Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Top Tips for Running the Perfect Event

A CILIP in London Session at the Sekforde Arms

This was the first time I’ve been to one of the CILIP in London events at the Sekforde Arms. That’s a shame because they are a great idea. I will definitely be attending them in the future. CILIP’s London branch organises regular sessions in the upper room of the pub. For each session they invite a speaker who is an authority on a particular area of professional interest, in this case organising events.

The sessions are run in the evening and they are free for CILIP members so if you are finding it hard to get to training events because of financial and time restraints then these sessions are definitely worth looking into. There is a £5 charge for non-members, which is still very reasonable.

You are expected to book in advance so they know how many people to expect. Their email address is:

More importantly the Sekforde Arms is a very nice old-fashioned pub with a good selection of beers. I can vouch for it because it is right round the corner from my old university, good old City. A fact which had completely failed to register before I looked up where the event was. I also completely failed to notice that these free training events were happening right under my nose when I was studying Library Science just round the corner. I won’t dwell too much on my own failings here. I will learn the lesson and try to be a bit more alert in the future.

Our speaker for the evening was Tracy Kent. She is a Subject Librarian at the University of Birmingham. More relevantly for this session she is also the Training Coordinator for the CILIP special interest group UKeiG (United Kindom Electronic Information Group). That role naturally involves organising lots of events including training days and large conferences. She drew on that experience to give us no less than fifteen top tips.

1. Decide on the key objective of the event and who your speakers will be. Plan early.

She strongly emphasised the idea that your event should have a USP. This will make your advertising more effective but it will also help you to organise the event. It will help you to think about who your audience are and what you expect them to gain from your event.

2. Think about your choice of speakers and how you are going to manage them.

Speakers can clearly make or break a session. They have to be an expert on the relevant topic but they also have to be good at engaging an audience. Being an expert doesn’t automatically make you a good speaker.

Make sure that the speaker is completely clear about what you want them to talk about. She gave us various anecdotes about speakers who stood up and talked about something completely different to the agreed topic. Apparently it’s not uncommon for speakers to go off on a tangent or just vent about something that’s annoying them at work.

Tracy included choosing the right chairman under this tip. They need to know the topic well and they should be well informed about the speaker(s). That will make the questions / discussion element of the session run much smoother.

3. Decide on a realistic budget and stick to it (as best you can).

Plan this bit carefully. Set out what is covered. What are you going to provide for speakers? They need to be clear about this and your planning needs to go down to the details. Who is paying for the photocopying? Are you feeding the speakers? And so on.

Interestingly she recommended setting aside 10% of your budget to deal with emergencies.

If you are looking for funding then the key is to have a clear pitch which outlines what you are trying to achieve, how it will benefit the community and why you think it will succeed. Keep it reasonably simple and easy for others to repeat.

4. Decide on your project management style.

Deciding on a ‘style’ involves fundamental issues like are you organising this on your own or working with a team? If you are working with a team then meetings should result in clear action points assigned to named individuals. Draw up timelines for each activity. You can’t do everything at once.

Keep a plan. This should be clear and detailed enough for someone else to cover the event if you walk in front of a bus.

5. Decide on an appropriate venue and where delegates want to go.

This will be a large, perhaps the largest, chunk of your budget. Think about what you and your delegates want from the venue.

It is often possible to do deals with a venue in order to bring the price down. Offering them free spaces for their staff in exchange for a discount is the classic approach.

Think about the technology you need but don’t feel obliged to use something just because it is there. Arrange to have a technician available on the day to make sure everything is set up correctly and to deal with any gremlins.

6. Lay out a clear plan.

To do lists are very important. Include a list of potential problems and planned solutions.

7. Advertise, advertise, advertise.

It is fairly obvious why this is important. You need people to come.

8. Decide on the catering and keep caterers up to date with numbers and requirements.

Tracy highlighted the importance of thinking about why you are providing food. Is the food there to help people to network, to encourage people to come or just because it is lunchtime and people will be hungry? The purpose of the meal should shape your decisions about what kind of food to provide and how to serve it.

9. Always keep the delegates and the speaker(s) in mind.

Keep everyone informed in the run-up to the event. Look at everything from a delegate’s perspective. Put yourself in their shoes.

10. Add in the “X Factor”.

Think about entertainment. This will involve using the advice from the last tip. Will delegates want a really hard quiz after a tough day’s training? Will anyone want to sing karaoke?

Entertainment also involves checking practicalities like equipment, physical space and license requirements.

11. Check, check and rehearse!

Check everything. Make sure any arrangement with anyone (the venue, speakers, delegates etc) is in writing and confirmed.

12. Prepare meeting material.

Think about the material you will give the delegates. Find a balance between keeping them informed and weighing them down. Spend time on the design of your materials and proof read all of it.

13. On the ground the day before…

Put up signposts. Ask someone else to check if they are easy to follow.

14. On the ground on the day…

You will need a checklist of things to do. It should include what needs to be where and who is responsible for what. Make sure someone is responsible for looking after the speaker(s) when they arrive.

15. After the event…

Get some feedback from delegates. That will help you to improve future events. Thank the speakers. It’s polite and you might want to work with them again. If possible it’s good practice to make presentations available to delegates after the event.


As you can see we all walked away with lots of excellent tips for running an event. I have no immediate plans to set one up myself but when I do I will feel much more confident about it thanks to this session. Event management is a very useful skill set to have. It’s something that I plan to develop in the future.

Thank you to Tracy Kent and the CILIP in London team.

The next Sekforde Arms session will be on 9th January 2012. It’s entitled “What’s happened to Copyright Law?” and the speaker will be Charles Oppenheim from the University of Loughborough. The LIS in London Calendar entry I read said these plans are subject to change so check with CILIP in London nearer the time if you are interested. See you at the bar?

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