Yukon first nations dancers at Atlin Music Festival

A conference is just a festival without music

After having produced hundreds of live events, shows, conferences, workshops and festivals, we are still surprised by how often we find ourselves standing in the rain with an envelope for a late-coming artist, speaker or supplier or shivering on the tarmac to meet a late coming plane and thinking: ‘why do we do this?’  The same can be said for that moment before every conference registration table opens and we are left wondering if we got the lanyards, registrations, sponsors and packages right.  

Our experiences have taught us that the reward for the sleepless nights and the endless days of event management is in delivering events that matter, that transform people, that showcase a destination, that give people the opportunity to learn and grow, and that keep people safe, organized and ‘on-time’ while they do it.  It has also taught us that the reason that we have been successful in this industry is because of a few very important qualities that we’ve learned to develop in our team, and that should exist in any event planning company that you hire.


  1.  Establish Goals


Pick three.  It might seem strange to spend time with your team figuring out your critical goals for an event, but it is the basis for all successful event planning.  Coming up with three things that you hope to achieve with your event will help with decision-making, workflow, task-assignment and scheduling.  Themes are fun to work with, but goals are concrete measures that we can use to gauge success.


  1. Pace Yourself


In our early days of event planning, we would jump enthusiastically into planning well in advance of the event, putting effort into fleshing out small details that would change as soon as the bigger picture took shape.  Sequencing in event management is important.  We had to learn how to trace work-back schedules in order to ensure that root plans were put in place before we spend needless hours designing centrepieces or side-socials that don’t fit with the overall theme of the event.


  1. Move on Quickly


You will be disappointed.  This is a fact of planning any event, conference or meeting.  You will have an idea, concept, or ideal supplier in mind, and you will discover that something about it will not work, or they aren’t available, or they are too expensive.  Move on.  Don’t waste time and energy on trying to figure out how to make your dreams come true.  Consider your goals and improvise.


  1. Trust Other People


Delegate fearlessly, assign tasks to the talented team that is working alongside you, and have faith in their ability to deliver.  Then follow up to see if they need assistance, or simply your gratitude.  Success in event planning lies in empowering others, and recognizing their contributions to the outcome.


  1. Master Decision Making


Successful events are a series of decisions made, with the most critical being deciding who will have ultimate decision-making authority.  Once this established, all work should flow through them with a view to keeping things on-track and on-target.  Also critical is informing the team about who this person is, both in case of emergency and in the day-to-day planning.


  1. Systems Work


The best event planners and coordinators have systems that they rely on in order to make their events go smoothly.  Event planning software, online volunteer programs, apps and other tools are used by the best event planners.  These resources are frequently costly to purchase for one-off events, but the best planners have access to them, and use them regularly to make efficient use of their time and that of their team.


  1. Communicate and Appreciate


Your team needs to know what is happening.  Successful event planners do not store all of the information about the event in their heads or their notebooks (or colour coded tabbed binders like some of our team favour), they effectively share the details of the event plan with team members at every step of the way.  Informed teams are appreciated teams, and will function with more enthusiasm and greater effectiveness than teams that are constantly looking for information. 


  1. Do the Heavy Lifting


You have to be willing to do the heavy lifting if something goes wrong.  Successful event planners understand the protocols for loading and unloading road cases, arranging last minute logistical challenges, and for hanging pipe and drape at 3 am.  As the adage goes:  ‘the show must go on,’ and the best teams are successful because they deliver what they say they are going to deliver in the timeframe they say we are going to deliver it.


  1. Be Resourceful


The event planning rolodex has been replaced by spreadsheets and databases of contacts in cities across Canada. This enables planners to ensure that they have the right people at the right time to do the things that are needed to pull off an event anywhere in Canada.  Whether it is something common or something obscure, the best event planners are extremely connected and comfortable in their communities, and can pull together whatever is needed to make an event successful.


  1. Plan for Emergencies


The unexpected can happen, but the best event planners expect it, and plan for it.  Event and crisis management are particular strengths of our team, with members who have studied crowd management, event safety and emergency planning.  The best planners are ready for change, even the least anticipated ones.  Keeping event attendees safe, comfortable and organized makes everyone feel that an event is well-managed.


  1. Understand Your Sponsors


Most events depend on some kind of funding or in-kind support to be done. We’ve learned it's best to develop a personal relationship with the event sponsors and understand their goals and purpose for supporting the event. This allows for outside the box thinking in promoting their support. We’ve heard from sponsors who are repeat supporters at our events that they like working with us because we take the time to understand their needs.


After two decades of developing these qualities, Outcrop is ready to take on the challenge of any event.  Regardless of whether it is a music festival for thousands of people or a meeting of only twenty.  Let us help you make a festival out of your meeting, or a conference out of your live event.


Angela Drainville is the General Manager of Outcrop Yukon, the Producer of the Atlin Arts & Music Festival, and an event and conference planner with more than 20 years experience.  She is a crowd management and health and safety specialist who has produced thousands of live events, large and small, across Canada.