A worst case scenario: The director of a beloved annual city marathon fails to secure the permits needed from the host county, then cancels the race and fails to provide refunds to registrants who were notified by email with an inadequate explanation two-weeks out. The director’s email address kicks back a “mailbox unavailable” response, leaving participants no way to contact the director with questions.
This describes an actual situation in Boulder, Colorado where the county is suing that director and has banned him from running any marathons or races in that county for seven years. An extreme example of how not to organize a major public sporting event for sure, but one that illustrates how bad things can go when plans are not well thought out and executed.
The best event organizers develop and follow a clear master plan for keeping events on track, and maintain a solid line of communication with team members before, during and after the event.
“Begin with the end in mind,”
says Ian Fitzpatrick, former head of the 10,000 person Australian Masters Games –and current COO of fusesport®. “Define what success would look like and make a plan that leads to that outcome, with incremental steps built in along the way.”
Fitzpatrick says it is easy to get overwhelmed and lose track of what should be happening at any given time leading up to an event, so a clear timeline with spelled out roles and check lists for team members is essential.
Fitzpatrick’s Top 10 event organizer survival tips:
1. Create an overall OPERATION PLAN, broken down into bite-sized chunks of responsibilities.
2. DELEGATE tasks to team members with deadlines for updates and completion.
3. Write up 90, 60, 30 and 10-day ACTION PLANS leading up to the event.
4. IDENTIFY AND PRIORITIZE absolutely critical elements and designate everything else a secondary concern.
5. MAP OUT where all event collateral will go and assign who will be responsible for getting items in place and picked up afterward.
6. Devise a RISK MANAGEMENT MATRIX identifying the areas that have risks associated with them, graded on the likelihood of occurrence, with a response strategy for all possible problems, both leading up to and during the event.
7. KNOW KEY RESOURCES in the area. Where is the nearest emergency room and should you arrange to have an ambulance on-site? Is there a nearby store where you can make a run for ice or other items in a pinch? Are there media outlets that may cover your event, and if so who will be your designated spokesperson? Are there security concerns?
8. KNOW YOUR COSTS and be prepared to make adjustments to the budget. If a minimum registration number is needed to cover the cost of the event, determine how far out you will need to hit that number to confirm. If there is a chance you will have to cancel because of low participation, set a date for making that decision and have a plan ready for reimbursements.
9. Set the HAND OVER DATE for a few days out from the event and shift into the role of supervising. Be ready with contingency plans if an event-impacting scenario such as severe weather occurs, but otherwise let your team do their thing.
10. Finally, have a thorough wrap up session within days of the event. The leadership team should sit down and go through the entire event from planning to clean up and write an EVENT REPORT for future reference.
“You can tell how well an event was planned by the mood of the volunteers on event day. If they have been well-trained they will be enjoying themselves and helping participants have a good experience also. If they are standing around looking grumpy, the overall mood of the event is likely to feel the same,” Fitzpatrick said.
The sign of a job well done is an organizer on event day simply cruising around, dropping off drinks to volunteers at the check in desks and operating on-call rather than running around in a frenzy and feeling completely fried at the end of the day.