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Sometimes it feels like virtually everything a lawyer does is a skill not learned in law school: establish rapport with clients, network, run a business, plan events. That last one, event planning, is a profession unto itself, so when lawyers attempt it without experience, things can go awry.
Here’s how to plan great events that people won’t want to miss.
Define the What
The most important part of event planning is defining the purpose of the event. Do you want to network? Educate other lawyers? Hold a fun event for your clients? Identify the focus of the event and the pieces will more easily fall into place.
I recently put on a fundraiser to benefit the victims of a national tragedy. Because of that, the reason for it was clear, and the event was well-defined. That made it easy to organize everything else: everyone was invited because we were all affected; it would be held quickly, because people were ready to rally around the cause; and everyone was willing to donate space, time, and services because it was important.
Once you know the purpose of the event is evident, the rest of the details usually come into focus.
Define the Who and the Why
Once you know what kind of event you’re planning, you have to figure out who you’re planning it for, and why.
Let’s say you’re planning a presentation for clients and prospective clients. You’ve rented space, your PowerPoint is prepared, and you’re feeling ready. Then no one shows up. Why? Because no one wants to eat spinach dip and listen to you talk about retirement accounts on a Friday night.
You need to consider whether what you’re planning is something people will actually want to attend. If you’re organizing an event for your clients, ask yourself if you are presenting information they often inquire about. Just because you find something interesting doesn’t mean other people do. Is it useful or necessary to them? Are you adding value? If not, reconsider the why of your event.
It is also critical to consider what it is your audience likes to do.
Maybe your forté is delivering lectures, but what if your clients prefer interaction? Do they attend sporting events? Do they drink craft beer? Consider the wants and likes of your audience, tailor your event, and your attendees will be much more impressed with the result.
I attended an event last year that involved a short presentation followed by a wine tasting demonstration. I don’t remember anything about the presentation, but I do remember the wine tasting, and that we were all sent home with wine glasses. I remember who invited me, and what connections I formed that night. Even without remembering the presentation, I remember how I felt that night. That’s a successful event.
Define the How
Logistics are where you have to get specific. Here are just some of the things you should consider:
Budget. Successful events can be planned with no budget or a very large budget. Consider the goal of the event and your law firm budget to determine how much you have to spend.
Venue. You could spend money renting a high-end restaurant, but you certainly don’t have to. Does your office have a unique meeting room? Will the free community space down the street be a good fit? Consider the feel and audience of your event to determine the best place to hold it.
Date and time. Check the calendar for holidays, religious observations, and popular community events. Then pick a day and time that fit the event. If it’s a wine tasting, hold it on a Thursday evening. If it’s a kid-friendly event, schedule it for a Saturday morning.
Guest list. If you are planning a client-centered event, consider inviting other professionals or clients with whom connections would be valuable. Consider allowing them to invite spouses or friends so you can meet similar prospective clients. If it’s a networking event, do you want it to be all business, or do you want it to be more social and allow guests to bring their spouses and significant others?
Menu. If food or drink is an integral part of your event, connect with local restaurants or caterers to see if they’ll be a sponsor. It can be a mutually beneficial arrangement: your guests get fed, and a local business gets free marketing to its potential customers.
Invitations. The formality of the event should dictate how to invite your guests. That might mean printed invitations, a system like Eventbrite, or just email.
Marketing. If you want attendees and you want to generate buzz, don’t forget to market your event. Depending on the scope, this could just mean using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, or it could involve contacting local media to help publicize your event.
Planning events—big or small, for clients or colleagues—is a valuable skill for lawyers. And it can be especially valuable in solo or small firm practice where so much business is based on reputation. Taking some time to think through the purpose and logistics of an event can help you realize just how important a piece of your practice this could be.