers (and sometimes even staff) will not always come through for you. Anything from family emergencies to car trouble to “I forgot to put it on my calendar” can ruin your event if the individual was tasked with something mission-critical. To acknowledge that is not uncharitable to your teammate; it’s actually respect for the good of the overall team and the positive experience of your attendees. As much as possible, try to make sure one person is directly responsible for an outcome (to reduce complexity) while also “cross-training” another who can step up in the case the primary party is unable to perform their duty. It’s also a great opportunity for humility, and can help diffuse situations ahead of time where someone becomes a little too attached to their particular area of the project.
- How to reduce no-shows
On that note, you can avoid some of the more common no-shows and other related volunteer/staff problems by setting clear expectations and sending out consistent reminders during the preparation phrase. I know that sounds overly simple, but it’s remarkable how often little things like this are missed in the fast-paced environment of event planning during the final stages. When there’s a significant amount of information you need to send out that impacts significant duties, try to make the document as “user-friendly” as possible: bullet points, headings, subheadings, images/maps, color coated, important parts bolded and highlighted, etc. A little investment in formatting can mean far higher retention and usability by your team.
- No, you can’t set up in the time you think you can.
When planning for set-up time (and many other things), make an estimate of how long it will take and then add on at least 25-50% more time. Having everything set up 5 hours early and using that time for team-building, grabbing a bite to eat, or finessing a few things is always better than pushing things to the last minute. After years of serving a wide variety of events, I’ve learned that even the most refined processes and organization can be completely thrown by one drastic and unexpected variable when not prepared. True professionals in the event industry are not the ones that show up and execute a perfect plan. Seasoned event professionals know the plan that they (necessarily and rightly) spent hours upon hours on is, in fact, not going to work flawlessly, so they pre-emptively put the appropriate personnel and equipment in place to handle a variety of scenarios.
- Categorize and Conquer Q’s
Make sure your staff all know who to report to for particular types of issues, especially for any public-facing staff member. For example, when the person working the sign-up table gets asked if it’s okay to stream the event on their Facebook channel, who is in charge of that decision? When someone asks about handicap accessibility into the second level of your venue, or when this or when that or what if… Your attendees will have many valid questions and deserve good answers. Ideally, many of these “FAQs” should be accounted for through decisions prior to the event, but you’ll also need people in charge of various “categories” to account for unexpected or unorthodox questions that may arise.
During the Event
- Your keynote speaker’s cellphone is not a flashlight.
Speakers often have a hard time reading their notes at podiums if there is any sort of stage lighting. I have seen a few unfortunate incidents (during the event while an audience in the hundreds has its attention on the speaker) where the speaker or MC actually pulls out their own personal cell phone’s flashlight app to see their notes. Putting a speaker in this unprofessional and embarrassing position can easily be avoided by putting any sort of small light at the podium, especially if the podium has a ledge or lip to it. You can even get a large clip-on light if you’d like it to be part of the podium’s aesthetic.
- Have a designated “light-dimmer-er!”
For smaller events that are using projectors without a dedicated A/V, make sure someone is dedicated to dimming the lights (if necessary) and that they know specifically when it is time for them to do so. We’re hoping to cover many, many audiovisual tips more in-depth in a separate article.
- Say “NO-NO” to Wi-Fi
If you’re using any sort of content in your event that at some point requires an internet connection (like showing a YouTube video, reading social media posts, demonstrating part of your website, etc.) make sure to load the content through a reliable connection BEFORE the event. Never rely on Wi-Fi during an event. Better yet, when possible, always download the content onto your hard drive and play it directly from your computer. Don’t forget to bring your charging cord and ideally a backup laptop as well!
- It’s not right to violate copyright
Speaking of background music, (unless you’re playing songs/recordings that are in the public domain or that were recorded by artists who allow their music to be played royalty free) you are likely infringing on copyright by playing the song publicly. If you plan on hosting large scale or a large quantity of events, you’ll likely need to look into ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC which allow you to legally play copyrighted music at your event for a fee. For smaller events, you may want to consider exclusively using royalty free music or reaching out to some local bands to play live at your event.
- Grips: the Fix-it or Rig-it people
In the video production industry, we often have a team member called a “grip.” Grips are our go-to “fix-it or rig-it” guys and gals. For bigger events, you’ll likely have a team dedicated to this task. For smaller events, it may be helpful to have a volunteer who does some carpentry or similar hobby/work to be around before and during the event. Whether or not you’re able to find a dedicated “grip,” always bring these items I’ve found to be event-savers: a Leatherman tool / Swiss army knife, flashlight, tape measure, markers, clamps, and a LOT of gaffer tape.
- St. Joseph would have probably used gaffer tape if it existed back then
If you haven’t heard of gaffer tape yet, consider yourself introduced; your life will never be the same. In short, it’s almost as sticky as duct tape while having similar damage-free “peeling away properties” like masking/painter’s tape on most surfaces. You can get it in a variety of colors and widths, and use it for everything from taping down cables to marking placements on a stage to labeling countless items. One time a religious sister even used my gaffer tape to post a pen holder and sign-up sheet for perpetual adoration during a Catholic tradeshow. I’m sure that made St. Joseph smile!
- You may be the energizer bunny, but the remote control doesn’t know that.
Bring batteries. If you don’t think anything at your event needs batteries, make sure to still bring batteries. If you do know of something that needs batteries, bring extra batteries. While you’re at it, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to bring extra-extra batteries. In all seriousness, a variety of batteries (including some more obscure ones) can be very helpful and often have a shelf life that will span a couple events if not used immediately. Don’t forget some extension cords, too (and first look up safety tips on not “daisy-chaining” power).
- Don’t overlook overly obvious signage.
Overly obvious signs are important. You want to make sure to clearly delineate commonly needed areas (parking, restrooms, water stations, etc.). Include information about them in maps/handouts/flyers, make announcements before/after programming, and post large signs.
- What do alcoholic drinks, purses, and rear-ends all have in common?
This one may shock you, but if you put any sort of table or flat surface more than a foot off the ground, expect it to become a place for purses, coats, and drinks (and sometimes a place to sit!). I have witnessed attendees nonchalantly put a wide variety of objects on registration tables, stools, and even platforms meant for camera crew… while the cameraman is on the platform… operating tens of thousands of dollars of equipment. No joke. To their credit, the attendees are having a good time with their friends and are certainly not trying to be unsafe, but that spilled drink could be a hazard to equipment and personnel alike. Pre-emptively find any problem areas by looking around the main rooms with “attendee goggles”—if it’s a foot off the ground and flat, it’s considered fair game for stuff (or people) to sit on!
- Bonus tip: bring iPhone and Android chargers for your staff. As an A/V producer, I’ve been asked by staff members if I have a phone charger more times than you hear the phrase “do you have a light?” in black and white movies. Having a couple extra on hand for your team that you can put in a staff-only area will both be very helpful for the success of the event (as a lot of events require the team to use messaging or schedule apps on there) and brighten their day!
It’s easy with lists like this (or the million things on your to-do list) to feel overwhelmed. However, remember that if God has called and anointed you for this work then you can count on Him to complete what He started. I also offer my personal mantra in the hyperactivity of event day (paraphrased from St. Francis de Sales): “Do all things methodically, one at a time, without undue haste, anxiety, or discouragement.”
Hopefully, this article has brought you some more peace that all the little things of event planning can be taken care of with proper preparation and prayer! If you ever think having an audiovisual crew would be helpful for your next event, feel free to reach out to us at www.Relatu.org
Thank you for your time, and God bless!
-Matthew, Producer at Relatu