Zen and the Art of Event Planning

This may come as a shock to some of you, but I’m an arrogant jerk.

Anytime I go to an event, not just a Lindy Hop event, I tend to look around, check things out, and think to myself:  I can do this better.  This includes my own events.  However, that’s not to say that I’ve actually done better.

The interesting thing in event planning and management is that the better you do your job the less people will notice.  Human nature being what it is, when people talk about how an event was run they will almost always focus on what went wrong or what was out of place.  So your goal as an event planner is to avoid that.

I was working with a presenter in my regular job when he matter of factly informed those of us supporting the seminar that he was “The Show”,  and it mattered little to anyone else that we made the Show go.  That might bother some event coordinators, but I’ll admit that it is largely true.  People attend events for a certain kind of experience.  An event coordinator/planner/manager’s job is to facilitate that experience without drawing attention to yourself or your job.

That can be a source of disillusionment for a lot of people.  The DC Lindy Exchange has the rep of a pretty well run event.  Almost every year, someone who volunteers for it, never having done an event before, will come up to me afterwards and say “This is it?” referring to the complete lack of appreciation from anyone outside of the organizing committee.  My only response is usually, “Yep.”  A lot of them never come back for a second go around.

To be honest, it is a lot of stress especially when it keeps you from doing what got you involved in the first place.   I did two tours helping out with the first two DCLX’s and was so burned out after the second that I didn’t help with another dance event for almost four years.

But I never took a break from having an opinion.

Then, a few years ago I was a competition DJ for an event when I asked what I thought were some very basic questions about how the evening’s activities were going to occur, and all I got were some not very well thought out answers.  So I re-wrote their event time line.  They ignored me, the event went flat, and a lot less people showed up the next year.

Attendance probably would have dipped anyway if that had listened to me—they had a whole lot other problems.  Although it did rekindled my interest (and arrogance) in getting stuff done right in the dance scene.

But here’s the thing, I’m pretty lazy when it comes to planning an event.  I like to do as little as possible.  I know plenty of coordinators who like to scramble.  Sometimes I think they make work for themselves just so they can look like they’re busy.  In fact, they want you to know that they’re busy.

Personally, I think if you do your job right and work with dedicated and competent people, you should be standing around your event doing a whole lot of nothing.

That did not happen at Frankie95 where we were trying to figure out the event as it was happening, and I think the whole experience suffered because of that.

But even just for practical purposes, you want to be free to deal with unplanned emergencies.  From my old MySpace recap from the first big Big Event in 2007 which was my first time running an event since DCLX 2003:

Oddly enough my favorite time the whole weekend was technically the most stressful.  At the Saturday night main dance, about half a dozen things happened all at once.  I spent an hour straight running around telling people things that needed to be done or getting them done myself.  It was like weaving through traffic at high speeds with the added excitement of occasional forays across the median to dodge oncoming cars.  But I was having the time of my life anyway.  It reminded me of why I initially got into event planning in the first place.  It really helps doing anything when you believe that the end result is going to be worthwhile and you’re working with people who feel the same way.

You can’t deal with the unplanned unless you’ve taken care of everything you can plan for.  I think that’s where the creative aspect in running an event can flourish.  Ideally, I like to have the opportunity to let an even breath.  It’s only in those moments when you have time to stand aside and look at how everything is moving and grooving that you can see where you can fine tune things to make it better.  That’s how we were able to make some very small but crucial adjustments to last year’s Champions Strictly Lindy Hop division at ILHC.

In that way, running an event is a lot like dancing.  You work and work on your technique, so when you’re out there on the floor just social dancing, you know when to make that slight shift, that critical pivot, that off the cuff syncopation that moves you briefly from the realm of competence to brilliance.

No matter what you do, you have to remember why an event is happening.  If it becomes about anything else, especially how you run the event, then it’s not a very good event.  A dance event is about music and it’s about dancing and it’s about the people who go there.  That’s The Show.  Remembering that will make it easier for you to make things better.

Semi-Gratuitous, but somewhat related video reference to one of the greatest Shows ever canceled.


  1. Breanna said,

    August 3, 2010 at 1:56 am

    Yay! You know I always like to see/read/hear about this sort of stuff.

  2. John White said,

    August 7, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    Love Sports Night!

  3. Jen Trouble said,

    August 10, 2010 at 9:34 am

    We event planners are a sick people that thrive on the exhilaration of the event unfolding. I don’t read enough of your blogs. I’ll start. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Good stuff.

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