University Housing is ALL about events. No matter what position you are in Residence Life, you will most likely plan one event during your time. While it is pretty intuitive, there are many layers to event planning and more importantly to effective and successful event planning. So I am here to share some things I learned over the years and how you can make sure you pull off a bombtastic event. There are three main universal phases of event planning.
This is where you come up with the event idea. You will likely brainstorm by yourself or with your team and decide on a concept. If you already have a purpose or goal to meet, this phase becomes easier than having to brainstorm from scratch. We have more detailed articles on bringing meaning to your events and theming if you are interested in finding out how you can create popular events. In this phase, you will also think of a short description of the event, name it, choose a list of possible dates and locations, decide on a budget, and define the activities and goals. You can always make a spreadsheet to clarify the tasks that need to get done, by when these tasks need to be completed, who is doing what, and the stage of progress.
Now, we act on the tasks that were defined. For any event there are three main items that need attention during this phase:
- Location/Venue: During ideation, you may come up with a list of locations that will work. You will want to consider the following.
- Your attendee size (maybe you know exactly the maximum amount of people who will attend or you can create an RSVP list or maybe have a cap of attendees based on the room size)
- How in advance to the event date will you need to reserve or place the booking for the location
- Price… Most locations within your Housing system are up for grabs at no price. But if you are considering other buildings/unions/off-campus locations, this becomes a factor in evaluating possible options
- Book the venue with enough wiggle time before and after for setup and tear down
- Purchasing: You will need to buy things from your approved vendors or you will need to put in a request for items to be bought well in advance. Make sure you check shipping time, availability in nearby stores, etc.
- Supplies: Anything you will need for the event. For example, for a Build your own Terrarium event, you will need succulents, soil, holding containers, scooping materials, things to decorate with, etc. Make sure to check your residence hall inventory before purchasing anything new. Housing rarely throws things out and a lot of items can be reused and repurposed.
- Food: Any refreshments or food items you will want for your event. Make sure this is not the main driver of the event. In our organization, we had an online portal and cashcard to order food items from the dining organization. They always wanted orders 7 days in advance. So make sure you are wary of your constraints.
- Advertising: The most crucial step!! If no one knows of the event, no one is going to show up. There are a few different ways of going about this.
- Physical fliers and signs: You can make some really cool looking free prints on Canva. Print them out and put them up around the community in parts of heavy foot traffic – bulletin boards, bathroom doors, social lounges, etc. Be sure to recycle these when you take them down. Printing is not very environmentally friendly but so very effective! QR codes on these fliers can be used to allow for direct signups/RSVPs if needed.
- Online platforms: We had a very active Facebook group where we posted all updates and events. Weekly email newsletters, Instagram pages, and other similar platforms are great too. Just take a screenshot of your flier and use it as an image. It already has all the necessary information and looks great! No extra work needed.
- Word of mouth: As a ResLife employee, I am sure you interact or at least cross paths with some residents every day. Let them know about your upcoming event when you do. A simple ‘Hey I’m hosting a ping pong tournament on Sat, tell your friends and sign up in the office.” can go a long way. Tell your fellow employees to tell their residents too.
- Optional – Sign Up sheets: If you need a sign-up sheet for whatever purpose, make sure your attendees know where it is (online or physical copy) and the last date to RSVP. This information can be included directly on the flier.
- Research, prepare items: If your event requires further research to pull off and you need to prepare your supplies for the event, make sure that gets done on time, at least 2-3 days before the event. For example, I hosted an event about a culture that I was not very familiar with. This forced me to put some time out of my day, talk to the right people and do the proper research of correct verbiage, how to be inclusive with this particular event, and what types of activities I could be planning for this event. If I tried to do this on the fly, I’m sure it would have been a disaster!
- Setup: Making sure you are communicating properly to the logistics team at the venue site that you will be showing up x or y hours earlier than the event. You have to make sure you have access to set up! Get your supplies over, pick up the food, all these things happen now. Arrange the chairs/tables in the way you want it. Set up the activities. Put up a sign on the door that says So and So event taking place here from a-b time.
- Enjoy the Event: During the event, make sure everything is going well and run your activities, but remember to have fun too!! This means you can plan events around your interests as well. More often than not, you have a lot of common interests with your community — which would make it even more engaging for you.
- Tear Down: Clean up, put it all back the way it needs to be, take back the food containers, give away the remaining supplies or keep it for later, etc. Don’t forget to sign up volunteers to help make this process a lot easier!
There you have it. This is a high-level explanation of the main steps to planning an event, whether it is in Housing or otherwise. You will need to go through these processes to have a successful and perhaps repeatable event. With time, it becomes easier and for us now, it is second nature haha!