How to organise a big international event?

This post is based on the experience Kristjan Erik Liive who served as a content manager for CREATE conference. The event was a traditional five-day conference taking place annually in JA Alumni Europe network, gathering more than 200 people from 40 countries.

Why do you want to do it?

The first thing you need to figure out is why you want to organise the event. Is it for some cause, to learn, to raise money, to earn money, to prove something?

For our team it was to show that JA Alumni conferences can be as professional as any other conference. We started preparing for the event 22 months before it was held and the goal was to provide a WOW! experience for every participant.

Organising an event on such a scale takes a lot of time and energy — unless you have a clear purpose you might give in to the temptation to choose the easy way instead of the right way.

How can you make it become a reality?

When you have found out why it is worth to commit, it is time to start thinking about how to make it happen. What resources do you have available? What are the areas you need advice on and think who could help you to overcome them? One really simple rule we followed was "It never hurts to ask", the worst thing is hearing a "no" which would be the default result if we would not ask at all.

Once you have a solid plan of how to make the event a reality, it is a good idea to go over all possible scenarios where something can go wrong and what is the backup plan. Because surprises (negative surprises are often called problems). This way you have the confidence both before and during the event and you stay in control. Most often the participants even do not notice that something was not going according to the intended plan.

For example, for CREATE we had 3-4 backup speakers, in case we have last minute cancellations. And it did happen — one hour before one of our sessions we had to rearrange our speakers. Additionally, we had alternative meal plan in case we had ran into a situation where our partner was not able to cater the participants. The more professional you are the more detailed you can go and the more uncertainty you will eliminate beforehand.

Who do you need to make it work?

Lastly, you will not be able to organise a large scale event alone and it would be boring. Understand what competencies are in the team already and what areas are yet to be covered. Again, the bigger the event the more detailed you can go.

At CREATE our team consisted of 10 people, each of who had a specific responsibility (main programme, food, side activities, venue, communications, budgeting etc). This allowed each of us to use our own creativity in the domain while carrying the responsibility of delivering solutions. We shared our progress and challenges with each other, which on one hand helped to bring a different point of view to the obstacle, and on the other hand strengthened the unity in the team. Since all of us worked voluntarily, meaning we did not get paid on the results but were driven by the same cause, the discussions were about how to make our vision come true not about the vision itself.

As you can see, organising an event does not differ much from running a company. The lessons and skills you learn in the process are invaluable for your future.

I recommend trying to learn as much as possible but always be willing to ask for help if needed. Although every endeavour is different, the areas covered in this post have proved to be the most important in my experience of organising international events

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