Only Online: How to Plan an Event for 30,000 People

Pam Higgins (Col ’78) is director of major events for the University and is responsible for the overall planning of events such as Finals Weekend.

Create a working group
Collaboration, communication and organization are keys to a successful event, whether it is for 30 people or for one with more than 30,000 attendees. Establish a core working group of people involved in the logistics, including vendors and in-house service departments. These can include catering, parking and transportation, rental equipment companies, safety/security (crowd control), media relations, printing, and representatives from the various venues to be used. 

Develop plans
Because there are so many details involved, develop written guidelines with the set-up requirements (including diagrams).  The guidelines should include the tasks assigned to each member of the working group.  The more you document, the less chance there is for error.

Space reservations
Take into consideration the anticipated crowd size and the nature of the event when considering venues. Reserve the spaces as soon as possible. 

Get the word out
Develop a website with the schedule of events and details on parking, shuttle buses, information booth locations, food availability, ticket information, services for persons with disabilities, lodging options, etc.  Notify attendees via e-mail and/or postcards of the website.  Also, develop a mobile website—they’re very useful for last-minute weather updates.  The week of the event, distribute shuttle bus routes, maps of the event site and key information to local hotels.

Parking and transportation
Determine parking locations and arrange for shuttle buses.  Take into consideration the attendees’ familiarity with the area and determine what signs you’ll need to direct guests to parking and to the event. 

Prepare for all weather conditions
For an outdoor event, develop an inclement weather plan.  Even if the weather is nice, some guests might prefer to watch the event in a climate-controlled atmosphere.  If possible, broadcast the event live to remote viewing locations.  If the weather is questionable on the day of the event, develop a plan for notifying attendees of the weather plan to be followed.  As soon as the weather decision is made, post the information on the event website (regular and mobile), update the event information line and notify local media outlets.

Be flexible
On the actual day of event, be flexible!  With planning, you should lessen the chance of last-minute surprises. Despite all your precautions, expect the unexpected. And after the event is over, have a debriefing to identify the things that worked well—as well as things that need improvement.