Updated: Jun 6
All of the stories shared throughout this post are 100% factual stories. Not all of these situations happened at the same event, however, for easy reading we included them in the blog in the order in which they would happen at one event.
This post is like nothing I’ve shared before. A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with Kera Wasserbach, who is a collaborative partner of mine and my second in command at events, and I said, “I wonder if people really know what goes on behind the scenes at events?”
See, as event planners/coordinators/producers, we’re used to underplaying what happens to make things possible. In fact, that’s our JOB- to make sure everything is stress-free for all involved in the process. In fact, there are so many times that we're asked what is really going on back there, and it’s so tough to articulate because the answer is everything and it’s all happening in the moment. So, we sat down and really took the time to recollect the experiences of what it’s like to run an event, scrolled through countless photos and now, we're taking you inside an event - pulling back the curtain to reveal what is really happening backstage!
From the outside looking in, everything at an event seems to take place without much effort (exactly how it should be perceived). People and things are where they’re supposed to be. Everything seems to flow easily and effortlessly, without skipping a beat. When in reality, there can (and usually is) chaos behind the scenes that only a select few know about.
As event planners, we’re there to support our clients in every way possible - anything they ask, no matter what. “I’m right on top of that, Rose!” (shameless early-90’s film reference)
When we’re on-site at an event, our goal is to over-deliver, giving the host everything they are dreaming of for their event. This often involves putting out fires or shifting direction at a moment's notice, which means we have to use our expertise to achieve results quickly while at the same time, setting and managing expectations so that they are prepared for how what each decision will entail and how it will impact their overall event. (Will it cost money? Will it change the schedule? Does it need time for production to prepare- i.e. should we add an impromptu break to allow it to be set up properly?). There’s a lot that goes into even the smallest changes, and we strive to make it look effortless to the audience!
Because as an event host, our clients have BIG PLANS and big plans mean endless amounts of details. All it takes is just one of those little details going off course to throw everything for a loop. So we always have contingency plans in place, and backup plans for those plans, etc. It’s not as simple as taking one piece of the puzzle out and putting one piece back in again. Most of the time, the simplest change can result in the need to reconfigure multiple other details to make everything fit back together again — and with a clock ticking in your ear.
Our team has dealt with everything from lost equipment and security breaches to unforeseen electrical issues, delayed flights, medical emergencies, and even last-minute menu changes. We’re able to put out the fires that pop up behind the scenes without our clients ever having known what has happened. Each day starts with a morning meeting and ends with an evening debrief. We’re the first to arrive and the last to leave. The outcome of every event lies solely on our shoulders.
So get ready for your sneak peek. Because we’re about to take an honest look at the hard work (and insanity!) that accompanies on-site event planning.
Let’s start by setting the scene:
A three-day conference taking place in a hotel ballroom with over 200 attendees, including multiple guest speakers and sessions (some happening simultaneously), evening experiences, VIP meals, and more. Attendees have the opportunity to experience hands-on workshops, live entertainment, and an end-of-conference celebration.
DAY ZERO- Set up Day & Registration
It’s 7:30 am, and Kera and I are the first to arrive at the venue, along with our event team. Everything is quiet. We’re standing in the empty ballroom knowing that this space will soon be transformed into a magical place. The promise of everything to come has me feeling energized and pumped. WE LOVE SET-UP DAY!! (That, and we're already on our second cup of coffee). Months of planning have gone into this event. The team has worked tirelessly to create an unforgettable experience for the attendees that also mirrors our client’s vision.
The AV team is hustling around, setting up the stage, the screen, the lights, and the audio equipment. At the same time, the speakers for the next day are queuing up for a tech check, while reviewing their slides and notes.
My team is busy opening boxes, taking inventory, coordinating the setup of every single table, stuffing swag bags, placing signage, setting up registration, and making sure that everything is PERFECT before the attendees arrive.
When the room is all setup and ready to go, it’s time for the host to see it and walk through the tech check. As they walk in, they're all smiles and I meet with them matching their excited energy and ensuring that any chaotic thoughts are hidden to ensure that they feel relaxed and confident in the process. The goal of this walkthrough is to make sure the host is comfortable with the setup, show them some lighting options, review sound levels, and click through his slides. It’s all about ensuring they are comfortable on stage with the clicker and the confidence monitors.
From there, I invite the speakers to do a quick walk-through on stage. Every detail is discussed, from where to get mic’d and where to enter and exit, to familiarizing them with the confidence monitors, countdown timer, and clicker, and finally connecting them with the AV team to discuss andy final details.
Keep in mind, this isn’t the only organizational madhouse happening. We're well into the later afternoon and while all of this is going on, the rest of the event team are outside the ballroom, handling registration and check-in.
Now, even though the event doesn’t officially start until tomorrow, this is probably one of the most important things we do to ensure we have the right numbers and also allows us enough time to make adjustments if needed before tomorrow.
We typically open registration for just a couple of hours on day zero, and the attendees show up one after the other, ready to get their name tags and swag bags. It’s a mad rush at the registration tables and lines are quickly forming. It takes some serious organization and quick thinking to get everyone checked in without a lot of waiting.
This is usually the first impression of the event, and we have processes in place to ensure it's a great one. Some of the team directs attendees to complete their waivers, while others manage the check-in process, handle the attendees who are not on the list but have in fact purchased a ticket or provide support to the attendees who have (surprise!) decided to bring a guest.
Following registration, everyone heads to the networking reception. There are a lot of hugs, handshakes, introductions, and business cards being exchanged. Many events are hosted annually, and with community members engaged throughout the year, this feels like a summer camp reunion. With so many things happening over the next few days, there’s a lot to get excited about, and a perfect container for "setting the stage" for the next three days.
Day Zero wraps up with a pre-show meeting with the entire event team- and if there's time, dinner on the floor of the stage. It’s a final check to ensure that everyone knows the plan for tomorrow morning.
We go to bed that night, exhausted already, but looking forward to everything that lies ahead.
Time for kick-off!
My team and I are once again downstairs hours ahead of go-time. After a quick morning meeting, it’s all hands on deck as the sponsors set up for the vendor showcase. These sponsors invested their time and money into this event, and we aim to deliver white glove service. Even so, limits need to be set, and rules need to be followed.
We’re busy the entire morning, directing traffic, helping them locate their materials, and coordinating power for their setups (in case they forgot to order). With so many tables, it’s like an event inside an event.
And of course, registration continues for those who may have not been able to check in the evening before.
And before we know it….it’s GO TIME.
The moment we’ve been waiting for has arrived. Every last detail of this moment has been intentionally designed - from the music playing to the lighting to the perfect flow of traffic as attendees are guided into the ballroom for the kick-off session.
The doors are opened and the attendees flood the room. The energy is crazy! People are excited and filled with anticipation.
Even after more than 15 years of doing this same thing over and over, every time the doors open, I am flooded with emotion and my eyes start to ‘sweat’. I take a moment to stand in gratitude, ground myself, and set my own personal intentions for the event.
Later that morning, prior to the first break, I'm busy reviewing what's coming up next with the event team. As I hear the host wrapping up, I dismiss the team and refocus on the mission at hand.
My mission: (cue theme song to Mission Impossible) I have exactly 7 minutes to meet with the host during a brief break to discuss the next segment of the day as well as any modifications or changes that may need to be made now that they have had time “live” on stage.
With a break in the session and only minutes on the clock, I gently guide the host to our meeting table backstage. Just as we get seated, I’m suddenly thrust into the role of personal security - all four feet eleven inches of me!
Four eager, smiling attendees walked through the curtain dividing the ballroom from backstage and suddenly appear in front of me wanting ‘just one minute’ to meet the host and say hello. As I walk forward, to create space between the host and the attendees, I put on my friendliest smile and tell them gently, but firmly, that unfortunately, they're not available right now, guiding them back (to the appropriate side of the curtain) and reassuring them that there will be time later that afternoon for a meet and greet.
Crisis averted, I duck backstage and begin reviewing the next part of the day with the host and taking notes of changes (while getting countdown cues from the AV team in my headset). Any change that the host wants, has to be communicated to multiple people to make it happen…and the clock is always ticking.
Now that the next session is underway, we are preparing for our next guest speaker - whose flight was delayed, missed her sound check, and didn’t show up for the speaker logistics call prior to the event….so she has no idea where she needs to enter the stage, the orientation of countdown timer/confidence monitor, slide advancing or any logistical details.
This is when we take a deep breath, and review the schedule, seeing what changes we can make on the fly that will not impact the program and make sure we have a contingency plan in place, communicating that plan to the emcee, AV team, and volunteers in case she is significantly delayed or doesn't show up.
Now keep in mind that everything, every last detail, has been planned out and communicated prior to the conference on phone calls, emails, and speaker logistics documentation. Fortunately, this time we dodged a bullet. She showed up with about 7 minutes to spare and we quickly reviewed the plan and cues with her while she was getting mic'd up.
While our priority is to know and stay on top of the details, it is quite clear that it is not always the top priority for others. We throw it all out there and have to be prepared to reel it all back in. We need to know when to be assertive, how to interrupt, how to make reactive decisions and the best way to communicate important information in the quickest way possible.
When the end of the day finally comes, everything is put behind us and we’re preparing for the next day and everything it has in store.
We’re feeling confident after a relatively smooth first day. Now it’s day two, and so far, things are running the way they should. But that doesn’t mean we lose focus. Today is Enrollment Day, and that means there are additional roles and responsibilities that need to be filled. For those of you who aren’t sure what that means, in most of our programs there is an “offer” or opportunity to work further with the host of the event (The invitation happens live from stage and there is a major strategy behind this opportunity. The objective is to ensure the maximum amount of qualified people enroll in the program without taking away from the value of the event as a whole. Each attendee should leave feeling like they’ve experienced a major transformation within the isolated container of the event, while also understanding the value of continuing their journey further. The team and I are shuffling back and forth, working hard to keep the show running and the attendees happy. While I’m backstage, Kera is making sure that everything is running smoothly in the front of house. Together, we are communicating on comms with each other and the production team to ensure everyone is on the same page and things look great from all angles.
Three hours later, everyone has been fed lunch, the stage has been transitioned for the next session, the emcee got everyone excited for what’s to come and the next session is officially underway.
And then it happens…
That magical moment when the stars align and I have a few minutes to myself. Priority one? Bathroom break! I hightail it to the nearest restroom and take a couple of cleansing breaths. Even in this stall of solitude I’m never truly disconnected from the event. My headset and microphone are permanently attached to my head every second of the day, so I’m still able to hear what’s going on in the ballroom.
My mind begins to drift for just a second when suddenly I’m pulled back. The AV producer suddenly tells us that the host asked for a certain song that is not listed in the run of show. He wasn't planning on playing this song, but feels it is appropriate in the moment and only telling the AV team the artist name, but not the title.
Still, on the seat, I stop mid-stream, unmute myself, and quickly say, “Marvin Gaye, Let's Get It On”. A couple of seconds later, I hear the song playing, and breathe a sigh of relief.
Because I’ve spent so much time with my client, and have a true feel of who they are and the vision for their event, combined with an intimate knowledge of the content, I was able to figure out the song at that moment. It feels incredible to be there and give the client what they need the moment they need it…no matter what else may be going on.
Back in action, it’s time for the “offer”, an invitation extended to the attendees to continue working with the host in an ongoing program. This is a huge component of enrollment events, it’s important that all of our planning is executed perfectly to ensure that the offer being given brings in the expected revenue.
As the host is onstage making the offer, we wait for the verbal cue to pass out the collateral containing the details and order form. We have prepared it all ahead of time to make sure that things are done quickly and efficiently, with everything organized and pre-stacked, ready to be handed out. It's all hands on deck as attendees rush to the back of the room, credit cards in hand, ready to sign up. Others make a beeline for the host, wanting to chat or ask questions. Our crowd management skills kick into gear as a few of us ensure that the host isn’t overwhelmed and is spending his time engaging in enrollment conversations.
The rest of the team is double-checking order forms, processing payments, switching out name tags and lanyards, and distributing welcome gifts. Above all, we are making sure that each person who is enrolling truly feels empowered, and that they walk away feeling special, and proud of the powerful decision they just made.
With everyone happy and where they should be, we prepare to wrap things up and begin reviewing the details for the evening experience.
We have lined up an amazing musical talent to entertain everyone that evening. What this means is an entire event space needs to be transformed in just 1.5 hours. Again, it's all hands on deck with event staff, hotel staff, and the audio-visual team. This includes flipping the room (removing tables and configuring the entire layout, setting the stage, adjustments to lighting, and sound check, while all the attendees are on their dinner break.
We face a big hiccup when one of the musicians is having trouble with his monitor, causing the entire sound check to run longer than expected. Dinner is starting to wrap up, and attendees will begin to show up in about 15 minutes. Time to think fast. I cue the team to send out a text alert to all of the attendees, encouraging them to relax and take their time enjoying dinner.
They have an unforgettable dining experience, and we are able to wrap up the sound check just in time, making everything feel seamless and intentional.
The evening experience blew away all expectations, and as the attendees head to bed, the team and I gather for a quick end-of-day meeting before retiring for the night.
The last day is finally here. We're running on pure adrenalin, and the end is in sight.
The day starts off smoothly, the entire event team is in flow and we even have some downtime backstage to cross off some administrative tasks that usually don't happen until the event is over. Unfortunately, no matter how well the day may be going, something is likely looming on the horizon.
We gather the team and let them know the “re-pitch” is coming up. This is the last chance for attendees to take advantage of the offer, before the New Enrollment Luncheon that afternoon. We’ve set up tables and order forms once again, so those who “needed to sleep on it” have another opportunity to take advantage of something truly amazing (and usually only offered at the event).
The remainder of the day is all about crowd management. With the luncheon happening, we have to quickly organize and make sure that the attendees are where they are supposed to be. If you’re not paying attention and you don’t know what to look for, it's easy to miss the person who brought a plus one when they shouldn’t have or allow those in who may be a VIP at this event but didn’t sign up for the offer extended. It takes skill and practice to stay on top of things. To turn people away when needed - all while being discreet and not causing a scene.
Before we know it, the event is over. The adrenaline we have been running on is gone, but we know we’re still not finished. Everything we brought into the event space has to be packed up, inventoried, and shipped back. Once again, we are on a timeline, because there is another event in the ballroom the next day.
This is the time when the team and volunteers can make or break these final hours. Teardown is absolute chaos. With most of the attendees gone, the lights are on, and this once magical place is now just…a space. Boxes and materials are everywhere you look. Everyone is ready to be finished, and without a system and a pre-communicated plan in place to ensure each person knows their role, things can go downhill quickly. There are no assumptions that someone is taking care of something when they’re not. We work together like a well-oiled (but exhausted) machine and knock it out, and have some fun in the process!
The goal is to make sure that on Day Three, everything is inventoried, packed and ready to wrap as soon as possible after the event so that our volunteers and hosts can go get some much-needed rest- and Kera and I can have a fabulous dinner, toast another success and decompress after a smooth and exciting event!
While all of this is going on, some of us are taking some of the remaining attendees aside, recruiting them to record a quick video testimonial about their experience while
they’re still on their ‘event high’. These videos are gold when it comes to marketing and promotion purposes. I love getting the chance to hear about what they took from the event - how it changed their lives, how it motivated them, their ah-ha moments, their takeaways, and their transformational experience.
This is why I started Be Bright Events!
Because: “I believe in a world where one event has the potential to transform someone's entire life”.
It makes all of the hard work mean so much more, and I can’t wait to share these videos with the host and let them know what a powerful impact they had on everyone that participated.
Let’s be honest. Event planning is hard. I mean really hard. But that doesn’t mean that We don’t love it with every ounce of our being.
We get such a thrill out of planning and executing the details - from the scramble of the initial setup, to being glued to our headsets every second of the day making last-minute decisions, to the final exhausting minutes of the teardown, what we do is unlike anything else. We are the only holistic experience coordinator. This means that we make sure that everyone is happy. Always. Our one and only focus is on the audience experience and the experience of our clients (and we are so grateful to have so much fun doing it together).
And we wouldn’t have it any other way!