I was recently asked to read poetry at a new venue; I noticed some major glitches in the setup, for example, I was not formally introduced nor was I given a place to lay my reading materials. I was frustrated by these snafus of course, but I also learned a valuable lesson I would not have learned otherwise: you can’t rely on the venue that has invited you to already know what all your needs are. You have to ask for them upfront, and if they already know you need a microphone stand, or a bottle of water, or a video projector– great! But it’s better to be safe than sorry.
My experience reading in an unprepared setting has actually become be a major asset in my professional development. I’ll explain. In the past, when I’ve been invited to read somewhere, it’s typically all staged the way writers need their performance space setup. There’s always water for a dried out throat during a long reading, a microphone and a microphone stand, a place to rest my papers, a seat for me in the front row, a brief introduction about who I am and what I’m reading. Because all my past experiences with reading in front of an audience have been (luckily!) well arranged, I had never once thought specifically about what presenters such as visiting guest speakers or writers need to manage a strong and comfortable performance. Now, needless to say, I know very well what an invited speaker expects to have available to him/her throughout the presentation.
This past weekend, I worked with two other women to plan an event. The event was a literary performance that took place during the Deering Estate at Cutler’s Festival of the Arts. We worked pretty hard on it, contemplating potential guests, setup, location, etc. Throughout the process, I could look back at my own experience and clearly see what our visiting writers would need to perform well. This served as an extremely beneficial resource.
10 Basic Tips for Planning a Professional Event:
1. Learn the names of everyone involved. Make sure you know the full names of those helping to organize the event, paying for the event and those speaking or performing at the event. You need to remember all these names flawlessly; it’s important because everyone involved is playing a crucial role. Each person needs to be officially thanked and noted. Also, you may find yourself introducing people to one another.
2. Write out a list well beforehand of what equipment will be needed. Estimating all the materials early on gives you plenty of time to gather everything up. Also, while you’re making the list, you may find that you need some specific answers from the people involved. For example, would your reader rather sit or stand? Does he/she prefer a microphone stand or not? Does he/she drink regular coffee or decaf? You need time; it may take a while to get responses. Always have the basics within your reach during the event too. A visiting poet shouldn’t have to pull his/her own pen out to sign books nor should your guest be writing emails down on cocktail napkins. Keep a little pad of paper and a nice pen on you always.
3. Gather professional brief biographies from your guests. Each guest deserves to be noted for his/her professional accomplishments. This communicates respect for the speaker; it also gives your audience some context and background.
4. Before the event, publicize. Make a press release or a blog post that features your guests and their websites. The rewards of the event should be mutual. Both the reader as well as yourself, your venue or cause deserve exposure. If you have fliers, make sure your guests get a bunch of copies before the event too. Share the announcements and press releases throughout social media.
5. Give each guest specific directions and time frames.
6. Offer a water bottle to each speaker. Speaking for more than a few minutes at a time can dry your mouth out. This should be available for the guest nearby during his/her presentation.
7. Wear a watch! As an event coordinator, you must wear a watch on your wrist. Your phone does not count! Reaching into your pocket or purse and clicking on your phone is distracting. You need to be quick on your feet, offering guidance in terms of time for your guests. Writers especially often lose track of time while they read because they are so invested in their work. Many times your guest speakers will look to you for how much time he/she has left.
8. Be flexible. Stay calm. Keep in mind that no matter how well you have scheduled everything in your mind, you will most likely run behind schedule, simply because the audience might impose a question to the speaker before Q&A time, or a speaker might run late etc. When this happens the best thing you can do is thank the audience for their patience and remind them again what a treat the event is and how it’s worth their waiting.
9. Have confidence or fake it if you have to. Both your audience, event-coordinating teammates and your guest are looking to you for answers throughout. They want to feel taken care of by good hands.
10. Have fun! Enjoy the pleasure of taking part in designing a unique, impactful experience with your name on it 😉
Have a back-up plan, in case, for example, the internet goes down or someone forgets the projector. Have a plan B for visual aids.
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