How to plan and manage an event.
In November of 2019, I found myself managing several events at Wenty Anglican Church, some of which were rather infrequent:
- A CMS missionary visit (1 in 3 years).
- The commissioning of a new Senior Minister (1 in 15 years).
- The commissioning of our previous Senior Minister as a CMS missionary (1 in 15 years).
- The 100 year anniversary of my church’s building at Wenty (1 in 100 years).
I thought I’d write my notes up about what I did. Plus consider other kinds of events I’ve managed
Being involved at a church, every week I’m involved in a live production (aka a church service), which is planned as an event. But the same principals and skills apply from the smallest to largest event: from going to movies with friends, to a multi-day event with ~5,000 attendees, it all comes down to planning.
So you want to (or have been told to) put on an event?
Well, planning is the key to make it happen smoothly. Plan well and you’ll find things just work. And problems (when they so often arise) can be dealt with quickly. Even something as simple as going to the moves with friends needs a (tiny) plan. And when you get to larger events, you really need a solid plan.
The basic steps are:
- Figure out what you want / need to do.
- Work out what people and things you need to make it happen.
- Plan it out step by step.
- Do a timeline of what will happen (day by day, hour by hour, even minute by minute).
What is your event about? What will happen at it?
This is the driving force behind all your planning.
If the event is large, or unusual or you simply haven’t done many events before, it’s worth writing this down. A big picture goal that you’re trying to achieve (eg: “watch the latest Little Women movie with my close friends”, or “run a public church service celebrating a 100 year anniversary”, or “go on a family holiday to Hawks Nest for a week”). Each of those examples will require different things to happen, people present, etc.
Then, think about optional extras or constraints for your event. Things like:
- I have a gift voucher, so I need to see the movie at a Hoyts cinema.
- The church service will have guests who don’t regularly visit our church.
- We want to get a video recording of the church service, because it’s a significant event.
- My sister has a toddler, so the holiday house will need baby proofing.
- We need to eat on our holiday, how will that happen?
These kinds of things might be raised in consultation with others organising or attending the event. They might become clearer as you plan. You might even need to scrap one or more of them because they aren’t worth the effort. Flexibility is key.
People think planning ends up with an inflexible outcome: that is, once the plan is decided, it can’t change. That is not entirely true. There will be some elements of your plan and event which aren’t negotiable and are set in stone. But there may be other elements which are either a) optional and can be scrapped if problems come up, b) worked around if something goes wrong (a plan B), or c) so important that an alternative must be available (redundency).
Weather is a common cause of changing plans: any outdoor event needs to have a wet-weather backup plan. A key person is sick - what’s your alternative? The car breaks down, or the computer blows up, or the venue closes - what do you do?
All these things can be mitigated and worked around - if you think it’s worth the effort.
If all else fails, you cancel your event (that’s the backup plan when you run out of backup plans).
Now you know what you’re trying to achieve, the first and most important thing to work out is the people.
More than anything else, events need people. A wedding won’t happen without a bride and groom. You can’t watch a movie without your friends (well, I guess you can, but it’s a bit sucky).
People are not resources you can consume. They are the heart and soul of your event. They must come before everything else, and be most important in whatever plans you make. Your event must be for the people who attend in some way, not attempting to exploit them.
Identify key people first: a keynote speaker, the bride & groom & minister, etc. Without these people you might as well cancel your event. So lock them in early! And work out if there are ways to mitigate the possibility a no-show.
You may not have any key people. For example, it’s unlikely going to see a movie with friends has a key person (because having favourite friends is a bad idea). That’s OK.
After that, you’ll have supporting people. They may have particular skills (eg: sound system operator), particular qualifications (eg: children’s worker), or particular resources (eg: driver with a van). Again, you should identify and get commitements from these people early in the process.
However, supporting people can be replaced. There are other sound system operators, children’s workers and people who own vans. While it may take some mucking about, you have alternatives available in this area. And, particularly for larger events, it’s unwise to rely on one person - at church, we aim to have at minimum three people who can do any particular role on a Sunday, usually more.
Finally, there’s likely an audience, or attendees. These people aren’t involved in the production of the event, but will be present at it. They may have particular expectations (eg: to see their friend get married), particular needs (eg: gluten free diet), or constraints (eg: $50 is the most they’ll pay for a night out).
Generally, you want to meet expectations, needs and constraints as much as you can (while acknowledging that you can’t please everyone). Because you want people to attend your event! It doesn’t matter how amazing your event is if no one attends.
Most events will have overlap and grey areas between these three categories. For small events, there may not be any distinction. But this may help your planning.
Events happen at a particular time. And usually for a duration. Some run for a very short time (a formal church service lasts for around 45-75 minutes), while others span days or even longer (most holidays are at least an overnight thing, and can go for months in some cases).
People are busy (at least in Sydney, Australia), so consider how long your event will go for. That’s not to say your event has to be short or long, but think about what a good amount of time is (eg: (family holidays are best when they go for a week or two, much longer and everyone’s sick of each other).
Timing may influence, or be influenced by, other factors. Your venue or keynote speaker may only be available on certain days. Your audience may not be available at certain times (no point running a rock concert at 9am, your audience and band probably aren’t awake yet). Holidays cost more money during peak periods, but if your family has school aged children there’s no point running a family holiday during school term - they simply won’t attend.
There are critical times during an event as well. For example, driving to a holiday destination is a critical duration - children will get bored after a few hours. Or while the keynote speaker is on stage. These times (and often the transition to and from them) need special attention, because more things can go wrong and the consequences are worse. Once you arrive at the destination or your speaker is off-stage, things can be more relaxed.
Events happen somewhere. In a place or venue.
It could be your own home, or you may need to rent a hall. A holiday will involve choosing where to go, and where to stay.
Our church events have restrictions on the activities we’re allowed to do (as defined by the Sydney Anglican Church), most venues won’t let you do anything illegal on their premises. There are noise laws in Sydney that restrict loud noise on weekends and at night.
Some places are easy to get to via public transport, others will require everyone to drive. Some places will cost big dollars, others are dirt cheap (ie: free). Some events have little flexibility in their venue (you need a wide-open space to play cricket), while others could happen pretty much anywhere (a Netflix night can happen at anyone’s house). Some places are beautiful, while others are ugly (this may factor into birthdays and weddings). Some places are so far away that it restricts people from attending.
Most places will require a booking (even your friend’s house; you just don’t pay for it), and aren’t available at certain times.
All but the most basic events will need to do some due diligence. That is, visit your venue beforehand and check it’s suitable for what you need. Look for safety issues (eg: spiky things, trip hazards, etc). Check anything you’re planning will actually work (eg: enough power in the right places, enough seating). Remember your audience when visiting (eg: parents of young children may need a room with privacy). And so on.
Some events place a huge emphasis on the right venue, while it won’t matter for others. It’s up to you to figure out what’s best for your event!
Once you have a time and place, you need some way to get there. Both your people and any stuff needed. Unfortunately, this can get complex rather quickly.
For a simple event like movies with friends, all you need to worry about is driving there. Right?
Except not everyone drives.
So then public transport is the way, or a taxi, or maybe carpooling. All those options are more complicated than just getting in a car. Actually, even getting in a car means you need to find somewhere to park, which could present a problem for longer movies: you can exceed parking limits.
What about food? Cinema food is a rip-off, so usually I’d bring something from home, or buy some snacks from a grocery store. But that means I need to swing past a store on the way.
What about dinner afterwards? That just made parking even harder. Do I need to book tickets in advance, or buy them when I get there? I have kids, and most of my friends do as well - will the husband / wife stay home, do we get a baby-sitter, or do the kids come with us (hint: the kids don’t come at night)?
And that’s just for a movie!
Most events I produce need me to bring some “tools”: maybe my laptop, or perhaps props for a talk, or even some real tools of trade. For larger events, you or support people may need significant equipment - for example, your sound guy may be bringing his own gear, which may need a van. And these people and tools will need to arrive at a certain time, after you have access to the venue, with enough time for setup and testing.
I also bring consumables to events. Food (which is complicated enough that it has its own section below) needs transport - Tupperware or disposable containers. It also may need to be kept cool. One dish is about as many as you can take on public transport, anything else means you have to drive.
Logistics get waaaaay more complex on a holiday! On my typical family holiday, we have to fit 4 people + luggage for a week in a car that’s only big enough for 3 - so I end up transferring some to other family members who have spare room in their car.
What if your holiday is overseas? Will you hire a car to get around? Or perhaps you’ll get a chauffeur, because you aren’t so familiar with the country. Or maybe you’ll rely on public transport.
Larger events require more equipment, which means more people moving things on-site, more vehicles, and more co-ordination between people (no use if the sound gear arrives two days before the sound guy).
Oh, and don’t forget clean up - you need to tear your event down at the end.
I’ve alluded to other resources under logistics: tools of trade, electronic gear, props, costumes, luggage.
This kind of stuff usually relates to events where there’s an audience. Although, I consider my laptop & computer as resources on a family holiday - kids entertainment!
Electronics and IT is a pretty major category here:
- Computers / laptops / tablets
- Sound gear (mixing desks, speakers, microphones, etc)
- Audio / video recording equipment
- Data projector / big TVs
- Internet (guest WiFi or LTE)
- And don’t forget all the cables to make them work!
You may not have all these resources at your own disposal, so consider buying them, hiring them, or borrowing from a friend. That’s a not-very-subtle way of saying, resources often cost money. Consider if It’s worth buying things to keep (a one-off fee), or just hire (usually cheaper per-event, but you have to pay again and again). Borrowing has very low cost, but may have other strings attached (ie: the resource isn’t 100% what you need).
Some resources will be consumable. Like machine parts, craft items, and batteries. These also need to be purchased and transported, but often they’ll be disposed at the end of an event.
Food is a major feature of church events; it’s very rare we do anything without food (even just tea & coffee). And, let’s face it, food makes pretty much any event better!
But food brings a stack of complexities to plan for and manage:
- Who will provide it? Will you ask people to bring something to share, buy and pick-up, or get it delivered?
- How will you store it? There are pretty strict standards for keeping food chilled or hot before serving, and a narrow time window before it spoils (and you really, really, really don’t want people getting sick because of the food).
- Who will serve it? Volunteers, caterers, waiters?
- How will you eat it? A sit-down meal, canapes, buffet?
- Will you need tables and chairs? Cutlery and crockery, or disposable?
- What will happen to the garbage afterwards?
- What will you do with leftovers? Will guests take some home, or will they go in the bin, or distribute to the poor?
Alcohol isn’t usually on my agenda (I’m not a big drinker), but it might be on yours. Remember alcohol usually brings logistical complexities (driving under the influence of alcohol is usually illegal, and always dangerous), and obviously costs money. But many social events are incomplete without it, so think about your audience.
A holiday has a different set of parameters:
- Will you just eat out (or get takeaway) every night, or will you cook?
- Who will cook? Take turns, or will there be a designated chef?
- Where will the ingredients come from? Who’s going shopping for them?
Food is fantastic, but it’s tricky as well.
Events cost money. Sometimes they cost lots of money (a concert), sometimes not so much (church events).
It’s worth deciding up-front how much you’re willing to pay for your people, resources, etc. In other words: a budget. It can be a flexible budget, or you can be really strict. But having some kind of line in the sand is helpful.
Very simple events (like going to the movies) will require participants to pay their own way (that is, you buy your own movie ticket & food, and arrange your own transport). Anything even slightly complex will charge an entry fee or ticket price to cover costs.
About the only exception I’ve seen is weekly church meetings, and they tend to do something similar by asking regular members to bring food or assist on a roster (which is in-line with a general policy of not charging the general public to attend church; only the members support financially).
That implies there are other ways of covering costs: labour / people are often the most expensive thing, but if you can get volunteers to assist then you can significantly reduce financial cost. Just remember, people are now “paying” for your event using time instead of money, they may expect some kind of kick back or payment in kind (eg: a share of leftover food).
Venue is another expensive thing (at least in Sydney where our real estate is among the most expensive in the world). If your event is expecting 10s of people to attend, you may be able to use a friend’s (large) house for a low cost. If you’re expecting 100s of people, a local community, church or scout hall may minimise cost. But when you have over 500 people, there aren’t many cheap options available - large, well equipped auditoriums are expensive to build, equip and maintain.
Erg! I’m yet to meet anyone who enjoys this part of events, but the legalities are here to stay, so you’d do best dealing with it up-front as painlessly as possible.
You should consider the copyright of any live performances. At church, the speaker’s talk is considered their intellectual property and they retain copyright of it. However we make that talk available for download - so we need to record the copyright and any licence associated with the performance. It’s worth asking your speaker if they’re happy to be recorded, and what you’re allowed to do with that recording.
Copyright extends to anything vaguely creative “created” during your event. Your cousin’s photos that you downloaded from their phone while on holiday - they hold copyright. The video taken of your wedding vows - the videographer probably has copyright. That recording of your three friends playing Amazing Grace - they hold joint copyright of the performance (though not the song itself, nor the arrangement). All that means is, you need to ask permission to do stuff with any of those things (and be prepared for people to say “no, I’d prefer you didn’t post that on social media”).
As a side note, you should stick a licence against anything you personally “create”. If you don’t it’s technically All Rights Reserved and no one is allowed to make a copy. Creative Commons have some perfectly usable licenses.
Consider the privacy of those who attend your event. In Australia, we have annoying privacy laws, but they’re there for a reason: to protect people. That means you need to ask permission when recording anything that could identify people: photos, videos, audio, registration details (name, address, contact, etc), even a sign-in / sign-out sheet. The basic rules are a) if you don’t need the data, don’t capture it, b) ask permission before you capture it, c) tell people why you’re capturing it and why you need it (if you can’t justify any need, see point a), and d) store it securely and don’t share it willy-nilly on the Internet. Anything that is vaguely private or identifies someone, either keep it private or delete it.
Large events I’ve attended will often make a blanket statement like “we record video images of our conference and reserve the right to publish them in line with Australian privacy laws, if that’s a problem, please contact us”. Smaller events ask people for permission during sign up.
Finally, risk management and safety is important. Generally, you should cover that off during the due diligence of your venue. But it also means you need to have an evacuation plan ready, and be on the lookout for anything bad that could happen to your attendees. Will it be hot? Make sure water is available and the A/C is on. Cold? Provide heating. Kids present? You may need dedicated minders for them, possibly a separate room to minimise noise. Food being served? Make sure it meets the relevant food safety standards (ie: isn’t left outside in heat before being eaten). Trip hazards? Remove them, or put signs up. And so on.
Don’t forget with risk management that it extends to people working during setup and pack up; it’s not just the audience you need to worry about.
Oh, and as with all things legal, get everything in writing. For small events, an email with all relevant parties CCed is usually fine. If the event is larger, the speaker more famous, or tickets cost big dollars, real paper and signatures might be worth it.
And, if the stakes are very high, you might want a lawyer. (Important note: I’m not a lawyer).
A very important aspect of any event is making sure relevant people know what’s happening and what they need to do.
So, your speaker needs to know when they’ll be speaking (is it at the start, or near the end). Your tech crew needs to know their requirements (eg: 3 corded mics, 1 wireless mic, PowerPoint slides from speaker, and 3 tables for food). Even your audience needs to know what’s expected of them (when do they turn up, what’s the dress code).
For the key people and those working behind the scenes, a running sheet works very well. List each step of the event, what’s expected to happen, when it needs to happen, who needs to be there, and what resources are required. For public events, this is often planned out to the minute. Distribute this to all key and supporting people - basically, anyone who appears on the running sheet or is wokring backstage should have one.
I’ve seen visiting speakers request lots of details about the event they’re speaking at. This is most common for politicians or famous speakers. It will tell them what to expect at your event, who the audience is, and lots of other little details.
For your attendees, mass-emails are a good common denominator. However, I’ve seen large events also use Twitter and Facebook so attendees can subscribe to updates (usually weather related). And there’s still a place for a physical invitation in the post with key details (eg: weddings).
What are the key details for attendees? Well, people need to know where and when and how long - that’s about as minimal as you get. Other details may include: transport or parking recommendations, a dress code, a way to RSVP, recommended things to bring (eg: food, clothing, etc). And pretty much anything else that would make their experience better (or prevent bad experiences - telling people what not to do).
OK, that’s a whole stack of theory. Let’s apply it to actual events I’ve organised.
The Event: my wife is going to the movies with her friends. Should be easy enough!
People: my wife plus maybe three or four other ladies she knows from the local community.
Timing: usually evening, occasionally during the day. Day time is simple because kids are at school and hubby is at work. Evening is more complex - our kids aren’t old enough to be home alone, so one parent must be home. I get home from work around 6:30pm - 7:00pm, and it takes ~20 minutes to get to the cinema. So the movie needs to start no earlier than 7:30pm. And home by 10:30pm.
Place: one of several local cinemas. Parking and public transport are readily available.
Logistics: my wife doesn’t drive, so she either needs a lift from a friend or to catch a train / bus. Generally, she’ll public transport to the cinema, and get a lift home when it’s later.
Resources: movie tickets. These need to be pre-purchased online these days, so one of the ladies needs to look after that. They take it in turns.
Food: either buy it at a supermarket local to the cinema, or pay exorbitant prices at the cinema itself. Snack food like crisps and lollies only. Sometimes the ladies will have dinner afterwards.
Dollars: movies tickets are $10-$15ea, depending on vouchers. Public transport is a few dollars, plus any food / dinner purchased.
Legal: thankfully none!
Communications: most of the planning happens in person after school drop-off, or via WhatsApp.
The Event: a family holiday to Hawks Nest.
People: my immediate family (2 adults + 2 kids), my mother in law (1 adult), my two sisters & family (3 adults, 2 kids), and possibly short stay visits by other family members / friends. Age range in 2019 was 1-60.
Timing: usually around the same time each year for around one week. Must be during school vacation time, as kids attend school. The house we stay at is owned by a friend who generously lets it to us for free, but they often want to stay around the same time as us, so we juggle the exact number of days.
We’ve done this holiday each year for the last 3 or 4 years, so planning is much simpler than first time around - everyone’s pretty familiar with what happens.
Place: a friend’s generously provided holiday house. Cost is free (yay). House has two levels and backs onto bushland which sometimes has a small pond, so there’s safety concerns for very young kids. Three rooms suitable for adults (3 queen beds), plus two rooms with many single bunk beds - which usually means one adult is stuck with the kids. Beach is ~3 minutes drive away, other activities include hiking, cafes, shopping, jigsaw puzzles, board games and computer games.
Logistics: It’s a week long holiday, so we need luggage for 2 adults & 2 kids in a car that’s not big enough. Part of our luggage goes via my mum-in-law, or sister, so we need to organise that. There’s no such thing as public transport in Hawks Nest, so everyone drives.
In the week before, I need to pick up keys from the owner. Depending on who’s going to arrive first, they pick keys up from us. And afterwards, I need to drop keys back.
Driving up there takes about 3 hours, if you don’t stop at all. We stop at least once for a break, and usually lunch / dinner. So the drive is closer to 4 hours. Once we get there, everything is within 10 minutes’ drive, so we’re much more relaxed. But any long drive with kids needs to be planned and carefully managed.
There’s a supermarket and lots of smaller stores in town, so food and groceries are covered. We usually bring some food from home, but that’s been happening less and less over the years - it’s just easier to buy at Hawks Nest.
Resources: Most resources are covered under other headings. But there’s no Internet at the house, so I bring my own router and LTE modem. Internet is required for many games these days, although all video streaming services are blocked. Computers & laptops come with us for entertaining kids and adults alike. Plus the usual phones and chargers.
Some family members bring beach gear. Others bring board games. We usually bring a few jigsaw puzzles. And some remote-control cars as well.
Food: There’s a supermarket in town, so buying food isn’t a problem. In the first few years, we organised a meal roster so everyone took a turn cooking. But that’s fallen out of fashion a bit these days; people just volunteer each day to cook.
Some people have dietary requirements, though. Three are gluten free, one is lactose intolerant (plus a bunch of other allergies to complex to detail here), and there’s the usual fussy kids.
And we always end up buying an excess of junk food for the holiday.
Dollars: Accommodation is usually one of the larger costs on a holiday, but in our case it’s zero. Of course, we pay by having to clean at the end of our stay. Travel costs are a tank or two of petrol. Food costs similar to our usual weekly grocery budget, with an extra allowance for snacks. Some dollars to eat take out a few times. Plus spending money at local shops. And allowances for activities (such as a ferry ride across the bay, which is ~$100 return for the whole family).
Legal: I’m paranoid about the dates and times we will arrive and depart. So I make sure they end up in writing with the owner (even if its just on a Facebook message).
Otherwise, if I share photos I tell people that I have a Creative Commons license on them.
Communications: Communication usually happens via Facebook event (although my sister setup a self-hosted family social media site to get away from Facebook). I create the event when I book dates with the owner, and then it sits dormant until a month before it starts. There are a few messages around what people are planning to bring for entertainment. And that’s about it. Because each year is pretty much the same as the year before, we all know what’s going to happen.
In 2019, I convinced everyone to install Signal and create a group for messages while we away. Which mostly worked OK, except for the people who didn’t have Signal as their default messaging app - their messages were sometimes delayed.
The first year was quite different: my wife and I were the only two people who’d stayed at the house, and there were lots of questions. Mostly around how baby proof the house was, as my sister had a toddler at that time. The fun part was that we hadn’t stayed there in years, so I struggled to remember many details - and had to resort to photos we took!
The Event: I got married to my wife!!
(Note: this is all from memory of an event we planned almost 15 years ago, so some details may be… well… just plain wrong).
People: The main people in involved were me and my wife! Then we each had three bridesmaids / groomsmen. There was the minister to marry us. And a few key helpers (drivers, hair & makeup, musos, photographers). For a total of ~20 key people.
Then we had immediate and close family, and close friends. Which bumped numbers to ~100. And then a wider network of family and friends, for the eventual total of around 300.
The 300 were invited to the church service, and 100 to the reception.
Timing: We didn’t really want to have a long engagement, but I think it was around 12 months (for reasons). The wedding was set for 25th of March 2006, at 1pm. That was plenty of time to get ready in the morning (dresses, suits, makeup, etc). Allow 2 hours for the wedding, 2 hours for photos, and the reception started at 6pm (or maybe it was 7). Anyway, we had to be out of the reception place at midnight. And then we had a hotel booked for the night.
Place: The wedding ceremony was at our church in Wentworthville. And the reception was at the Emporium Function Center in Bankstown (opposite the train station, next to the undertaker - it really was nice inside, not so much from outside). We had photos taken at Auburn Botanic Gardens. And we stayed at the Shangra-La in Sydney, which was part of the package for our reception.
Logistics: Given we needed to be at 4 places through the day, transport was important. We decided to hire three cars from Budget Car Hire for the bridal party. They weren’t crazy expensive wedding limos, but just nice Holden Statesmen. And we asked three of our friends to be drivers.
Because Statemen were slightly fancy, we couldn’t pick them up from the Budget down-the-road-from-where-I-live, we had to drive to the Budget near-Sydney-Airport (a good 45 minute drive, even on the weekend). The drivers all went in with like two hours up our sleeve.
And we waited. While Budget mucked about getting one of our cars from 5km down the road to where we were standing.
In the end, they couldn’t get the car to us in time (apparently they couldn’t just drive it to us, they had to load it on a truck and drive the truck to us - go figure). And I took up an offer from one of my drivers’: his parents owned a Jaguar, which was fancy enough for us.
Otherwise, all the people involved in special roles were either in the bridal party (and so were chauffeured), or we arranged for them to visit key locations in advance. Eg: we visited Auburn Botanic Gardens a few weeks before the wedding with our photographers to pick out places for photos. And our master of ceremonies went with us to plan things at the Emporium. And our family (some of which came from New Zealand) were given detailed instructions to get to and from the church and reception.
Resources: I’ve already spoken about cars; I think they were the most important material resource on the day.
We send out invitations in advance. These were on special paper, decorations and had people’s names handwritten (although the remainder of the invite was printed from home).
While the Internet had been invented in 2006, and I’m pretty sure Google Maps was a thing, most people didn’t use it. So we included a map from our church to the reception venue with invitations, and the parking area provided.
Our church was appropriately kitted out for weddings. We asked friends to lead singing, prayers and other up-front roles. We were (and remain) good friends with the minister, so asked him to marry us. Enough tech stuff was in place to make things happen like words on a screen, amplified sound, etc. And we asked various friends to welcome guests and give them orders of service.
Another group of friends (from a different church) catered for some afternoon tea / refreshments after the ceremony. One of them happened to be head chef at an SUFM beach mission we volunteered at for a few years, so they knew what they were doing.
I asked one of my groomsmen to build a basic online gift registry. Not sure why we didn’t use an off-the-shelf one, but he was a nerd (like me) and did a fine job.
Food: Most of the food was at the reception, and it was professionally catered as part of the package. In fact, it was over catered (always the best way to go with food) - I remember people commenting that there was just more and more food that came out as the night went on!
My best man’s mum had made wedding cakes in the past, and we asked her to make ours as her present to us. It was fantastic!
Our beach mission friends provided refreshments after the church ceremony. I don’t remember having much to do with this, and have no memory of anything bad about it either. It did involve some amount of hot food though.
Finally, I think we brought snacks for the bridal party. Fruit, chips, lollies, water - just enough to keep us going.
Dollars: It’s waaay to long ago to remember any actual costs. Although, for some reason, $70 per person (plus GST) comes to mind for the reception. The package provided by the Emporium was our single largest expense and including the venue, a three course meal, tea & coffee & maybe some alcohol, fruit platters, and two nights at the Shangra-La.
As you may have noticed, we had lots of volunteers help out. Friends from church, beach mission, university, school, and family. They all pitched in and made the day work, and did not cost a stupid amount of money. Photographers, drivers, caterers, minister, singers, musicians, and master of ceremonies were all free.
Beyond the reception, we had to pay to hire cars (although not as many as we originally planned), pay for fancy paper for mailing invites, pay for posting invites. I’m sure we contributed some amount toward the afternoon tea, although it’s entirely possible that was a gift to us as well. Oh, Catherine bought her wedding dress, but we hired dresses and suits for the bridal party (I have a sneaking suspicion that someone else paid for them though). Pretty much everything else was incidental.
Legal: Thankfully, not much! Obviously, we had to sign paperwork to be legally married. But I can’t remember anything else significant - either it wasn’t significant, or I’ve repressed the memory.
Communications: E-mail was the dominant form of communication in 2006. Along with face to face meetings. And even phone calls.
Invitations covered everything needed for guests. And they received an order of service when they arrived.
I’m sure there was a running sheet for people involved in the service. In fact, I probably organised it, but I don’t remember anything about it now.
A funny story about communication: mobile phones were a thing in 2006, albeit only capable of making calls and sending SMS. Catherine and I both managed to lose our phones on our wedding day, so that, for the entirety of our honeymoon, we were without phones!
The Event: Wenty Anglican Church celebrated 100 years of Gospel ministry in Wentworthville with a special church meeting. Although it was “special”, from an event point of view, it didn’t differ much from our regular church meetings, so we could lean on the same kinds of skills and people every other Sunday.
People: We expected people who’d attended the church previously, new visitors, and our regular members. Our usual 6pm meeting merged with 10am, so a few extra people there as well. Overall, we anticipated between 100 and 200 people, including children.
We were hosting the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies, as a guest speaker. And his wife was attending with him. So we needed to communicate to him what he should (and shouldn’t) say, plus make sure there was lunch provided for them. He was a pretty low maintenance archbishop (admittedly, my experience with bishops, arch or otherwise, is minimal).
Another unusual factor was we had children’s leaders coming from an outside church, so that our own leaders would be freed up to attend the main meeting. That meant the new leaders would need to be orientated quickly, so they were comfortable with their environment and the kids.
Timing: In our regular 10am Sunday meeting timeslot, 10:00am to 11:15am. We were sharing lunch together afterwards, which would finish up by 1pm. Allow an hour to pack up, so regulars would be going home around 2pm. As we had to setup food and had unusual things happening, regulars arrived by 9am to setup.
Place: Our church auditorium and grounds. Nothing unusual here.
Logistics: There was a reasonable amount of setup and pack up - chairs and tables, plus serving tables. We were interviewing our new pastor (who was due to start a couple of weeks after the event), and our previous minister had an up-front role.
There was also a small amount of extra A/V setup - I allowed for audio to be piped into one of our small meeting rooms, which was set aside for babies and pre-school children and their carers.
And we videoed the whole meeting, on one of our member’s old camcorders. This was something we’d never done before, and while it generally worked OK, we learned a lesson for next time: make sure the camera is connected to mains power (the battery ran out with about 5 minutes to go). I got to post-process the video (using Avimux and Handbrake).
Finally, there was transport of food (which was sort of simplified).
Resources: We didn’t need significant resources over and above other special events. We semi-regularly have lunches after church, and have regular plans: compostable plates, utensils and recyclable cups, plus rubbish collection.
Our information sheets given to members and guests were slightly fancier (printed on nicer paper and in colour).
Additional children’s leaders was the most complex part, just because they’re people rather than things. They needed to become familiar with our buildings and grounds quickly, so they could implement their program. We kept two of our regular leaders with them, to ease any problems. I presume they brought their own material for activities, craft, and so on.
We encouraged a few of our regulars to take photos for future generations. And I collated them afterwards.
Food: The plan was for regulars to bring a picnic lunch, plus some extra sandwiches and finger food for guests. In some ways, that was simpler than other lunches and events at church - pretty much everything was easily transportable, very little needed to be kept hot or chilled, and we didn’t need servers.
At least, that was the theory.
In practice, because we needed to bring extra for guests it ended up needed 80% of the admin of a regular lunch. And it was a hot day, so we had to worry about keeping chicken sandwiches cool. And, with the amount of extra food brought for guests, we were pretty close to just catering for everyone via the “extra guest” food.
Oh, well. It was a good idea at the time.
Dollars: As with most church events, the main cost was in volunteer labour and provision by regular members. I think we spent a few hundred dollars to get a portable toilet, and that was it.
Regulars made extra food, administered the event, loaned any extra equipment required. So there was a cost, just not a dollar figure paid from the church bank account.
Legal: Kids leaders, copyright and privacy.
The additional children’s leaders needed a minimal level of due diligence to ensure they pass all the safe ministry requirements - that is, none of them are likely to harm the kids they’re teaching. Fortunately, there are government systems and Anglican church processes in place to help with that. But it’s still admin that needs to be done.
As we had a guest speaker, we had to assign the Archbishop copyright for his talk. Woot.
And we need to check with everyone who appeared in the video footage they were OK being published online. In retrospect, I think we’ll get permission in advance from now on.
Communications: Communication for regular church meetings is usually done via email and in person (on Sundays). So all the admin was looked after that way. Plus a slightly longer than usual run sheet.
And communication to guests was done by word of mouth, social media and via regular church events. When they arrived, we made sure to give people an overview of our property, and our plans for the day (church meeting, followed by lunch).
The Event: The NSW & ACT branch of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) runs a large event each year called Summer School. This boils down to a convention with morning sermons, smaller sessions run by missionaries, and a slightly more relaxed evening session (again with an sermon).
Basically, it’s big church, with a missionary focus.
People: The event is attended by 3000-4000 adults. Plus another ~1000 children (from 0-18 years), which includes my two boys. Most attendees are from a church background and are familiar with CMS and support its goals; a sizable majority attend year-by-year.
From an administrative point of view, everything is an order of magnitude bigger than what I normally deal with. I’m on the technical team, which looks after A/V, marquees, setup and pack-up (plus plenty of other little things). There are separate teams for music (separate morning & evening), ushers, parking, garbage, morning tea, registration, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten. All told, around 250 volunteers, plus staff from CMS make Summer School happen.
Finally, there’s another 250 youth and children’s leaders.
Timing: Annual event in 2nd week of January. Running for one week Saturday to Saturday (7 days).
The morning program starts at 9am and concludes around 1pm. Evening is from 7:00pm to 9:30pm. People may attend both programs, or just one (our family only regularly attends the morning sessions). Some will come for just part of a session (it’s common for most people to leave the evening session around 8:30pm).
Tech team does setup in the 3-4 days leading up to the conference. CMS staff and visiting missionaries arrive the day before the first session, and provide sizable assistance. Most admin teams (tech included) need to be on-site 30-60 minutes before a session begins. And many volunteers work together to pack up in the few hours after the final session (yes, setup takes 3 days, pack up around 3 hours).
This is far enough away from suburban Sydney that a large proportion of attendees will rent a house for the week. Katoomba has a large tourist industry, so it accommodates us well enough, though booking 12 months in advance is very helpful.
KCC is well equipped, but anyone using the site needs to bring most of their own equipment. CMS has a long-term close relationship with KCC, so we get a few perks (along the lines of dedicated cable runs, a VPN which runs back to the CMS office, limited on-site storage).
Anyone who’s been to KCC knows it’s located at the top of a hill (and curses the climb). There a ~300m walk, which includes ~30m of vertical, from the usual parking area to the main auditorium. Several CMS marquees are situated on the hill itself, so it’s common to walk up and down a few times in a day.
Logistics: Best described as large and complex!
As someone on the tech team, there’s a stack of equipment to get on-site, installed, tested and working in a few days.
A/V equipment is one of the largest categories:
- Speaker arrays for attendees, and foldbacks for on-stage and backstage,
- Mixing desks (front of house, backstage and broadcast (to marquees)),
- Microphones (handheld, wireless, directional),
- Computers for projecting song words, videos, captions, illustrations,
- Computers for recording audio, generating audio, live steaming,
- Specialised computers for mixing video,
- Data projectors,
- Networking switches, PoE switches, WiFi access points,
- Portable amplifiers and A/V gear for use in marquees,
- And waaaay too many cables.
Some of those are stored on-site, others near-by (~200m from auditorium). Some are hired for the event, others transported up from Sydney. Just physically getting everything on-site, and in the right place on-site is complex enough.
On top of that, there’s a stack electrical work, physically installing things in strange places (very high, underground, through trees), and training new volunteers in day to day tasks. And the tech team is responsible for anything that is vaguely technical Just Works™, so we always get a few random requests.
As mentioned, there are numerous other teams to make Summer School happen. I won’t go into details, but there are several bands (which need to transport instruments), hundreds of children’s leaders (which need to transport themselves, plus activities and lessons for ~1000 children), and thousands of people generate plenty of rubbish (which needs to be removed from site). You get the picture!
And then there are missionaries and the main speakers. Most of whom are just getting off an overseas flight or will be getting on one within days of the conference ending. They often have families with them, plus make presentations through the conference and seek to raise support (care, prayer or financial).
One last thing to mention: emergencies. Katoomba is regularly subject to highly variable weather - it’s common to arrive on-site at 8am in fog, by 10:30am for the temperature to be 30-35°C, and for heavy rain to fall overnight turning our parking into a swamp. A few years back, there was a lighting strike during one of the sessions, which took out all electrical equipment.
2019’s big worry was bushfires. Australia has suffered the worst bushfires on record in the lead up to Summer School, some have burned near Katoomba. There are emergency plans in place to deal with fire. The easiest plan is to cancel the whole event - which would be annoying and frustrating, but best in terms of safety and risk management. Because otherwise we’ll have several thousand adults on a site in the path of fire with only two ways in and out (east or west). Summer School causes half hour traffic jams without threat to life and property - if Katoomba itself is threatened by bush fire, authorities will evacuate and evacuate early.
OK, that’s the event logistics, I have a family to look after as well! As with our family holiday, my family + luggage for a week does not fit in our car, so we co-ordinate with other friends and family attending with us.
Also, because I’m involved in event setup, I go up a few days earlier. Which complicates packing - either I come back for a day during setup to pack and head up with my family, or they need to pack in advance and I take most of their luggage up during setup, and they come up with friends / family. Either way is… complicated.
Skilled and unskilled people are required for setup and behind the scenes technical roles. On the skilled side, a minimum number of competent A/V people are required for roles like: operating video cameras, operating lights, operating sound mixing desks, etc. Some jobs are easy enough that people can be trained on the day, or over a few days. But the principal roles of video director and audio manager really need people with lots of experience.
As mentioned in Logistics, there’s a stack of equipment required.
Tents and marquees are not setup by volunteers; they’re rented and installed by whoever supplies them. But we still need to install our equipment in them, and maintain them during the event (eg: during heatwave conditions or heavy rain). I assume higher up managers schedule their installation before the volunteers arrive in late December.
The final resource is extremely valuable, but easily overlooked: the KCC Site itself. With a large auditorium, on-site accommodation (used by youth and children’s leaders), camping ground, oval / parking area, multiple additional buildings used as smaller meeting rooms, and all the equipment that goes with that - it simply wouldn’t be possible to run Summer School without KCC (well, certainly not at the same cost).
For my family, the resources are similar to any other holiday: food, entertainment, luggage.
Food: Is relatively simple. The only food supplied during the conference is morning tea and supper, plus lunch on the final day. However, supplying tea, coffee and biscuits to 3000 people still requires plenty of work! Volunteers assist serving tea & coffee, and to minimise the safety risks that go with hot beverages. Tap and bottled water are also available, but they’re self-serve.
I’m glad the final lunch is only done on the final day - because it involves keeping fruit and sandwiches chilled on what is usually a 30-35°C day. And a small ordeal to marshal people into lines, pick up their food (and not “accidentally” taking a bit extra), and then get them out of the marquee so the next few hundred people can move though.
So, the vast majority of food (breakfast, lunch and dinner) must be organised at a family / household level. And that’s similar to our family holidays, just with different family & friends around. Frequently, there are lunches / dinners with friends, so that involves extra food, or going to another rented house / cabin / caravan / tent.
Dollars: It costs lots of money to run a large conference like this. Despite the number of volunteers involved, it costs several hundreds of dollars for a family of four to attend. And those dollars go into purchasing, hiring and maintaining equipment, renting the site, supplying food, and a stack of things I don’t know about.
So, to encourage people to volunteer, discounts are offered. This can range from a single free day, to covering the entire cost of the conference. The discounts also apply to missionary families and other up-front speakers. In particular, footing the bill for missionaries is very important: they are already on a tight budget, and the conference is all about their experiences, plans and work around the world proclaiming Jesus - so we want to look after them!
The cost is always a source of feedback from attendees, who generally find it rather expensive. And I’m highly sympathetic; it’s not cheap to run. I’m also at a loss how it can be done cheaper (at least without significantly curbing quality).
The biggest single expense for us is accommodation: renting a house large enough for our family & friends in Katoomba is expensive! We share the cost with others and it still costs ~$1000 for the week.
Legal: There are several legal issues to consider - privacy, child protection and missionary security.
Privacy is the usual thing. We can’t identify people, but we want to use their photographs for promotional purposes. Usually this doesn’t involve making the pictures public; it’s just circulating the pictures within those who attended. But we still need to get their permission, and ensure the image don’t leak.
Child protection is, again, pretty standard fare these days. The same privacy things apply to kids - there are pictures and videos, which need to be handled carefully. Leaders need to sign statements of faithfulness and integrity (and obey them). And everything needs to be entirely above board - no possible avenue to suspect any wrongdoing by leaders (or kids). This boils down to: always in groups - there should never be a time when leaders or kids are alone and not visible to others; you must be at least visible from the larger group at all times.
A slightly unusual legal issue is missionary security. The conference is a missionary conference, but CMS sends some missionaries to parts of the world where “missionary” is a dangerous profession. Their visa might be is for “language learning” and any connection to a mission organisation may risk their visa being revoked. It might be more serious: actual threats to their physical security in the country they’re working in. In any case, keeping their identify slightly hidden is important to their work. So their full name might not be published, or even their picture. Any seminars they present at won’t be recorded to prevent accidental (or deliberate) leaks. All to reduce the chance of a particular flavour of Christian identity becoming known. (Note that CMS always ensures workers are send with legitimate visas, approved by the host country and whatever their official work is must match that visa).
Communications: Most communication in the lead up to the conference is via email. However, as many attendees are, well, of an older generation, there’s plenty of paper advertising and communication.
Once the conference is running, the communication goes out via social media. This is usually more along the lines of “it’s been raining for the last 3 days and the usual parking area is closed”, or “the recent bush fires are not an immediate threat, Summer School is safe!”.
Even closer to real time communication is required within teams. The technical team uses WhatsApp to communicate issues during sessions. These issues are usually subtle audio issues, but can also be not so subtle (a channel is muted which shouldn’t be). As the technology doesn’t always work, we even sometimes use runners (that is, people who run from one side of the auditorium to the other to relay a message).
Events can be very simple, or highly complex. The key to success is planning.
I’ve given a few categories and examples to help. But there’s no substitute for experience. Give it a try, figure out something that works (however badly), and improve it next time.
Your event may even run without a hitch! (But probably not, and you’ll need to use a backup plan fix it, but that’s OK because you planned and have a backup, right!).