I know, I know. I write on media, faith, and culture, but this time I have to speak out on a topic close to my heart (and stomach). If I have to attend one more poorly planned rubber chicken event for an organization’s fundraising, anniversary, or award, I’ll slice my wrists. Come on people, banquets can actually be fun, not the torture sessions we usually sit through. So if you have to plan an event in the near future, here’s some tips to keep in mind (if you don’t want me leaving early):
1) Keep it moving. You may think it’s a two hour event, but trust me, it will be at least three hours or longer. It always takes longer than planned. Admit it. So do everything in your power to keep it moving. When it comes to events, speed is good.
2) Don’t wait for dessert to start. Here’s a big problem – you open with a few remarks, have dinner, then start the official program after dessert. Big mistake. Dinner takes too long. Sure – give people some time to talk, but once they’re really into the meal, start the program. That alone will solve the majority of your problems.
3) If the special guest isn’t a great speaker – interview him. In most cases, you’re honoring someone who isn’t a professional speaker. So why do we let him or her speak? Instead, find a good host and do an interview. With an interview, the pressure is off, the speaker can relax and enjoy himself, and the host can control everything. He can keep it to interesting topics, and cut it off when necessary.
4) Keep it moving (did I mention that?).
5) Be ruthless about limiting the keynote speaker’s time – 15-20 minutes max is my opinion. Shorter if possible. Before the event, get in the speaker’s face and tell him or her the time limit. Pause. Then tell him again. Make sure he understands you are serious.
6) Don’t skimp on the food – Everyone says that an event isn’t just about the food, but trust me – they notice, so make it good. If you don’t have a big budget then get creative. My wife Kathleen has staged major events with stand up appetizers, sandwiches, and snacks and people loved it. It’s all about how you do the presentation and how you meet expectations. Creative thinking can easily overcome a limited budget.
7) Finally, end on time – no one ever complained about getting out early. Want to know the best kept secret of a great event? Hit the closing time (or end early if you can). You’ll always be criticized if it goes long, but never if you end on time.
Let me know if I’ve missed anything that drives you nuts at a banquet. And above all, forward this to whoever is planning your next one.