You can find the first part of this series here and the second part here.
Truth time: No amount of preparation or planning or visualizing or studying can prepare you for the experience of being the person in charge on the first day of a conference.
But let’s try to get you ready anyway.
Don’t trust your memory. At all times, carry a folder/iPad/notebook with exceedingly detailed information about the who, what, where, when, and how much of your event. You will be inundated with questions at a frenetic pace, and you must plan to not be able to accurately recall anything.
Delegate as much as possible. You have a great team. (Well, if you don’t by this point, you’re in big trouble. But you will.) Always have someone at your side at all times as a runner, a person who can do the things that you know need to be done, but should not do yourself. It is your job to make sure everything gets done—but not necessarily to be the one to do it. Whether it’s getting food, checking on hotel arrangements, escorting VIPs, or doing other tasks, assign those to your crew. You need to available to do only those things you can do, such as welcome VIPs, supervise the program flow, and troubleshoot issues. So: Delegate, delegate, delegate.
Sleep at night. Don’t party like it’s 2999. Once the day’s events are done, it may be nearly impossible to resist the temptation to socialize, but you must carefully select when you can and should take part in the revelry. My experience has shown that you should save your rave for the closing party/evening. Running the conference is exhausting work, and it’s likely true you’ll have put in many late nights in the run-up to the event. Get some rest. If you don’t, you won’t be as sharp as you need to be when the inevitable disaster comes.
And when it comes . . .
Don’t panic. Something big will go wrong. Or, at least something will go wrong that feels big at the moment. Don’t panic. This is when you remember that you’ve done the main thing already: gotten a lot of people to the same place at the same time. Your posture and poise during the difficult times will set the tone for all those looking to you for leadership, which will have a significant influence on the experience your guests have. Virtually nothing can go so badly that panic would be an appropriate response. Stay calm. Stay collected.
Those tips and pointers will help you navigate the few exhilarating days of the event. But there is another way to think about how to approach running a major event: For those few days, you are a performer. You are on stage. It’s your show and everyone, in some sense, is watching you. Therefore, it is crucial that you always remain aware of “the show.” That’s why can’t lose your cool, or be running around frazzled, or forgetful. It would be like a jazz musician forgetting a tune and running around the stage looking for sheet music while the band keeps going.
Part of being a good performer is about understanding that how the audience perceives is as important to the performance as what is actually played. If you act organized and in control, people will believe that you are—even if you’re not. If something goes wrong, act like you planned it. You are the only person with all the information and knowledge of whatever disasters and changes come up. Make those moments seem as though they were intentional by rolling with them and maintaining your confidence and composure.
All performers improvise to a greater or lesser degree, and a conference will require you to improvise as well. The best way to be able to improvise at a high level is to know the “tune” as thoroughly as possible. You need to study all the aspects of the event closely. Quite simply: You need to know everything. The aforementioned who, what, where, when, and how much should be soaked into your mind. And once you’ve got all that stuff there, don’t trust your memory. This way, when you are forced to improvise, you know just how to bend and weave whatever new things arise into the structures and framework you planned for.
Lastly, always remember you are a host and the event is about people. If you can cultivate a congenial and comforting atmosphere, you are more than halfway to success, and the concepts and tips in this series will aid you in your attempt. All of the above is worthless if people don’t feel welcomed and “at home.”
 

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