An event might feel like a marathon… But it’s not.

By Chris Parnham

Many of my team are taking part in the 5K Challenge, to raise money for the frontline hero’s who are help us through this terrible pandemic.  As I was undertaking my own 5K, I wondered why so many event managers treat an event like a Marathon, because it certainly isn’t one…

When you take on a Marathon, you undertake a degree of training, all building you up to the big day. When the day comes you prepare your body and mind, you gather your equipment and off you go. You focus on the finish line and you try to pace your energy and effort throughout the entire route in order to make it the end. The first kilometre requires the exact same process as the last, although you get more tired, you are simply powering through from start to finish, in order to get to the end.

Adopting this methodology for producing events is a mistake made by many event managers, and it is completely flawed.

When planning an event, you don’t only think about the finish line. And you don’t run full steam towards the finish, right from the start. You break the race down into time-based objectives. You don’t even consider the end until you are well into the race, you just focus on the lap you are running. More like a relay.

Lap one is about defining the purpose and objectives of the event and setting the budget. This stage sets the foundations for everything that follows, and if missed out, you may end up delivering an event that serves no purpose, or worse still, ends up being little more than a waste of time. At this stage; the destination, the venue, the content and the menus are not important; as these things should be directly influenced by the decisions made in lap one, objective setting and budget. Any effort invested on these things here will most likely be thrown away after decisions have been made in lap two.

Lap two is about defining and locking down the physical parameters of the event, the things that once confirmed are fixed and cannot move. These then form the walls of the event. They include the destination, the venue(s), the start and end times, and the number of attendees. As with any relay race, different skills and different people are required to run this lap. The strategic input is required in lap one, but here in lap two, destination knowledge is key.

Lap three introduces two disciplines that run in parallel: budgeting and creativity. As lap two defines the walls of the event, creativity can now kick in to work on the content, the insides. What will fill the agenda in order to achieve the event objectives defined in lap one? Also, it’s key to work on the budget in this lap, as creativity is the biggest enemy of budget. Creativity has no limits, budgets have. Again, new players are required here. This is where the designers, the strategist and the producers come in.

Lap four is where the true event management kicks in, and even though the logistics specialist has been in the race from lap one, to keep everyone else in the real world, this is where they move to the front and take the lead on pace and positioning. As plans and agendas are starting to form, it’s important to see how this will be executed in the real world. Do these ideas actually work in practise and how can the whole event programme be made smooth, effortless and enjoyable for the delegates? Bringing the logistics expert to the front earlier can stifle the creative process, so they come in here, where they can turn ideas into reality.

Lap five is the penultimate lap, and the longest. It’s also where the routines of planning, adapting, communicating, deadline management and risk avoidance come into play. Like any race, this is where you can lose everything or incur serious injuries. Steady as she goes, with the finish line in sight, but always remembering the effort invested and the outcomes of the earlier laps.

Lap six is the race to the finish. From arriving on site to prepare, right through rehearsal and delivery this is where the most physical energy is invested and it feels like the longest lap of all, but if earlier laps are completed well, it should feel like auto-pilot for the team, as they execute well-developed plans with calm and elegance.

When planning your next event, don’t let your team or your client focus on the finish line or get trapped in details that should come later, as this only creates wasted effort and work. Take it one lap at a time, define each lap clearly and decide who is required to power through each lap.

Only by running an event like a relay can you guarantee a successful experience that makes your client, your colleagues and your delegates happy. It will limit wasted effort by focusing everyone on short term deliverables, rather than the finish. That way delivering the very best end, because an event isn’t all about the finish, and if executed well, it’s a team relay race, with everyone taking a turn to take the lead.

The ACE team and its clients have contributed more than £20,000 to charities and good causes, over the last 12 months, including our wonderful NHS.