organising it seemed like learning experience that could usefully be recorded for myself for the future, and for others to share, so here goes:
First consider the following questions:
- What, really, is the main purpose of the event? Why are you having it at all?
- What are the key aims of the event? Expand on the answer to the question above and get specific and measureable. What information are you seeking to convey and/or gather? To whom? How many attendees do you need to / would you like to get?
- What factors should you consider in choosing a location? Have you thought about travel to the event for your participants? Accessibility of the venue choices? Any equipment you need? Capacity?
- What factors should you consider in choosing the date and time of the event? What options will maximise your potential audience? Are there any access implications (e.g. travel time for early starts or late finishes).
- Will you need any special equipment or materials?
- Will you want catering? What sort, and to what extent will you be able to predict numbers in advance?
- How will you want attendees to sign up to say they are coming (if at all). Will it be OK for people to just show up even if they didn’t register? How might this affect your arrangements?
Once you have answers to all of the above, you should have a good picture of all the factors you need to consider when actually organising the venue, the date and time, and any other details. Sit down and work through it all a few times to consider where the answers to one question might affect the answers to others, and make sure you have considered any knock-on implications and find a balance between choices and how they affect each of your aims. Some choices might make achieving good attendance numbers likely, but not give you the right mix of attendee type, for instance. Once you feel you have a good understanding of all the factors, start locking down details of an event plan.
- Investigate venue options and date availability. Once you find a suitable venue with a suitable available date which allows enough time for you to get things done you can really start to fill out your organisational plan.
- With a date and venue fixed, work out a time-plan of organisation. The best method for this is the “Gantt” chart, where you work your way backwards from the event date and consider how long you need to do each task and the date by which each thing needs to be done. In this way, you will be sure to allow enough time for tasks which must be done before other tasks can be started. Build in extra contingency time wherever possible – allow for unexpected delays and issues.
- Ensure you plan your event promotion to take place well in advance so your audience has time to find out about it, get it in their own diaries and sign up. If you have speakers to invite, ask them as soon as possible.
- Be sure to ask questions of the venue staff about access, equipment, room layout options, etc early on so you have time to consider any needed alternative arrangements.
- Ensure your event invite includes a request for anyone with access needs to inform you of these as soon as possible. Booking communication support, for example, can take time and you may need to book well in advance to guarantee the date you need.
- Providing multiple routes to register to attend can be useful and help accessibility. E-mail, phone or web-based forms are all good options. The easier it is, the better. Consider sending out reminders to registered participants close to the date.
- Ensure you organise staff support in advance – who among your colleagues will be helping out? What tasks do you need covered? Have you got someone arranged for: Taking notes, Welcoming and registering people as they show up, Roving mics, Group facilitators, dealing with jackets, taking photographs, etc, etc. Try to have someone in reserve that can cover should someone have to drop out or fall ill.
Close to the event
- Be aware of any deadlines your venue / event staff may have set, such as last date for adjustments to numbers for catering, chairs, etc.
- Once you have all the details locked down, produce a briefing note for all staff and speakers. This should include a planned running order, and clear notes on who is doing what all the way through the event, starting from the moment you start setting up right through to everything being cleared up and taken away at the end. Copying this to the event/venue staff can be very helpful and may even be requested by them in advance. Make sure you keep a copy handy for yourself!
- Double check expected numbers and catering provision
- Double check any support staff bookings, e.g. comms support, couriers to deliver/collect materials, etc
- Make sure you have any materials printed at least a day or two before the event, in case anything goes wrong and you need time to fix it.
On the day
- Try to relax – you planned everything, you sorted it out in advance, it should be fine
- Use your own briefing note and running order
- Try to avoid getting bogged down dealing with some small issue when you have more important things to do and need to keep an eye on everything else. Delegate.
- As the event progresses, look for signs of feed back from participants that might flag up issues you could fix. Consider if any alterations might be of benefit for later in the day and make sure relevant staff are all informed so they can adjust.
- Try to keep a mental, or even better a written note of anything that is worth remembering for next time and learning from.
- Are you doing evaluation forms? Make sure people know about them and are asked to fill them in at a timely point in the event. Make sure they get collected in, too.
After the event
- Thanks the staff and helpers for playing their part in the events success – especially any volunteers, and speakers or external trainers that helped you out, etc.
- Send a follow-up e-mail to inform everyone of the result of the event and thank them again
- If relevant, send a follow up note to participants to thanks them for their attendance and provide any notes, copies of presentations or any write-up.
- Sit down and record any learning points, the result of any evaluation forms, decide what should be done different next time if appropriate and make sure this is recorded in such a way that it will be used when that time comes.
Some Parliament-specific notes:
- An MSP must agree to act as the “host” or “sponsor” of your event
- Events cannot be of a “party political” nature, nor can they be fundraising events or “launch” events, e.g. for books.
- Invitations to MSPs should be sent in the first instance by the host MSP, not by you directly
- External invitations may not make use of the Scottish Parliament logo, must mention the name of the host MSP and should include a request to be informed of any special access needs.
- Rooms are free for valid event requests, but catering has to be paid for and is not cheap, so look into this early on.
- Parliament business takes priority, so be prepared for the possibility that your event start may be slightly delayed if a meeting runs late in the room you are using. Generally for committee rooms and the Chamber itself, you can only get access after 5pm during regular Parliamentary business days.
- The Events Team provide very clear guidelines on deadlines by which you should inform them of details such as how you want the room laid out, equipment, deliveries, catering, expected numbers, etc. Be sure to plan accordingly.
- MSPs are notoriously difficult to pin down for attendance, due to the often hectic nature of their work. Allow for the fact that you will likely have quite late signups, and some will sign up but not attend while others will not sign up but then just show up on the night. Consider what other events may be calling on their attention on certain dates and if possible avoid clashing with anything big.
- MSPs are out in their constituencies Monday and Friday, and Thursday’s are when the big votes take place in the Chamber and generally MSPs head home immediately after, so these days should be avoided. Wednesday’s are apparently the best option, in terms of Parliament business, but are therefore more popular for bookings so Tuesdays are also worth looking at.
- You cannot take pictures or recordings of events without prior written permission from your host MSP (which should be copied to the Events team) and you should ensure that guests are aware this will be taking place. This should only happen within the public areas of the building.
- Warn external guests that they should aim to arrive at the Public entrance early to allow time to pass through security.