Last Updated on July 10, 2022
As an event management professional, you aren’t simply managing events – you’re also managing people. In order to run a conference and ensure that things are going smoothly, you need a team. You need vendors, partners and speakers. You need venue owners and security. Perhaps most importantly you need volunteers.
I’ll be frank here: volunteers are the unsung heroes of event planning. While it’s the event planner that handles the logistics and gets everyone coordinated, it’s ultimately the volunteers who ensure that everything is going smoothly. They often man check-in, direct attendee traffic and address questions, concerns, and complaints. Never-mind often being part of your manual labor crew assisting with set-up and takedown.
In short, volunteers are the gears that keep the well-oiled machine that is your event running.
It’s the event planners’ job to see to it that staff and volunteers have the tools they require to help produce a stellar event.
1. Communication Lines
The most important thing to ensure is that volunteers are able to quickly and easily communicate with one another. Clear lines of communication allow a team to work cohesively and effectively which is always useful, but vital when trouble arises. Research, plan and practice emergency communication plans.
Tip: at least one volunteer, if not all, in each area of the event should be equipped with a radio.
2. Identification – A Uniform
It seems obvious, but I’ve seen this many times, events where the volunteers can’t be clearly discerned from attendees. Volunteers must have some sort of uniform or clear badge, particularly if they’re going to be dealing directly with guests. This will allow attendees to quickly identify anyone who can assist.
Consider a serious situation like a fire. Naturally people look for leadership and direction, but chaos erupts if no one can determine who is in charge; who knows the emergency procedures.
Special equipment that will ensure your event runs properly are the literal tools required – for example, lights and bug spray for an outdoor event; badge scanners for electronic entry, the props required for a demo, water for quests, etc… Don’t leave your volunteers to feel the brunt of disgruntled attendees.
Tip: checklist, checklist, checklist. Checklists are the best way to be absolutely certain you don’t miss anything.
4. First Aid
This isn’t always feasible and its more of a priority for some types of events, but consider providing basic First Aid training for all volunteers and staff. At very least, any event site should have a fully stocked first aid kit or facility and your volunteers need to know exactly where these are located.
5. Food, Drink, and Facilities
One of the most common mistakes I’ve seen novice event managers make involves how they care for their events team. Particularly if you’re dealing with volunteers, make sure they’ve access to a fully-stocked break room. Keep them fed and watered, and consider giving them some sort of bonus (such as free access to your event, an invite to the after party, etc…) as thanks for their assistance.
A final note – Shift Schedule And Debrief
Provide your teams with a decent shift schedule and post the schedule online or distributing it electronically between your volunteers. Introduce your volunteer team to each other and to your staff. Last, but certainly not least, debrief everyone on the purpose of your event. Get everyone excited about the task at hand.
No event can proceed without a team. It falls to you to make sure your volunteers are properly equipped to do their jobs well. As an event planner you manage more than just events – you manage people.
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