How to Plan and Organize a Big Event

Event planning and scheduling people in a complicated event can be made simple by using a simple spreadsheet to organize it.

Stever Robbins,
December 13, 2010
Episode #159

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Melvin was planning the annual meeting of the charity he founded, Necktie Tying for the Elimination of Bedbugs. Melvin is good at getting volunteers. He has people to handle promotional giveaways (I really don’t want to know what he would give away at this conference), people to set up chairs for breakout sessions, audio-visual presentations, mattress demonstrations, people walking around with complimentary buckets of calamine lotion, and of course, emergency scissors stations at regular intervals for participants who get carried away and tie their neckties a little too tight.

But the only problem was that no one knew where to be, when. In the middle of setting up chairs, the scissors station would have an emergency. It had no staffer, with 15 neck-tie nerds waiting to be extracted from the Experimental Double-Handed Backwards Twist-Over Knot. Half the staff was panicked, while the other half was standing around doing nothing. Melvin called me for help.

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How to Plan and Organize a Big Event

Fortunately, I had just finished my first lead role as Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls. Being my usual, compulsively organized self, I had of course analyzed and optimized every part of the production that I came in contact with. What is a conference, but a simpler version of a play?

Organize a Big Event by Treating It Like a Play

An event has many moving parts! Every session needs to be set up. A/V needs to be arranged, a speaker must be booked, and so on. Participants want a schedule of the events they’re in, but organizers need different schedules. The room planner needs a schedule of all rooms and who’s doing the setup, while the speaker organizer needs a schedule of all speakers.

Separate Lists Are Too Inflexible

The person in charge of each area could make their own list. The room setup person would have a list of rooms. The speaker booker would have a list of which speakers are where, when, and so on. That would work, but it doesn’t give people any way to quickly see an overview with everything on it. The overview is necessary to coordinate between areas.

Don’t Organize Event Actions Using a Grid!

When I was organizing for the play, I first tried a grid. As you know from "Chapter 5: Stay Organized" in my book Get-it-Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More (available at your favorite retailer), I love grids! Each row was a scene. Column one was prop to bring on or off, column two was the entrance to use, etc. It was beautifully organized, but it didn’t work. Even when I knew which scene we were on, I was never quite sure if I should look in the props column for my props, or the “cue” column to know what line to enter on, or somewhere else.

Then a light bulb went off. As I was stumbling around in the dark, looking for a replacement bulb, a burst of insight provided the answer. 


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