How to plan successful events and meetings
Whether you’re an admin or an engineer, there are some skills that will come in handy no matter what. Being able to organize events and meetings effectively is one of those skills–good organizational skills and tools will help you in virtually any field. If you’re in an administrative role and need to take the lead on planning a meeting or event but don’t know where to start–we’ve got you covered! Let’s look at the basics you’ll need.
Pre-organize your meeting or event.
Before you get started, make sure you understand everything you’ll need to have in place. Take notes so you remember all the elements. (Nothing fancy–this is for your own reference.)
For meetings, that means making sure you know…
- What’s the topic?
- What’s the goal (desired outcome) of the meeting?
- Who needs to be there?
- Is it happening in your office, or somewhere else?
- Will people outside of your company be attending?
- Should you arrange for food or drinks to be available (like coffee, breakfast foods, sandwiches)?
- What kind of tech or tools will the attendees need (like access to presentation software, a projector screen, a white board, etc.)?
For events like conferences or parties, that means making sure you know…
- Who should be attending?
- Do speakers’ schedules need to be coordinated?
- Is there a tentative schedule for the event, or will you need to figure out the timing?
- Does a location or facility need to be booked? If so, how many rooms are necessary?
- Will people be traveling to attend this event?
- Will attendees need to have any travel arrangements made?
- Is there a social component (lunch, dinner, drinks)?
- What are the catering needs?
- What kind of technology will presenters and attendees need?
- Does the event require programs, handouts, or anything else that needs to be designed or printed?
If you’re being asked to organize the event, make sure you have all of the details from your boss or whomever is requesting the event. Don’t be shy about asking questions–you don’t want to miss something, and have to scramble later.
Choose an organizational tool for your event.
Ask yourself: how do you best stay organized? Do you function best when you have information physically in front of you? Or do you function best when you have all the information you need at your fingertips on your phone or tablet? The great thing is that you can go as technological as you want here–there are a number of helpful business event planning apps out there, like Sched or Planning Pod.
Create specific folders on your computer, so you can store any documents, emails, and notes. If you prefer a more old-school method, try using a binder, which you can divide into relevant sections:
- Vendor information
- Receipts and invoices
- Attendee information
Organizational planners with calendars (like the kind you get at your local office supply store) can also be helpful, especially if you have a long lead time and specific deadlines you need to meet along the way. The most important thing is to pick a method that works best for you and stick with it.
Set a timeline for your event planning.
Before you move ahead with inviting people or booking a space for your meeting or event, sit down and plan a timeline.
- When is the event taking place?
- What milestones will you need to hit before then?
- How much time will each of those steps take?
Once you know your own planning schedule, set reminders along the way to make sure you’re checking everything off from your to-do list. Again, whatever format works best for you is good. You can build reminders in via your work email platform (like Outlook or Gmail) or set them on your phone or tablet. The most important part is that the reminders aren’t easily missed or ignored.
Master your meeting plan.
If you’re planning more of an everyday meeting, many of these principles still apply. Being organized is the key; even if it’s a budget summit with five people or a basic sales meeting, you want it to run just as smoothly as if you’re planning a conference. The timeline for meeting setup is likely more condensed; you or your boss may need to set up a meeting in the near future, so your timeline is even more important, even if you have fewer to-dos.
Get your meeting on everyone’s calendar.
One of the first things you should do for your meeting (after answering the questions outlined earlier) is make sure that everyone who needs to be there is available. Juggling multiple calendars can be tricky, especially if your company doesn’t have a synced calendar system (like Outlook) where you can see if another employee is booked during a particular time, or if you’re including people from outside of your company. One way to get the ball rolling is to send out an email to the necessary attendees, offer them blocks of time for potential meeting slots, and let them weigh in on what works best. For example:
I’m setting up a one-hour meeting to talk about the year-end results, and wanted to confirm what time works best for the group. Can you please let me know if any of the times below do not work for you?
Monday 12/1, between 2:00 and 4:00
Wednesday, 12/3, between 10:00 and 11:30
Thursday, 12/4, between 9:30 and 11:30
Ideally, everyone in the group can make one (or more) of the times you give them. If they can’t, well, then you have to start playing a bit of meeting Jenga, finding a time that works for the most people (while making sure that you’re not excluding someone who absolutely needs to be there). But at least you have a starting point for everyone’s availability.
Set your meeting agenda.
One of the biggest meeting pet peeves is that the meetings aren’t focused enough or don’t have a set agenda of discussion points, and waste time on things that might not be necessary. The best way to counteract this is to send a detailed agenda ahead of time, making sure that everyone involved knows what will be discussed. That way, Bill can prepare his notes on the project status and Susan can be ready to talk about her recent trip to corporate headquarters to talk about quarterly earnings. If you’re running the meeting yourself, the agenda gives you a ready outline to keep things moving. And if you’re not the one running the meeting but are organizing on someone else’s behalf, you can ask him or her for the agenda points they’d like to discuss. That not only helps keep you on track for organizing everything well, but also helps your boss prepare as well. It also gives you a ready-made template for notes after the meeting because then you can just add bullet points and next steps
When you send out the agenda, be clear about the expectations of the meeting. Is it just an informational meeting? Will there be a presentation? Are participants expected to brainstorm? If everyone knows what’s expected of them, then it will be a more productive meeting (and if someone isn’t prepared after you did all this advance work, that’s not on you as the organizer!).
Be ready to follow up on your meeting.
This is especially important if you’re running the meeting yourself. Make sure you take notes during the meeting, keeping track of the main points, conclusions, or action items that people will need to do next. Afterward, send out those notes to the group. I find that these notes don’t need to be super-detailed–an outline with bullet points and clearly identified sections is usually welcome. People tend to skim or glaze over large chunks of narrative text and may miss some crucial information. If there are any next steps that are required from any meeting attendees, make sure those are presented clearly so that everyone understands what’s expected of them.
If you’re organizing the meeting for a boss or someone else and you won’t be attending the meeting yourself, be sure to ask if that person wants you to send out any notes or follow-up correspondence to the group. And if a follow-up meeting is necessary, restart this whole process as soon as possible so that it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind.
Organizational skills are a resume winner for just about every field. And if you’re going into an administrative job, being able to wrangle every kind of event–from small meetings to big to-dos–will make you extremely valuable. These are skills everyone can develop with a bit of practice, diligence, and help from organizational tools that can save you from your own human forgetfulness. Before long, you’ll be impressing your bosses with how smoothly your events go and earning much deserved credit for getting and keeping everything organized and running well.