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The importance of details

One recent morning, I received an e-mail inviting me to attend an event that was to occur in a couple of days.  The invitation was from a community leader who had formed a monthly discussion group regarding an issue that was important to the community.  Indeed, this person is what I would call a great community builder.  I had been to the discussion group a year earlier and found it well-intended, but lacking very much honesty among the discussants, myself included.  I decided to give it — and me — another chance even if I had to squeeze it in around other appointments.

Now to make my reservation. I was already feeling better just for making the decision to attend. The e-mail message instructed me call a certain person at a certain number. I called and asked to speak to the designated person. A rather gruff voice said, “She’s not here.  Would you like her voicemail?” I replied in the affirmative and was connected to the voicemail of a man who was obviously not the right person. I hung up and called back. It was instant replay. By now, I was frustrated.  So much so that I decided that if the group did not have its act together any more than that I would not attend.

Then I started thinking. Was this my excuse for not attending an event that I “should” attend, or did I have a responsibility to overlook the poor execution of details by the organizer?  I wondered how many others had called and decided not to attend the event because of the telephone snafu.  After I made my decision, I reflected on how important it is to pay attention to the details when putting on an event.

Details really matter at first contact.  First impressions really do make a difference. Think about the times you present yourself for registration at a conference for which you have pre-registered.  Isn’t it nice to look down at a formation of nametags in alphabetical order and see YOUR name?  Now think about the times you have registered for a conference only to arrive and NOT see your nametag in that collection of name badges even though you are certain that you pre-registered. 

One of my favorite details is to know who will be attending an event in advance.  Many organizations make good use of the Internet to post a list of pre-registrants on their web sites so that those who are coming know who they may see and have the opportunity to network with.  It is a small detail, but it is important when one thinks that the number one reason people say that the best thing about attending a conference is the opportunity to network with others.  Also, some busy people actually forget whether or not they have registered for an event or conference.  Having the registrant list on the web site provides a way for that person to verify registration.  It also helps to remind registrants of the event a week or so in advance.  If the event has a small number of registrants, then a telephone call is especially nice.  A word of caution is in order at this point.  It is not always appropriate to put the names of registrants on a public web site.  If that is the case with your event, then consider a password-protected page that contains the list.  Also, it is almost always not appropriate to list registrants’ e-mail addresses on a web site.  There are software programs designed to harvest such names for the purpose of selling those names to spammers. 

Experts say that good companies pay attention to the details in a way that responds to the emotional needs of customers.  Michael Levine, author of “Broken Windows, Broken Business,” says that because we are living in an age of anxiety, it is extremely dangerous for a business to ignore the emotional side of the brain.  He goes on to say that for many businesses think all they have to do is market a product, not realizing that the most successful businesses are obsessive about the details of customer service.  Likewise, it is easy for event organizers to overemphasize marketing an event while forgetting the details of the event.

So how do you make certain that the details will be covered?  If the event is large, then it is imperative that you have an event planning committee.  If possible, it should consist of people who have been to past events of the organization, people who have been to a lot of conferences, seminars and workshops, people who are new to the organization and members of the leadership team of the organization.  It is important that the committee meet at least one time in person.  At this meeting, each member should be asked to describe the best and worst meetings they have attended and why.  They should also feel free to offer suggestions and comments.  This type of meeting provides the event organizer with important information about the details that need to be attended to for the upcoming event.   Secondly, it is useful to have at least two people involved in implementing the details of the meeting even if one person is merely there to provide feedback to the other.

There are a multitude of details to putting on even the smallest event.  This writer suggests an Internet search for “event checklist.”  The result will be dozens of web sites that offer checklists and advice.  

Here’s to your next event being the best ever.


Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Contact him at phil@philhardwick.com. Read his blog at www.msbusiness.com.


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