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Planning an over-the-Top Event

Sometimes, a meeting planner is called upon to throw a party that will blow people’s minds.

Arranging a large event can be a daunting task, but with the right preparation, it becomes easier to tackle. One way to start is to look at the experiences of some professional planners.

Based in North Carolina, the Special Event Company has helped manage events like the Democratic National Convention and often brings in high-profile speakers such as Colin Powell and Steve Forbes. Sasha Souza Events coordinates celebrity weddings, bar mitzvahs and more, and Arizona’s Peak Events is best known for its annual festivals and has repeatedly been voted Best Event Planners by readers of the Arizona Daily Sun.

These award-winning event planners offer their insights on how to organize an over-the-top event that will go far beyond the typical cocktail party or banquet.

1. Make a schedule on day one.

Schedules require a certain amount of flexibility, but there should be only a few small details to cover by the time the event starts.

“Start your planning schedule right from the day you decide to do the event,” said Sally Webb Berry, chief executive officer at the Special Events Company, “and put in some key milestones that you need to achieve by certain times.”

You should also consider which tasks are the most time sensitive, such as booking a major musician or speaker. Debbi Grogan, the owner of Peak Events, typically schedules festival artists almost a year in advance.

2. Establish what kind of message you want to send.

“In every event, whether it’s a social or wedding or corporate event, you are delivering a strategic message on how you want attendees to perceive that product,” Berry said.

Even at a wedding, the type of venue, decor and ceremony convey a certain image about the couple. Many inexperienced event planners make the mistake of looking for a venue or choosing decorations first, but consider your objective before diving into logistics.

3. Do your research.

Research is essential, especially when organizing a cultural event or working with a foreign company. “With a bar mitzvah, for example,” said Sasha Souza, founder of Sasha Souza Events, “you have to be able to convey to the client that you understand each part of the ceremony and why it’s important.”

Likewise, if you are taking over an annual event, look into how it was produced in the past. Does the theme evolve each year or stay the same? What were its most successful features?

4. Manage risk.

“Risk management is the most important aspect of any event,” said Berry. How does your team plan to communicate during an emergency? Have you chosen an evacuation site? Is everyone aware of the fire exits? These are the kinds of questions that are critical to large-event planning.

Another risk to consider is power failure. If the success of your event hinges on a generator or a projector, then always assume you need a backup because you never know what could happen.

“Once we had a generator literally melting at a wedding,” Souza said. “There’s a saying when it comes to power and audiovisuals, ‘If you have two, you have one, and if you have one, you have none.’” In other words, plan for a worst-case scenario.