Holding an Event is Like Giving a Performance

The iconic Apollo Theater’s Dining with the Divas 4th annual benefit luncheon took place on Valentine’s Day and I’m still feeling the glow from attending this beautifully planned and executed event.Apollo_V1_460x28576

How you present your organization in front of hundreds of guests can burnish your brand and reputation or cause lasting damage. The landmarked theater in Harlem that launched the careers of such luminaries as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Bill Cosby showed how it should be done.

Perfect Performance

The famed venue gave its own 5-star performance in raising money for its education and community programs. A corporate event is more like a theater performance than you might think. The audience needs to be  entertained as well as informed. Clients, prospects or potential donors must be persuaded to choose your event from among the dozens of invitations they receive from competing organizations.

As Jonelle Procope, president and CEO of the Apollo told us, “We are a performance venue, so everything is about customer service. How do you talk to a patron? How can you be helpful? People are coming to your home. How do you make them feel welcome?”

The Apollo wanted to inspire guests, so they chose the theme of mentoring – about people helping people. Many women brought their mentees, who had the potential to become new constituents for the theater.


Jonelle Procope, Deb Shriver

Jonelle carefully selected a benefit committee to spread a wider net for potential luncheon attendees. They wanted to reach beyond the women who are seen at most benefit luncheons.

There were breaks for networking during the course of the luncheon when it was possible to get up and make a new friend. “That is another touch that everyone loves and truly embraces. It’s inspiring to meet new people,” said Jonelle.

From the moment you entered the theater until retrieving your coat everything went smoothly. Instead of waiting in the usual long line at the end of the luncheon, a staff member took your coat check and returned with your coat. That’s the kind of touch that leaves a lasting impression.

Planning Your Performance          

The next time you’re planning an event, think of it as planning a performance in which everyone knows their roles and remembers their lines. Develop a checklist of each activity that needs to be done. These include:

  • Master plan. Develop a master plan that includes the speakers, venue, staff, menus, potential exhibits, table setting, seating, and dais guests. Increasingly, event planners are dispensing with the dais and reserving a table for the speakers so they have an opportunity to mingle with members of the audience. Instead of a sit-down lunch or dinner, food stations are placed strategically around the room. This saves time and guests can mingle and not feel trapped at their tables. If a sit-down meal is preferred, have the table pre-set with the entire meal other than the coffee for maximum efficiency.
  • Vetting the venue. Always send someone to visit the event space, even if it means flying to another city. Photos on hotel websites may not represent the current state of the space. Is it newly refurbished or shabby? Does the venue have enough staff to provide top-notch service? Is the A/V equipment adequate and in working order?
  • Arranging the hospitality. It’s always preferable to use your own staff that knows the organization. If that’s not possible, visitors and convention bureaus in most large cities employ a squad of people who are tasked with staffing conferences. Meet with them in advance and be sure they are trained to perform their roles with the highest degree of professionalism.
  • Following up.  Debrief following the event. What went right? What could we improve on? Using an online tool like Survey Monkey, distribute a survey to participants for feedback about the food, the venue, the topic, the speakers and the service. This will help you to plan for your next performance.

A business colleague who has planned many events told me, “You need to have your finger on the panic button from the minute you schedule an event until the last guest leaves.” What she meant is that you have to be alert to every detail throughout the entire planning process and during the program.

As Jonelle said, “We’re providing a service and the moment we forget that, we have a problem. It’s not a fluke if everything goes right. If you do the planning you’re going to get the results you’re expecting.”


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