Amy Potthast | Instructional Coach & Designer | Learning Design Studios

Event planning basics

Here are some basic guidelines for planning a solid event….and communicating the details to your learners ahead of time.

Photo of clipboards by Schezar, Flickr Creative Commons

By Schezar, Flickr Creative Commons

1. Location

Last minute disasters aside, you should have a venue reserved for your learning event before you open registration. Otherwise, how can you tell folks when, where, and how long the workshop will be? How will you know how many people you can accommodate?

When you advertise the event, include:

  • Location (including full address: host organization name, building name, floor number, and room name or number)
  • Day of the week, and date
  • Start time and end time
  • Event planner’s contact name and phone number

When learners register, they should get an automatic email with these details, as well.

When you close registration — or a week or two ahead of the event — send all registered learners another note reiterating the information, with links to directions, and your contact info (including cell phone number) in case people experience issues, day-of.

2. Food — for longer events

Let learners know whether you are providing a meal, or snacks— or whether they should bring food themselves.

If you plan to provide food, ask folks what their dietary needs are. The easiest way to do that is to ask on the registration form.

If you can’t provide food, plan to provide water if at all possible. My personal preference also includes coffee!!

But skip candy on the tables. Candy doesn’t wake you up…at least not in the long run. It makes you run down. For alert learners, opt instead for stretch breaks and fresh air.

3. Introductions

Name tags or tents are nice, too, but at the very least, allow folks to introduce themselves and explain why they came. This is especially important for longer training events (2+ hours). If it’s a large group, or you are worried about time, at least have learners introduce themselves to the people sitting near them.

4. Written agenda, and preferably, learning objectives

Let people know where you are taking them during the learning event.

Agendas and objectives (what learners will show you they can do, by the end of the workshop) serve as advanced organizers — giving learners a framework with which to organize the information that’s to come.

Also: showing the learners your agenda and objectives also increases the chances you HAVE an agenda and objectives. Don’t think I am kidding!

Throughout the event, refer back to your agenda, and at the end of the event, use the objectives as a prompt to quiz learners about the event’s takeaways.

5. Evaluation

Always ask for feedback. Especially if you offer the learning event regularly, or if this was the first time. Use either pencil-and-paper forms that folks can fill out towards the end of the event, or online surveys they get a link to in their inbox next-day.

You might ask what they took away from the workshop (knowledge and skills) as well as comments on your facilitation, methods, activities, materials, and event logistics. I prefer open-ended questions and space for writing. Some people would rather see Likert rating scales (1 to 5). It’s up to you, and your boss or client how to evaluate the event.

NOTE: the surveys you collect after a learning event are just the tip of the evaluation iceberg.

  • You can also assess what the learners actually learned in more formal ways (tests, essays, reflections, projects).
  • You can find out whether the learners have started using their new skills and knowledge in the real world.
  • You can find out if the learner’s workplace, school, career, or community has benefitted from the learning.

Especially if you offer a high-stakes instructional program with intense social or other implications, you should plan to do some kind of periodic or longitudinal program evaluation. You might not know how to conduct it, which questions to ask, or how to collect accurate data — but someone else will! If you can’t afford an evaluation expert, consider work with a graduate intern.

What’s on your list of must-haves when you are planning a learning event?


Comments on: "Event planning basics" (2)

  1. Erin Neff said:

    Sounds like you have it well covered here Amy. I especially appreciate your suggestion to NOT put out candy for the very reasons you mention.
    I also wonder what you and your readers think about having toys or gadgets out for those hands-on learners? Is it too distracting? What toys are best if you do use them?

    • Oh good reminder, Erin! At one two-day event that I organized, I placed square paper & oil pastels (not to be confused with crayons!) on the tables — both for learners who wanted to DO something, as well as for artistic learners who wanted to express themselves through signs, drawings or doodles.

      When I am learning something new, I sometimes like to draw a key concept for myself and put it in my office or on the fridge so I can remember it.

      I am curious what other readers think of this, too!

      Thanks for reading, Erin!!

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