By: Christina Vanvuren
Planning an event is no easy task. Planning an event from over 600 miles away can feel like a massive undertaking. But in the life of a publicist, sometimes you just have to rally and pull together a venue, content, guests, and food and drinks from seemingly out of nowhere.
In this post, I’m going to share tips and tricks — and lessons learned — about planning a successful panel event from another state. While it can be tricky, it’s certainly not impossible, and with the right mindset and strategy, you can make your panel a standout event.
1) Define what success means.
Lots of brands host panel events. It’s arguably one of the most common types of events, because people love hearing about other people’s lives. Is there anything more inspirational? But if you’re looking around you at everyone else’s events and basing your measures of success on them, you may not get the results you hoped for.
Instead of measuring the success of your panel event against other people’s events, measure it against your own set of metrics. This starts with defining the goal of the event.
For our D.C. event, the goal was to build up a community in a region well-known for its healthcare leaders. I knew that the event should be intimate, and that we needed to have a targeted guest list that included the people we most wanted to connect with. We weren’t concerned with breaking even or hitting a certain book sales goal, because our main priority was connecting and creating community. We gauged our success based on how many people came and the energy and engagement during the panel and networking portion.
To define your panel goals, ask yourself: What would make this event a success to me/my company? Then, work backward from there to set realistic goals.
2) Know the area, know your audience.
Having never hosted an event in D.C. before, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect. We quickly realized that people there weren’t super into RSVPing. They told us they’d be attending — and bringing friends — in email or on the phone, but ignored our requests for an RSVP.
This can be frustrating when you’re trying to plan an event; you need to know how much food and drink to provide, how much seating you’ll need, etc. But knowing your area and how people tend to handle events there, as well as knowing your audience, can help. Take into account factors such as traffic, weather, ease and reliability of public transportation, holidays, city events, and the typical work hours of your audience. All of these things can help you create a reasonable baseline for what to expect.
Above all, trust that the right people will show up, because you’ve done the legwork of planning an interesting panel, securing engaging speakers, and marketing your event well.
3) Have a detailed plan.
During the planning stages of every event, I map out a run of show that walks my team through exactly what is happening, and who is in charge of making it happen, hour by hour throughout the event.
This tool is invaluable: It keeps everyone on the same page, helps align expectations, and ensures a smooth event. One of the lessons I learned at the D.C. event is that it’s helpful to include more than the basics. Navigating a new city can come with an overwhelming amount of surprises. Be sure to think about things such as:
- Where to pick up food and wine (somewhere close to the venue would be ideal).
- A list of what and how much food and wine to buy.
- A list of all the supplies needed, and how much of each.
- Travel time between hotels and the venue, as well as between the venue and the grocery store, FedEx, and Target.
- Address of the venue, as well as code and steps to get into the building.
It might feel like overkill to map out every little detail, but having a run of show that spells everything out for you will help make the event a whole lot easier.
That said, sometimes plans will change, and it’s important to be flexible and adaptable.
4) Prepare as much as you can.
Think about what can be done before you arrive in your event city. If you can print name tags and bring them with you, if you can ship a box of platters and party supplies to your hotel, if you can order food from Whole Foods using Postmates or Prime Now — do it.
The fewer errands you have to run once you arrive, the more time you can spend on the small details that make an event feel really special.
5) Be strategic and personally prepared.
By the end of the D.C. event, I had formed a mental checklist of all the things I’d do differently for our next event out of state. Here are some of my top suggestions:
Bring with you:
- Portable phone charger.
- Comfortable flats.
- Water bottle.
- A jacket (even if it’s warm during the day, temperatures drop at night).
- Small first aid kit with band aids and ibuprofen.
- Small notebook.
- Printed version of your run of show.
Check (before you come):
- The weather.
- How far your lodging is from the venue.
- Typical traffic patterns during the day/time of your event.
- How far away the venue is from somewhere to buy supplies.
Hopefully, you can learn from my lessons, throw a stellar out-of-state panel event, and hit all your event goals. Happy planning!
Christina Vanvuren is a freelance content creator and strategist turned full-time brand manager for Uncommon Bold, where she works closely with clients to create and execute buzz-worthy content and PR strategies.