This past Monday was the 2012 Silicon Alley Golf Invitational, which has been abbreviated over the years to SAGI. The day was fantastic (here is a review) but getting to the day, especially in the last 48 hours before was one of unbelievable logistical nightmares. I thought I’d write a post of what I’ve learned over the years of hosting hundreds of executives at a golf event. Hopefully some of this can be used for your startups or companies for the events that you host, regardless of golf or not.
I am not a professional event planner, but having hosted 8 golf events for the past 8 years helps justify why I’m writing this.
Invites Early On, Reminders Consistently
Give people time to reserve the event date in their calendar. The more senior the person, generally, the more lead time they need. Since the invitation probably went out months before the event date, keep them reminded with a quick note each month so that the date does not fall off people’s calendar.
You Can Get Event Schwag Cheap, But Service & Quality Is More Important
I spend a fair amount of money on event schwag. I remember walking around the early days of Ad Tech, MacWorld, and other conferences and coming home with some really cool tchotzkes. While you can find dozens and dozens of vendors who can deliver you a personalized product (such as a golf shirt), and all might be Nike Dri-Fit, the difference is in the service and quality. You cannot afford both in money and time to get your schwag wrong while planning an event. You need to find a trusted partner who can service your schwag needs and get them right the first time and have only the highest quality schwag. I’ve made it a rule of thumb to only give away a few things, but make them really useful and interesting in that they are used beyond the end of the event (I see people wearing our SAGI shirts on the streets sometimes). I’ve also learned that people enjoy brand names – so having Nike or Footjoy golf shirts make a real difference.
Ask The Venue, They Are Full of Wisdom
I’ve hosted the Silicon Alley Golf Invitational at a different golf club each year. This means that I’ve worked with different event planning teams from each club and all were full of wisdom. Sometimes I ignored it and I paid for it in the end, and always thought, “man, I wish I had listened to them.” What I sometimes forget, or any event planner for that matter, is that these event spaces such as the golf clubs are always hosting events. They know best what works and does not work for their space. I do not use an independent event planner, I do everything myself, and the event space almost acts as an event planner for me around very specific items. Use the team as much as you can at the event space to make recommendations to service providers, tell you how other events have laid out the space, and other ins/outs of what went well and what failed miserably at their event spaces. They will tell you, all you have to do is ask.
The Silicon Alley Golf Invitational is my event. I curate the guest list, I hand pick the quality of shirts, I pick the foursomes, and I taste test the food. Everything. I call this hands-on planning. If you are going to throw and event, I believe this is the only way to do it. Many people have asked whether I outsource this to an event planner and I’ve never done so. I want to make sure that I have control over every aspect of the event but use help around logistics. Over the years, I’ve had fantastic assistants who have helped but I was involved with every aspect behind the scenes.
Get Feedback Fast
At the end of each event, I let the crowd know that they should expect to receive a form asking how the event was. I use Google Form (docs) to receive the responses. I ask anywhere between 5-10 questions about all the details about the event (food, golf, overall, networking, etc) and I use this feedback to help make the next event better. I send this request out no more than 48 hours after the event has ended so that the event is still fresh in people’s mind. I cannot stress how important this feedback is. It’s genuine. It’s not all positive. It’s real. It will make you better.
My two biggest mistakes this year:
I was not ready with a Plan B in case of rain. Sounds somewhat obvious but we’ve never had a rain issue in 8 years. This year, we did. What I specifically did not have was the cellphone or mobile device number of each attendee, so it made getting in touch with everyone hard at the last minute with an agenda change. I learned for next year.
I used an event management software solution from Eventbrite on the front end. I overpaid for it. I think I spent close to $700 on this software and it was not worth it, IMHO. I found that managing thru Google Docs as I have done in the past better to manage the final attendees. I do give it credit for being able to “sell” three different types of tickets and that was all nice and such, but on the backend, it was difficult to manage the final event. This is probably a contrary thought to manage who hold events, but just something I’ve found.
Hope this helps. Anything that you’d add to this list?