The Adventures and Misadventures of Event Planning

Coordinating events is one of the most exciting-sounding jobs there is. People imagine lights, tickets, drinks, food, fabulous outfits and exclusive guests.

The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Having coordinated a number of events of varying scale and scope, from street festivals to tradeshows to marathons; in short, I’ve had “overflowing garbage can emergency” yelled at me one too many times.

There is actually a lot that goes on behind the scenes that the best event coordinators keep quite hidden. All those chairs, all that food, every napkin, every ticket, every gift bag and even the rented bubble machine… all that needs to go onto purchase orders, invoices, and one big event budget.

And this is just the stuff you see.

I will focus on one example in particular where I had to put on an event for a non-profit organization. While I know how to put on a great show, knowing how to manage a slough of quotes, purchase orders and invoices in a paper-based environment is quite a different skill altogether.

Now, my event budget required approval from a board of directors who were scattered throughout the city. This required me to print a physical document on large-format paper for my executive director to physically present to the board for approval. This was a lengthy process, and by the time event rolled around, we were on version 16 or so.  It was my first time using Microsoft Excel that extensively – and I spent a lot of time seperating different costs (donations, entertainment, facilities, and even the costs of a mini event within the larger event!).

As for paper use, this was just the beginning – we went through at LEAST one package of printer paper a day, often more. Whenever I had to create a purchase order, I would do so in Microsoft Word, spend quite some time lining up my numbers on the sheet, then fogure out the tax (the PST and GST in B.C. really messed up my numbers, since not everything has both… needless to say I had to re-do these several times). After printing three copies of the purchase order, I would get all three signed by my executive director and proceed to fax the purchase order to the appropriate vendor. Now, since fax machines are not always reliable, I would follow-up on the fax by calling the vendor to confirm the receipt of the purchase order, and then follow-up again with an email to have a confirmation in writing for our records. Once this was done, I would print the confirmation emails and staple one to each of the three purchase orders. Each one went in a different binder (to the accountant, to the executive director, and to the event binder). And since this was a pretty complicated event with multiple partner organizations, there were a few changes made to orders throughout the planning phase, and multiple separate orders from a single vendor. I had to reprint the same purchase order multiple times with new changes and get it signed again, and every time I did this I had to disturb my executive director and explain why I was having her re-sign the same purchase order. Then I had to repeat the fax-phone-email process and staple the new ones to the old ones.

As you can probably imagine, this took a lot of time and energy.

I didn’t know it at the time but all of this could have been done in a fraction of the time with some simple software. Requisitions could be approved without me ever having to leave my desk, purchase orders would be tracked and emailed without the need to print anything, since approval would be electronic. Numbers and tax would be taken care of (and look much better than they did in my Word documents) and the budget could be separated into categories via account codes. As a result, it would be really easy for me to see if I could afford to rent a popcorn machine or not. Plus, the board of directors could have been given passwords to simply log in to see where the budgets were – we could have even set them as approvers for threshold dollar amounts.

With that kind of process, maybe event planning would actually feel a little more glamorous and less like a journey through some kind of paper nightmare! I’m not sure I’ll be able to go back to doing things the old way now that I know how much easier it can be.

Oh, and it would be cool to say that the event planning was mostly paperless, especially with the City of Vancouver implementing green initiatives on big corporate events. Maybe we would have gotten our event approved more quickly.

Events are definitely a bit of a smoke and mirrors game – glamorous on the outside and chaotic on the inside. The key is to stay organized and remember that just because you have done something one way in the past – doesn’t mean it should always be done that way in the future.

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”
– Tony Robbins

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