The 5 big mistakes to event planning and how to do things right

In the events world, organisation is the key to success and every detail counts. From nourishing nosh to creating the right kind of atmosphere, these are the rules we swear by at Wildwon.     

1. For the love of food

How many times have you attended a work event only to be met with soggy sandwiches or canapés that spell disaster for the nearest white shirt?

Average catering strikes all too often, ruining events with flavourless food, a lack of nourishment or sugar highs (and, hence, devastating lows).  

The answer? Plan ahead. Check in with your venue early on. Is in-house catering a must? Or can you select your caterer of choice? If you have the freedom, choose a caterer that suits the style of your event (i.e. easy-to-eat, locally sourced, creative or vegan-friendly). Work with them – or trust them completely – to craft a menu that's on-point. If your venue's in-house caterer is a must, don't despair, just think smart. Work closely to co-design the menu and ensure you don't face a cost blow-out or quality nightmare. 

Whatever you do, DON'T serve unhealthy or stodgy nosh. Sure, it delivers a sugar hit and satisfies temporary cravings, but it also saps energy later on. Food should be fresh, healthy and delicious. We also recommend going local and seasonal where possible. 

Why it's important: Meal breaks aren't just a chance to fuel up, they're an opportunity to ponder ideas and mingle with like-minded peeps. Breaks can set the mood you're after and carry attendees through the day's swells of excitement, inspiration and reflection.  

Pros in the biz: Sydney's Black Star Pastry and the The Little Marionette were dream teams to work with for vibewire's fastBREAK breakfast series. For wholesome catering in Melbourne or Sydney, we turn to Lentil As Anything. We're also huge fans of the 'crowd farming' effort from TEDxSydney 2013 and the fresh, ethical catering from Dan the Man Cooking

2. It's all about the vibe 

Next time you're attending an event, think about the atmosphere. As in a) the feeling you get when you walk into the room and b) the levels of energy you have throughout the event. Atmos or 'the vibe' is what brings the event to life. It tells you if the next few hours (or days) will be great... or mediocre.

Think about the last event you attended. Was there a buzz, a warmth? Did it feel like a community was being established? The art of creating an atmosphere should inform every choice you make – from how people are greeted and flow through the venue, to the quality of speakers and curation of the guest list. Because of its complexity, atmosphere is often the last thing organisers give consideration to and this is a huge mistake. The best experiences are designed with the attendee's journey in mind. 

Sometimes it's easy to work out how the event designers, speakers and facilitators have impacted participant's energy levels. Other times, the results are less tangible. If you're reviewing an event you worked on, it may be useful to draw an 'energy map' plotting how attendees' energy levels rose and fell across the event. (It can be as simple as the sketch below.) Remember every good event needs a mix of light and shade. 

Lights and crowd atmosphere at Forage SF's Underground Market

Lights and crowd atmosphere at Forage SF's Underground Market

Sketched energy map for evening poetry event

3. Walking the talk

In 2013, I attended a climate change abatement conference. It boasted an incredible speaker and guest list of the decision-makers and leaders on climate change. Unfortunately, the heavy-weight speaker list also meant the majority of speakers (and many attendees) took a long-haul, carbon-intensive flight to Australia to attend. Double-edged sword, one might say. 

Another case of "Do as I say, not as I do" was a sustainable food conference I once attended that failed to serve anything but the usual plastic-packaged conference venue schtick. Many events in the sustainability space still produce enormous amounts of paper waste, despite the amazing digital solutions we now have at our fingertips, solutions that can be applied to communications, sponsorship, programming and way-finding. 

Truth be told, there are so many dangers to calling your event "sustainable" that it's almost enough to put you off the label altogether. Attendees will happily point out an incomplete recycling bin suite, plastic water bottle on stage or your lack of a bike valet (yep, it's a thing).

At the end of the day, there are plenty of ways to improve  your standard practice, but it's almost impossible to run a zero-impact event. As long as you know you're doing everything you can and staying true to your stated values, we think you deserve a thumbs up.

4. Choosing a venue

The budget of an event dictates the venue, so you mightn't have a whole lot of choice. But regardless of your spending situation, be sure to consider the following:

  1. Does the venue have a contracted caterer? (Refer to point 1)
  2. Could you go a little left-of-centre?  

There are countless venues in every, or town for that matter, that are off-beat (in the good kind of way), but still very well set up. Conference centres might be the easy option, but an unexpected venue, like a town hall, historic trust building or even an outdoor space, creates a far more atmospheric affair. Venue choice speaks volumes about the brand of your event and organisation, the atmosphere you want to create, and the businesses you choose to support. 

Check out our list of interesting, off-beat, fun (!) and sustainable venue choice in Sydney for some inspiration.  Or why not construct a teepee or tent a la Do Lectures?

5. Doing it all yourself

You're not going to be the best at everything. There are so many components and moving parts to an event. Consider a theming partner who specialises in design or materials that relate to the conference. Look at ways you can allocate budget to creative partners. The Secret Garden Festival, for example, provides $2000 grants to artists enabling them to design and decorate areas of the festival. On Progress 2013, we handed over theming responsibilities to A&D Projects who created a stunning installation that engaged communities of school kids from around Australia. Better than our in-house origami skills, that's for sure.   

Why do we care?

Real world, human interactions are the best place to start when building a community, seeding an idea, raising profile or changing behaviour and attitudes. At Wildwon, we care about the quality of events because we're invested in the outcomes. Immersive, sensory and considered experiences are powerful catalysts for change, and we're passionate about helping ideas, individuals, knowledge and organisations grow.

If you'd like to work with us on your next event – get in touch here.