Keeping Out the Chaos: Using Systems to Manage Events

I recently attended the annual East Tennessee Women’s Leadership Summit. This event, an all day conference created to inspire, encourage and educate women leaders, has been a huge part of my life since I first started it twelve years ago.

Usually, I spend every waking moment in the final days preparing for that event. Even with systems in place, there was always a lot to do – working with volunteers, managing last minute problems, packing up a zillion supplies and preparing to host 200 women for the day.

But this year, I’ve passed the leadership on to others. For the first time ever, I got to just enjoy the program – and I actually got to eat lunch! :)

Events take a lot of work – whether they involve hundreds of people, or a single client.

And systems are your key to doing events right.

From a planning perspective, systems help prevent wasting money, time, resources and your own precious energy.

From a customer’s perspective, systems help ensure that you provide a top notch experience for them that goes smoothly all the way through.

Think of your event as having three phases: planning and preparation (before), implementation and delivery (during), and follow-up (after).

What do you need to attend to with each phase? Where would a system make things easier? The answer to those questions varies widely depending on whether your event is live or virtual, large or small.

But let’s take a look at those phases for each key area. 


Before: This is where you’ll create your big picture plan for the event as a whole. You’ll want systems for planning out all aspects of the event and for tracking progress on key tasks along the way.

During: Here, systems can help in the form of timelines and checklists for what happens when, and who’s responsible for what during the event itself.

After: You may want a system for tracking, capturing and using key takeaways, lessons learned, and ideas for improvement.


Before: You’ll need a system for setting up your team, finding and working with presenters (if you have them) and serving your participants (how do they register, pay, prepare for the event, access it, etc. )

During: You’ll need a system that communicates everyone’s role and expected duties, and for making sure presenters have everything they need (even if that’s you.) For participants, you’ll need systems for everything from registration to handouts and supplies to how to cope with potential problems.

After: You’ll need systems for following up with each of those groups as well. For example: adding names to your list, getting them started on the program they bought, paying speakers, sending thank you notes, etc.


Before: Where, when and what time will this be held? What do you need to have in place to make it work? (Parking, audiovisual or IT needs, staging, lighting, tools like whiteboards, a coffee pot, etc.)

During: You’ll need systems for every aspect of the day, from catering the food (if that’s part of it), to lighting, sound or technology, to making sure the A/C’s working.

After: You may want to plan out how you’ll handle cleaning up, restocking supplies, paying the event site (if needed), etc.


Before: You’ll want a system for clarifying the structure and format, including content, speakers if needed, timing, and developing your offer or call to action.

During: It helps to have a system to help you stay on track as the experience unfolds (timing, structure, content, etc.)

After: You may want an evaluation process to review your content, timing, and flow of the day.


Systems will help with the marketing of your event too, but I’ll save that for another post.

In each of these areas, simple systems can make all the difference for you. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be something as simple as a calendar, a check list, or a flow chart mapping out steps to take.

I know some of you are just now planning your first event. Others of you do this all the time. What systems help (or would help) you the most?

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