EVENTOLOGY: Top 5 steps to throw a ridiculous party

Party Ridiculousness

(Note: This post is part of a 5-part series on events and party planning. Jump directly into a subtopic here)

  1. Its all about the CUSTOMERS, baby. Venue selection & the Deal.
  2. This is more INTERESTING than whatever else you’re doing.
  3. Pound the PAVEMENT. Sell your heart out.
  4. More MONEY, less problems. Keep your event ROI-positive
  5. Event as a startup. TEAM matters.

When is the last time you threw a really memorable event? When is the last time you even went to a really memorable event? What’s the last event you even remember enjoying?

We’re suffering from an epidemic of events that are merely ‘meh’, and too many of us have just gotten used to it. Whether you’re planning something as simple as a few friends hanging out to something as complex as a massive fundraising gala extravaganza, there are probably a bunch of things you can do better — and it’s easier than you think.

And, this being the holiday season and all, why not kick off my new blog with a series on partying down?

You will only find this useful if you’re interested in creating unforgettable experiences. If not, well, the next blah happy hour is at the bar next door.

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Curious yet?

We’re going to follow in the footsteps of my friend Rebecca, who until just a few weeks ago, had never thrown an event. But anyone who went to Raise Cache is not likely to forget it or stop talking about it for a while, including yours truly.

So how do you get from ‘wanting-to-throw-an-event’ to ‘just-threw-the-sweetest-party-ever’? I’m so glad you asked.

It all started when Rebecca found herself in an argument over whether the tech scene in Silcon Valley was better than the one in Silicon Alley. NYC #ftw obviously here. She she asked herself ‘what sorts of stuff happens in NYC that is hands-down better than SF?’ – Finance, media and fashion. No arguments there. What do we need to make the NYC tech scene better? Talent. Raise Cache was born as a way to showcase the best of what NYC has to offer — and in the process raised over $100,000 for HackNY.

One of the biggest lessons learned? Once you have your goals laid out,
1. Keep your customer in mind - It’s too easy to get caught up in either your own personal predelictions for your event, or else the lazy road to the easy party. Even if you’re not charging for your event, imagine your attendee as your customer. Why is your event something they want? Why come to your event and not just lay on the couch?

Rebecca first tried to pull core fashion companies and the big banks in as sponsors (more on that soon), but they didnt really understand why HackNY is awesome or what they would gain by showing up. They weren’t the customer. So instead, she pulled in the amazing people at Edition01 who donated an amazing DKNY one-of-a-kind piece and the luminary Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures who walked the runway carrying an “Occupy” sign. Relevant sponsors + community involvement = happy people and awesome event.

Once you have your customer in mind, how to make them want to be involved?
2. Sell unmissable intrigue - Rebecca could have thrown a dinner-and-a-show fundraiser, but where’s the drama in that? Inspired by the showmanship and extravagance that make gallery openings, theatre specials and nightclub galas spectacular and provocative, something more interesting had to happen.

Not only did this mean that all the details from the bathrooms to the snacks to the doorman have to be carefully designed, but it also meant that the very means of getting the word out required the team to –
3. Do something unexpected – Its table stakes these days to spam emails to your list or your group’s members about an event. As a result, we all constantly have 20 open facebook event invites, and an inbox full of spam — none of which I get to or take seriously. Cutting through the noise takes a strong message and brand consistency, and of course, the element of surprise.

In addition to bringing a personal touch to all the communications, the event hit all the relevant channels for her customer (see above, keep the customer in mind) at once. By launching with the right press,  speaking at the right event (NYTM), and launching the website all at once, they got 10,000 hits and sold a nice chunk of tickets the very first day.

It’s nearly game time. You found a spot, are getting the word out, and even selling tickets and sponsorship. The costs are going to start adding up fast if you dont
4. Watch the bottom linelike a boss. Event planners consistently say that even with the best plan, costs tend to come in just a little higher than expected. If that gets matched up with sponsorship or ticket sales a little lower than expected — we have a problem.

Rebecca knew that flexibility and hustle go hand-in-hand. She had forceranked lists of her biggest expenses, like drinks, lighting, and options at the venue. Each was set up to be scalable — so in case you end up with less cash than expected, there’s already a sliding scale for what gets dropped without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Finally, no one man or woman is an army.
5. Execute with a great team – Great events are never thrown by just one person. In fact, it is much more like starting a little company than it is merely sending a few emails. Spectacular execution creates unforgettable events. If you don’t have all the skills (most of us don’t), fill in the gaps while building your team.

The community who loves your event may be willing to help in work or in kind. Low cost help or free interns may be available for an interesting experience. A cofounder/coplanner could give you a shoulder to cry on when things don’t go your way.

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Ultimately, events are supposed to be fun. Hopefully knowing what to do can make planning them fun too.

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My many thanks for the superstars who helped me pull this together:

  • Judy Allen – event guru and author of 10+ books, including Event Planning The Ultimate Guide
  • Rebecca Zhou – Hackstar, UI/UX designer and self-taught event planner extraodinare behind Raise Cache
  • Kelsey Recht – Founder and CEO of Instevent – making event planning easier through expertise and technology
  • Gina Jagtiani – Veteran event planner in NYC and New Orleans, Founder and CEO of eventiveworld.com, and social media empresaria