The Art of Event Planning



Editor's Note: As the CM Gatherings movement
gains in popularity, increasing numbers of members have seized the
opportunity to showcase their hometown and invite others in. It has
also resulted in increased questions from the organizers as to what
they can expect when they plan such an activity. Anya's article is
meant to shed some light on the topic–and to lay the groundwork for an
extensive forthcoming document that draws on the expertise of another
renowned event organizer.

It all began innocently enough with a plea for help on the forums.

I answered someone’s thread about planning an event in my area of
residence. I thought, "I guess she just needs a few suggestions."

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Krrrrssssh… I’ve got the reservations… krrrrsssh… Over.”

The words event planning makes me think of brides and balloons,
children, cakes and those stylish-looking planners with little
microphones in their ear.  When I first started planning events
for CM members, little did I know that it would be the start of an
avocation.  I got into it just the way people describe falling in
love: fast, a little bit confused, panic laced with anticipation.

A perfect stranger who lived four hours away from the location where
she had envisioned a CM event had posted a topic to ask for help with
planning an event in the DC area. I gave a few suggestions and thought
that was the end of it.  However, the more suggestions I gave, the
more involved I become until I was in charge of the daytime activities
for the first day of the event.

The day of the event loomed and I drove over to the Smithsonian with my
printouts, laptop and copies of maps for my planned activities, only to
be greeted by one of the participants who came from the same area as my
co-planner with the dreaded words: “Your co-planner is sick and she’ll
try to come tonight.  You’re in charge.”

After a few klutzy moves and moments of pure panic, the whole thing
went smoothly and my co-planner showed up by dinner.  Did I learn
my lesson? Nooooo.  I actually planned and co-planned other events , as well as wrote a few articles for CM .

What have I learned so far from event planning for CM?

1. Pick activities that you like and that you would do with or without
companions.  That way, if you end up going solo or with only one
or two people in tow, you’d still go and do it because you wanted to
anyway.  I’ve planned activities that involved learning
belly-dancing during dinner, doing salsa, celebrating Oktoberfest at an
authentic German restaurant, museum trips, etc.

2. Count the number of confirmed and unconfirmed members and expect
that perhaps only 30% will show up to attend the early part of the
event, 70% during the evening phase, and 30% for any event the
following day.  Don’t be disappointed or frustrated with the
number of attendees. It’s just a reflection of real life: you plan a
party, invite as many people as you can and expect more or less half
the invitees to actually show up for the whole event.  The numbers
fluctuate as the event (or day) progresses.

3. Expect the unexpected.  There are people who show up and
they’ve never emailed or responded on the events page with a little
“definitely,” “probably,” or even a “maybe.” There was a guy who
publicly berated me on the forums for not telling him about the change
in plans for dinner. Which was ridiculous considering the fact that he
never responded on the events page about attending.  The other
members who also plan events took care of setting him straight.

4. Whenever finances are involved, always get a downpayment from all
participants when it comes to hotel accommodations and dinner
reservations.  This is important especially when it comes to big
groups, because hotels and restaurants will often demand that the event
planner sign a contract for groups.  You don’t want to be left
holding the bag and paying for cancellations out of pocket because
there are people who won’t call to cancel, or even cancel at the last

5. When you make a reservation, count the number of confirmed attendees
and make the reservation only for 80% of the participants.  That’s
right, 80%.  It’s easier to have the wait staff add chairs and
tables rather than show up to a sectioned area and fill only a little
more than half of the tables.

I’ve been fortunate enough to find venues in the DC area that will
allow me to book for big groups without a contract.  Make a file
of restaurants, hotels and destinations that have provided you with a
pleasant experience. I often research, go out to these venues and do a
run-through of the event in order to ensure that any potential pitfalls
are kept to a minimum.

6. Expect the best but plan for the worst.  As much as possible,
prepare for every contingency.  I once had to handle a whole
weekend event on my own after my co-planner was indisposed at the last
minute.  It was a good thing I tend to stick to restaurants and
locations that do not require a deposit on a certain number of guests
that have a reservation.

7. How will I know it’s you, Mr./Ms. Event Planner?  You might
decide to wear pins or tags that will allow the group to identify each
of you.  Especially since most of you will most likely have never
met before. 

Maps of the area or a schedule that includes the meeting place for each
activity will be helpful if you are planning on multiple locations.

8. The most important rule of all–have fun!  It doesn’t matter
whether you have one (just you) or over a hundred people for an
event.  Keep the cardinal rule of fellowship in mind: Be Open to
All Possibilities. I once predicted to an attendee that she would end
up with one of the other attendees, which she laughingly scoffed at. A
few months later, she emailed me with pictures of her engagement ring.

What do I get from this?, you ask. It’s certainly not the fact that I
get paid, because the number of responses on the events page actually
dictate the number of points a group leader gets. It may not be truly
accurate — as I’ve said, some people show up without an RSVP and
others drop off the face of the earth even after indicating their
interest. What I like about planning events is that I get to know more
people and create fun and memorable activities that other singles like
me enjoy. I’ve made new friends, kept in constant communication with
some of them, had a great time going out with others and even
inadvertently created relationships.  Meeting Mr. Right-For-Me is
certainly secondary to the wonderful fellowship I’ve enjoyed at these

How do you want to make sure that you get the most out of your
membership? Go to the forums, interact with the members and attend
events in your area. Even when they’re not in your area, it’s a good
excuse to travel. Online singles sites are a microcosm of the greater
society. You’ve got a few people who are seriously looking for The One,
some who are flakes and some who just want to widen their sphere of
influence. But most are people who want to reach out and feel more
connected as a part of the universe, who live in the hope of finding
the one who they’re meant to wake up next to every morning for the rest
of their lives.


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