Pathable : Event App Technology Blog

11 Handy Tips from Event Planners on How to Manage Deadlines

All event planners know that deadlines can be hard to meet.

Especially when you’re managing multiple stakeholders in order to meet your milestones. Which is why we love tools and tips that are easy to share with our teams and volunteers on how to meet deadlines.

Events must be executed, or the special pieces that make an attendee’s experience so exceptional won’t happen on time. Your audience craves it. Your boss demands it. Your job literally depends on it.

And with the right processes and work habits in place, you and your team will hit every deadline, every time.

Best of all, this isn’t as hard to pull off as you might think.

Here are our 11 favorite tips on ways to meet deadlines, even when you’re under pressure.

1. Be clear about expectations and the discipline needed to meet those expectations

Say what you need and when you need it by, clearly and without equivocation. And then follow up that message by stating what you need and when you need it by, in writing. And if the crowd you’re working with is REALLY busy, put it on their calendars with automated reminders that ping them so they (and YOU!) don’t forget.

Be clear, too, about what happens if the deadline isn’t met. This means talking and encouraging discipline that helps your team of staff or volunteers as they make the choices not to push back deadlines. It’s something that’s easy to do when we’re under crunch time. However, it isn’t a solution. Push your deadlines back enough times, and soon enough, you won’t have an event marketing strategy left to execute.

2. Start New Conversations with Stakeholders By Asking When Not What

“What do you want done?” is usually the first question that gets asked when planning or adding items to an event. After some discussion, you usually find out when the added tactic needs to be finished.

However, sometimes a better opening question is “When do we want this done?”

Start by setting your deadline first. Then, work backward to figure out how much you can realistically accomplish between today and your deadline.

It also will help you layer over pre-existing deadlines that exist in your project timeline. This means you and your team have a more realistic view of capacity. Remember that saying, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Especially if it means having too many spinning plates due during one week.

Pro Tip: This change in how you approach your planning and event management can be upsetting to some stakeholders at first. People don’t like deadlines because they make them feel constrained and tied down. However, the events world is built on deadlines. If you can master your deadlines by outlining and planning realistically what you can do, in a set timeframe, meeting deadlines will no longer be a burden on you or your company.

For example, take your integrated events marketing and communication plan. It likely has an ultimate registration goal that you need to achieve by a certain date. And then it also has the secondary goal of communication to the now attendees the need to knows before they get on site.

You want to use your mobile event app, push notifications, your event website, your email marketing, and direct mail to get the priority messaging out.

You’ll likely have separate deadlines for receiving the priority messaging copy from your copywriters, adding it to your marketing/communication channels, scheduling your push notifications, measuring your results, and ensuring that your follow up happens.

And it all has to happen on a carefully plotted out cadence of messages so that your target audience isn’t overwhelmed and becomes less likely to take action.

If you don’t set and clearly state the WHEN and the expectations that come with those WHEN you might miss your registration goals and then be in trouble not only with your attendees because they didn’t get the pertinent communications in time. But likely also your boss because your event didn’t meet its registration goals.

So, how to state the WHEN and WHAT HAPPENS before the project gets going so everyone is on board?

  • Write down your deadline. Share the deadline. State several times that you’ll publish, push, or update on this date(s) whether it’s perfect or not.
  • Gather everyone’s feedback on your project deadlines to understand any roadblocks
  • Share the pertinent feedback and a final schedule of deadlines in a way everyone who is a relevant stakeholder can see, and ask them to take a look. After they look or even miss their due date of looking, that’s it. No more updates.
  • Draft a blueprint of the project from those rough ideas and feedback.
  • Get final approval for your project blueprint from the necessary stakeholders involved in this project.
  • Ask the folks involved a simple question: “If we deliver what you approved, on budget and on time, will you ship with us, no matter what comes to disrupt the schedule and deadlines?”
  • Don’t move forward until you get your yes. Seth Godin says, “Once you get your yes, go away and deliver the state project, thrash-free. Ship on time, because that’s what a linchpin does.”

While some of that relates to event bureaucracy, you get the idea. Start with a deadline, then give you and your team permission to ship on time—no excuses.

3. Create A List Of What Needs To Get Done (And When)

Prioritize Your Projects To Focus Your Resources

Setting and maintaining timeline and project goals is arguably one of the most challenging parts of being an event project manager. Whether you’re a one-person operation or have a large team, keeping all these tasks on track and moving forward takes incredible attention to detail.

Especially when managing a lateral team that may not all be based in the same office (think you, your immediate events team, your vendors, the subject matter experts, the volunteers, the conference committee, etc), it can be easy to get confused who is on first. Which is why the events team gets together to go over the last week’s tactics, our plans for the upcoming week, and everyone’s deadlines at least once every other week for 30 minutes, three to six months out. And if you’re less than three months out, at least once a week.

For an event director, this means you might have several of these 30-minute check-ins, but you’ll learn an enormous amount that will help keep everything on schedule. It will also help you stay proactive rather than reactive.

Also, also send and use an agenda for these check-ins. It might seem overly formal but it helps keep these calls on track as well as clearly highlights what you (and the team on the call) wants to chat about. Finally, it gives a record to check back to in case someone has to miss the call or just wants to see what you said previously.

What’s a sample agenda for the check-in look like?

  1. What’s the priority for this week?
  2. What’s not a priority this week? What should we not get distracted by?
  3. Looking over last week, what could we improve?
  4. What are any roadblocks in front of us this week?

To recap: Prioritize the projects that you and the team must get done this week. Ensure everyone has one goal to complete by the end of the week, no matter what.

Review everything you’re working toward as a team to understand who is the lead on certain projects, and who is in supporting roles. This is helpful because everyone knows the amount of work expected from them, giving them their chance to speak up if they think it’s too much or too little, which helps everyone understand exactly how they’ll contribute to meeting your collective deadlines.

Plan how you’ll work together as a team to keep each other accountable for meeting your deadlines. Meet daily through Slack or a collaboration tool to talk through progress and roadblocks that may prevent you from meeting your deadlines, and figure out a solution.

4. Set Smaller Deadlines Within Your Large Deadline

Each week in an event cycle can be wildly different. However, you’ve likely done a version of the event(s) you’re working on before. Remember to create and use task templates can be a huge lifesaver for you, especially since your team can be “brand new” (new volunteers, conference planning committee members, or even new staff) event by event.

By having these templates, you have a set list of what needs to be done each week. This allows you to rely on checklists built using history to help everyone working on the project know the steps they need to complete in order to help you execute the big and small milestones and deadlines on time and under budget.

Within your templates and checklists, you can use these tips to break down your bigger deadlines into smaller ones:

  • Look at the big picture and draw a road map of exactly what you need to do.
  • Separate tasks based on who needs to complete them.
  • Create an outline labeling what needs to be done and by when.
  • Ask yourself what needs to be done in order? What can be done whenever?
  •  Delegate tasks based on who needs to do what, and then fill the gaps with tasks that can be done whenever.

Use templates, checklists, and standard operating procedures to get projects done right, and done on time.

5. Build In Time

Write down all the tasks you need to be done and when you need them done by. Then, give each of these due dates a day or two of just in case room before they are actually due so you don’t set you and your team up for failure. This allows time to make needed changes, or even finish your work ahead of schedule.

Deadlines give you the opportunity to beat the rush. It also gives you a great way to continue to be proactive, rather than reactive to the stuff that inevitably will happen that you cannot control.

And there is always going to be so much you cannot control.

So, control what you can, when you can, and be that much better prepared for the wild cards.

6. Remember Even Great Event Teams Need to Sleep

One of my favorite pieces of advice for event planning is that “Anything can be solved with a little bit of time, sleep, and food.”

In other words, take care of yourself. Take care of your team. Don’t forget, event management is a marathon, not a sprint. Twenty-six miles is a long road to travel. Be careful you don’t burn out on mile three or five.

Many event managers struggle with this daily. We want to help everyone, do more, and be busy. We know that we have the skills to do the thing. To sit in on that rehearsal, that meeting, that site visit…

But since cloning technology is still a bit dodgy, unfortunately, you’re going to have to relinquish a bit of the control.

Tell yourself (and your team, especially new managers and overzealous volunteers), we have to work on this one together. Walk and talk the valuable lesson of delegation.

Trust your team. After all, you trained them. Trust people’s intentions. After all, most people usually want to do what’s right, what’s effective, and just need a bit of positive encouragement to follow through.

And trust me on the sleeping and eating. Ain’t nobody going to win at deadlines or events when you’re hangry and over-tired.

Everyone has 24 hours in a day; there are limitations to what can be done and what can be done well. You know your strengths and weaknesses, look at what is on your plate for the week and go from there.

Make it a point to write a mock schedule of everything that needs to be finished for the week.

Do this first thing Monday morning. Schedule in any meetings you have, and appointments or reasons you won’t be in the office and make sure you leave time for sleep (seriously).

University President Dr. Nido Qubein literally plans out what he’ll do each day to keep himself on task by blocking his calendar in 15-minute increments per day. It helps him learn how much time certain projects really take to help him use his time even more efficiently for future projects.

While you might not go to this extreme, it’s a great example of knowing exactly how much free time you have in the day and week, while keeping you accountable for meeting your personal deadlines, and helping you improve your time management skills.

This way, when someone comes to you with a new project or idea, you can look at your schedule and realistically know if you can fit one more thing on your plate or not. This way, you save yourself the stress and hassle of overdoing it.

7. Don’t Be Afraid To Delegate Tasks

The wonderful part about being on a team is that you have help. Sometimes as event managers, we’ve been conditioned to take on projects without much help because we know we’re the important people in the background that make the ones on stage and at the event look and feel good.

It’s great that we have the passion to do a lot, but it can be our downfall. When you delegate tasks, it gives you more time to focus on other projects. It also gets new eyes on the other projects and helps you work quicker.

The Muse came up with a great list to help with delegating tasks:

  1. Decide what to delegate: Once you decide to ask for help, pick the projects you need help with. You want to focus on your own strengths and weaknesses to choose what tasks would be better delegated.
  2. Pick the right people: Just like you chose which tasks aren’t right for your skill set, pick your team members who’ll be rock stars at those tasks.
  3. Communicate clearly: When you delegate tasks, sit down with your team and clearly spell out what you would like from each person. Getting everyone together may seem like a hassle, but in the long run, it will save you time and headaches.
  4. Check in, but don’t micromanage: You handed off your tasks. Now you have to trust that your team and volunteers are professionals and that they will take care of their tasks. It’s easy to want to check every three minutes to make sure everything is getting done, but you need to trust your team, check in sparingly, and then let them continue with their work as well.
  5. Give credit where credit is due: The project is done, your team worked hard and now you are ready to execute on it. Make sure to acknowledge their hard work. They jumped in to help you out, don’t take that for granted.

8. Ask for Help

You are the leader of the event. In essence, you’re a mini CEO everytime you open your event binder (even the digital one) and start moving pieces across your chessboard.

This means you likely have several great qualities that allow you to see the forest and the trees. but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help. And it sure as heck doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be as crystal clear as possible on your deliverables before you get started. It’ll save you time. It’ll save you money. It’ll save you stress.

It won’t make you look weak. It’ll make you look mature. And ultimately better prepared. Not sure how to ask for help?

  • Admit you’re unsure and get the resources and clarification you need.
  • Ask open questions—this makes it easier to get more from people than “yes” or “no” answers, they are more likely to give you more detail of exactly what you are looking for if you ask open follow up questions. People are also more likely to offer to assist if you aren’t black and white.
  • Ask for specific examples of outcomes to envision what your project will look like.
  • Know the goal of the project. Focus on your attendee needs instead of just producing the widgets because you can. Stay on task and don’t let the shiny object syndrome distract you.
  • Repeat back what was told you to make sure you understand what they really mean.

9. Work During The Most Productive Hours

It’s the rare event manager who works a straight 8am-5 pm job. Between travel, email, video conferences, instant messages, and texts–I’ll bet you’re on 24/7.

But when are you most productive? Think about what you have to get down during “regular working hours” and then layer your optimal productivity and must-haves throughout the day.

And then fiercely protect and produce in that time.

What does that mean? In some more traditional work environments, it means enlisting your boss to be an evangelist for what an event team does. And even if your boss is spreading the word, be prepared to be a constant cheerleader for your time and your team in helping people understand that you all are working, whether the finance assistant who is always in her chair sees you or not.

Event team members travel. They go on site visits. Have phone calls with people who live in many different time zones. They work two week stretches for 22 hours a day. Sometimes with a break. And then they go wait at the airport for a bit.

Event management is not a “normal” white collar job. Don’t force them to live inside a construct of what office work looks like or you’ll lose them and their productivity.

You know yourself. You know your team. Use your most productive hours to your advantage, and be amazed by how much more you and your team can conquer in your day if you’re not constantly defending against perception.

10. Learn From Mistakes

Did you take on too much? Did you or a team member mess up?

It’ll be okay. Even if the speaker or a board member is yelling at you. Remember, this too shall pass. And you’ll have a great use case for knowing what to do in the future to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again.

Missing one deadline will not set you back horribly and it is not the end of the world, but if you start getting too far behind, that is when your whole event starts to suffer, and you’ll feel like you’re constantly playing catch up.

Don’t get dragged down with the woulda, coulda, shouldas. Assess where you are, assess what you can do better next time, and keep moving.

11. Don’t Push Deadlines

There is always another request to make a change. Or an edit.

There is always an exception for a board member, or a special VIP, or so on.

Stand firm on your deadlines. After all, if you don’t protect them, who will? Ultimately at the end of the day, you are accountable for these results. It’s not always pleasant and sure as heck won’t always make you friends, but protect your deadlines with grace and gravity. People will eventually learn that’s the way it is.

Unless you continue to yield to their demands.

Ask yourself: What’s the point of having deadlines if you’re all “Oh it’s okay, you missed your deadline but just make sure you hit the extended deadline”?

There are always things you cannot control. That doesn’t mean that you have to miss your deadlines.

It’s really as simple as that.

Hitting deadlines isn’t easy. However, nothing worth doing is easy. These tips and tactics can make getting things done on time much easier though.

How do you plan to hit your deadlines from now on? Tweet or message us at @Pathable


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