The Making of a Chamber Event: An Inside Look

By Michelle Glover, Events Project Manager

As members of the Chamber’s events team, we hear it time and time again … “You plan events for a living? That must be so much fun. Your life is like one big party!” Well, kind of. While it is our job to plan events, the day-to-day is less piñata party and more neurotic organization with a heavy side of sweating the small stuff. The event planning process is highly involved, with a large portion of the heavy lifting happening behind-the-scenes months in advance of the big show.

There are elements of glitz and glamour — selecting floral arrangements, touring venues (and their rooftop gardens) across the city, developing menus in private tastings – but they only make up a small percentage of the work we do. Event planning, much like unicorns or narwhales, is mysterious yet intriguing. We’re pulling back the curtain to share what it really takes to pull off a successful Chamber event.

Is an event merited?

As the host of more than 130 events each year, we’re not about having events for the sake of having events. Ain’t nobody got time for that! Before diving head-first into planning, we are critical about the purpose for the event, the resources it will take to pull it off and how we will define success. If an event doesn’t offer value to our Chamber members, we’re not adding it to our calendar.

We’re doing it. Why?

Why are we organizing this event? What are we trying to achieve? Not only do these questions help us determine if an event is needed, but they also help establish our goals and objectives to guide our planning.

Date, Time, Location

Sounds simple enough; however, there are limitations. The date should be a minimum of four to six months into the future. Holidays, school breaks and competing event dates must be avoided. Also, the location must align with the established goals and objectives. A venue that fits 50 guests comfortably probably isn’t the best space to host a seminar for 75.

Assemble the Squad

Our squad is so on point Taylor Swift is jealous. Sorry, Taylor. We have a team of stellar program managers, marketing gurus and sponsorship go-getters who each play key roles in our events. At this point in the planning process, we need to assemble the squad to:

1. Brief them on our goals and objectives
2. Determine how they can best assist in the planning process
3. Get their buy-in.

This is the first of many, many meetings. Practice patience but remain persistent.

Determine Programming Needs

This is where your squad comes in handy. As event managers, we rely on the expertise of the squad, specifically our program managers, to select relevant speakers and discussion topics that align with the established goals and objectives.

Determine Marketing Needs

Again, it’s all about the squad. Our lovely marketing gurus ensure our events are actually attended by spreading the word amongst our Chamber members. From The Chamber Newsletter and the eTCN to social posts, radio appearances and print materials, we couldn’t do our job without them. We give them creative freedom and watch them fly.

Establish Deadlines

We don’t have to tell you deadlines are an inevitable part of life. It’s even truer in the world of event planning. With mile-long lists of timely tasks that we need to hit to stay on track, our squad lives and dies by deadlines. We rely heavily on project management tools like Basecamp to ensure project milestones are achieved and the squad stays on the same page. Missed milestones result in fires, and fires require firefighters. Don’t make us get out the hose.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

You would not believe the number of touch-base meetings we have. While Basecamp is magical and on an otherworldly level, we can’t rely solely on it to keep our many projects moving. Therefore, we have periodic face-to-face meetings leading up to the event date to ensure everything is moving along as it should be. Use your words, people.

Day-of Coordination

Slip into something black and grab your best pair of sassy orthopedic sneakers. Event day is the holy grail of event planning. Even at this stage, however, there’s work to be done before we get to sit back and watch the event unfold. We need transport the supplies, set up the venue, complete a final A/V walk-through, brief our Chamber Ambassadors and manage speakers and sponsors. We do a lot of fire extinguishing and cat herding during this stage. Once the event concludes, we need to collect our supplies, break down our registration tables and signage, and check out of the venue.

Post-Event Evaluation

Ready for a glass of wine and a nap? It’ll have to wait. We have to send post-event evaluations! How else would we know you’re sick of Chamber chicken? We also have to update our events database, share event photos, settle final invoices and take care of sponsorship fulfillment.

As you can see, there’s a lot more involved in the event planning process than simply picking out a venue and getting attendees. There’s strategy, people pleasing, cat chasing, fire extinguishing and so much more. Back to planning … Ready, set, go!

Meet the Squad

Cindy Johnson, Director of Events
Cindy is a former bull riding champion and air band frontrunner with a heart for REO Speedwagon. She enjoys a good audio book and adding to her rapidly growing Starbucks tumbler collection.
Michelle Glover, Events Project Manager
Michelle is an aspiring food critic with dreams of traveling the world in search of the finest cuisines. She has a heart for animals and a thirst for adrenaline. You can find her on the back of a motorcycle, enjoying an occasional episode (or four) of Bob’s Burgers, and adding to her collection of unique coffee mugs.
Chantell LaForest, Events Project Manager
Chantell is an aspiring embroiderer with an unhealthy Starbucks addiction. She enjoys long naps on the couch with her pillow pets, reading aloud in accents, expanding her overalls collection, and maintaining her status as Celine Dion’s greatest fan.

Anna Young Administrator
Digital Content Specialist
Anna is the digital guru for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce
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