Large events have countless moving pieces and rely on a team of individuals to execute – event planners, vendors, stakeholders and sometimes even volunteers. It can take a small army to pull off an event! And while an experienced event planner will have a great run of show, project plan or master schedule, how do they communicate with that small army when those well laid plans change? Here are some suggestions on managing the communications beast onsite:
The easiest answer to communicating with your team onsite is relying on cell phones, but it’s not always practical. Depending on the venue, you might not have cell service for all the major carriers. Or if you’re onsite at a major event such as a festival, the cell towers might get overloaded. Always check on coverage for the major cell services during your site visit (and check ALL the areas you might use during your event – don’t forget the staff office in the far corner of the hotel basement!) but also have a back up plan in case cell phones don’t work.
Regardless of whether cell phones will be a primary mode of communication for your team, take the time to program in everyone’s numbers ahead of the event. You don’t want to be searching through an email or excel doc to find someone’s number when you really need it! A few days before a major event, I like to grab some time on my couch with a glass of wine and a guilty pleasure TV show or movie and use that time to program in all the numbers. Just one glass of wine though – I need to make sure the phone numbers are correct!
Group texts are a useful tool (but be aware of the maximum number of individuals on a text chain). If there are certain sub-teams or role types (for example, all of the people working registration, or all of the speaker handlers), make a group text ahead of time so it’s easy to send a quick note to the relevant people.
Some event planners have stopped using radios in favor of cell phones, but for some events radios are still the best bet since they are more reliable. If you are using radios, consider providing a quick training on radio best practices, especially if many on your team haven’t used radios before. Improperly used radios are worse than no radios at all. Make sure your team knows how to operate the radio, to speak clearly, and to use short, concise language.
It may be impractical for all of your team members to have radios, but certain roles or team leads might need them. If only specific members of your team have radios, make sure the whole team knows who those individuals are so others can find them if they need to send a message over radio – it’s still the fastest way to communicate.
Decision makers & chain of command
It’s important for everyone on the team to understand who makes which decisions, from the small (who is responsible for getting the hotel to refresh the coffee? Ideally you don’t want five different people telling the banquet staff the same thing) to the major (a speaker didn’t show – are we canceling the session or finding a replacement?). Even more important, everyone should understand the chain of command should an emergency arise. Your event’s chain of command will depend on your venue and their security procedures, as well as your own internal procedures. Take the time to write them out and distribute to your entire team before the event.
Communicating with attendees
Don’t forget to have a plan on how you will reach your guests. You may need to let them know about a schedule change or remind them what time the buses leave, or you may need to let them know about a serious emergency. Have a system in place ahead of time that you can quickly deploy if necessary. You may want to have a distribution list set up to quickly email everyone. Or if your event has a mobile app you can deploy push notifications. In case of an emergency onsite, work with your venue security to decide how you would notify guests of the need to evacuate or shelter in place.
The most important aspect of communicating with your team onsite is having a plan ahead of time that you can deploy as necessary, rather than try to find a solution in the middle of the event. Build in some redundancies or plan B’s if your original plan doesn’t work, and make sure your team knows how to reach one another. Share any other tips for communicating with your team onsite in the comments!
Written by: Amanda Luppino-Esposito