It’s Party Time – How To Organise An Event

Now that we’ve survived the onslaught of coverage about Pippa Middleton’s wedding – ironically I’ve now added to it – you really don’t need to spend over £1million to host a great party, whether that’s a wedding, birthday, summer barbeque, product launch or conference etc. Basically, any event where you’ll have lots of guests who need feeding, liquid refreshment and entertaining.

Last weekend was the culmination of months of preparation for a friend’s big birthday bash. She had people flying in from South Africa and Canada, travelling down from Scotland, the Midlands, Home Counties and locally to where she lives, 90 guests in all. The party was a huge success and I got lots of compliments for my organisation and being the ‘ringmistress’ throughout the event. One kind person even said I was so good at it I should do it for a living – I didn’t have the heart to tell them I’ve been organising events for over 30 years.

Here are my Top Ten Tips for Event Management, however big or small the event might be:

  1. Preparation and attention to detail. You have to be willing to plan everything in forensic detail and always have at least a plan b and c in case anything should go wrong. The success of the event will be down to the preparation you put in beforehand.
  2. Make lists: who to invite, what to eat and drink, how to decorate the venue and tables, invitation design, giveaways or merchandise etc (there’s a free event management checklist on my website )
  3. Decide on a budget and stick to it. It’s not worth bankrupting yourself over a party. You can negotiate costs with suppliers, be selective on how many guests to invite if necessary, keep décor, merchandise and if required, entertainment to the minimum unless you have plenty to spend on something more lavish.
  4. Choose the right venue. My friend initially wanted to hire an expensive upmarket hotel and take over all the rooms for people to stay in. I told her that people were coming from different continents to celebrate her and they didn’t need a fancy place and fancy food in which to do it.
  5. Save the date and invitation list. Give your guests plenty of advanced warning so that they can come or possibly re arrange their diaries
  6. What’s the style/theme? It doesn’t matter whether you have a small, medium or large budget, you can still do a party or event in style even without spending a fortune. A large budget might give you more flexibility, especially if it is a corporate event but for a family party you really don’t need to worry if you can’t flash the cash. For my friend’s event I persuaded her to use the hall in the village where she used to live and still has friends, many of whom were coming to her party. As she was celebrating an iconic birthday I suggested we select a host of pictures from her past to decorate the buffet table all and choose shots of each guest, print them up and leave a space for them to write a comment. She treasures all of these pictures and the messages her friends left. We added helium balloons for table decorations, simple floral arrangements and a ton of party confetti. With bright white linen tablecloths the room was transformed.
  7. Refreshments I told my friend to keep it simple as her friends will make the party a success, all they need is plenty of drink and good simple food. The posh hotel was rejected in favour of the village hall, a local caterer was hired for a two course lunch instead of fancier haute cuisine and canapes. She bought the drink – pink champagne, wine, beer, juice, – from a cash and carry. Choosing the menu is important and you have to cater for all possible tastes :meat, vegetarian, allergies etc.
  8. Make sure you have an organiser or ringmistress (as I was called) who is responsible for the smooth running of the event. The organiser helps to set up the room and checks absolutely everything is in place. They arrive first and test any AV or electrical equipment. They liaise with the suppliers and any staff that have been hired. They welcome guests and ensure that no one is left standing on their own. They take control but remain very much in the background. I thoroughly enjoyed my friend’s party while keeping a hawkeye on the proceedings. The organiser is the last to leave – at the village hall we had a team of friends packing up the tables while I swept the floor. The cleaner will be finding bits of confetti until Xmas.
  9. You need to have a schedule of the event. For a corporate event there are meetings with clients to talk through the day/lunch/evening. Same with my friend, we met up five days before to run through an itinerary and ensure that the timings were what she wanted. When to sit down for lunch, speeches, live music etc
  10. Enjoy yourself. You have to be an ‘oasis’ of calm while having a big smile on your face no matter what you have to deal with (in my case very early arrivers and a nasty grumpy old man who threatened to pull the plug if I didn’t turn the music off).If you look worried anxious or stressed you will spread it like a virus to other people and especially the party or event giver. You can and must solve anything that crops up.

By the time I got home I was exhausted and passed out for 3 hours as I’d been up since 5am. In some ways a party for a friend is even more stressful than for a client but in the end you just want them both to be happy.