When my partner for the Brown University Women’s Entrepreneurship Club, Antonia Alvarez, decided to spend a year abroad, I was tasked with the enormous responsibility of planning and hosting our annual [email protected] Conference. Oh boy. I had never planned an event before, and I had no idea where to begin.
There was a lot of learning on the job, and fortunately, I was able to lean on Next Gen Co-founders Dylan Gambardella and Justin Lafazan for advice. At that time, they’d pulled off three Next Gen Summits – so incredibly, in fact, that the event was rated as a ‘top conference to attend’ by Forbes. Putting myself in the event planner position – which admittedly is not my life’s passion – forced me to recognize and appreciate the sheer amount of strategy, effort, and time that goes into pulling off an event.
So, I’ve compiled a list of the most spectacular event planners in our community that have caught our attention thanks to their truly sensational skills in planning summits, conferences, and meetups. Even better, they agreed to share tips from their rich experiences to ensure that your own events go off without a hitch.
Jillian Richardson is based in New York City and breathes events – so much so that she started a newsletter called The Joy List, devoted to sharing feel-good events in the Big Apple for strangers to come together and form new friendships. Monthly, Jillian hosts a social event dedicated to the Newsletter. As for why she hosts events? “I have a pattern that sometimes leaves me over-committed: If I’m looking for a community, and I can’t find it… I start it. That’s what happened with NYC Community Builders. I was looking for mentorship and companionship in the gathering space. There aren’t that many of us, and I had a gut feeling that we’d be able to help each other a ton if we just got in the same room.”
Her Best Event Planning Tip: Events do best when they make attendees feel special – it isn’t about the host(ess). “People will respect you more if you focus on their needs and want to help them.”
Aaron Mayer is devoted to bringing great minds together for a global purpose. He is the founder and organizer of the Impact Summit, which recently brought together 250 young computer scientists this past June in New York City. “In a world where smartphones are more abundant than toilets, it’s never been easier to affect massive changes on a global scale; and as young people, we have a responsibility to harness that power for the better […] to build a more equitable, sustainable world.”
With over 60 speakers, a career expo, a blockchain hackathon, hands-on workshops, and a social startup competition with over $40,000 in prize money, planning The Impact Summit was no small feat – and it was Aaron’s first time doing it. He shares credit with his partner Adi Melamed and his core team of four dedicated teammates.
His Best Event Planning Tip: “Draft a well-designed, formal one-pager that briefly explains the goal and audience of the conference. Send it to potential speakers and sponsors, and amend it as time progresses and you gather more supporters. This way, you don’t need to fret about creating a site, booking a venue, advertising to attendees, dealing with caterers, etc. until you have enough substance to genuinely warrant a conference in the first place. The rest of the details will fall into place – trust me.”
Sam Park has hosted several knockout events now, with audiences ranging from 50 to 250. His biggest event was the first LinkedIn event in Vancouver, which had a waitlist that soared to over 200. Even better, he scored PR from dailyhivevancouver and Novus TV to get the event the attention and coverage it deserved. Specializing in partnering with big name brands, he’s additionally hosted the Creative in Residence Series for Microsoft, the League of Innovators for Hootsuite x LinkedIn, and even his own Personal Branding Series 101 called Sam Park x Microsoft (how cool is that?).
His Best Event Planning Tip: “Venues can be bartered for exposure with the right angles. There are different ways to bring value to a business and a speaker than just money!” Take advantage of the other assets your event will provide those who donate their time or space.
While an undergrad, Teddy Baldassare started an organization called FlyerFormation, which connects students with local entrepreneurs to focus on innovation and creativity. In just three months, they raised $15,000, found 25 companies to sponsor the event, and had 300 students show up. Talk about knocking it out of the park. For his last company, Wisr, he worked with higher education institutions to connect alumni and students more effectively through a private knowledge-sharing community. The events were intimate and limited to 15 institutions per event, however, in just 12 months, they hosted over 8 events and were joined by 200 higher education institutions.
His Best Event Planning Tips: “Give yourself twice as long as you think it will take for you to plan properly. Despite managing to pull an event together in a short period of time (I had to since I was graduating a month later!), I knew that time is your biggest asset when planning an event.
“The second thing I learned was not to start marketing until the agenda is finalized. Nobody goes to a concert when they don’t know the main acts performing nor do they appreciate if the schedule changes on them after buying a ticket. Hustle to get the best entertainment, speakers, and workshops you can, and stick to the plan!”
Christina Zhou has also been hosting events for years, ever since her first event in high school. Every year, her student government would host an event called Charity Ball in honor of a local charity. Her freshman year, they raised ~$25,000 in three months for breast cancer awareness and by her senior year, they were able to raise $150,000 in 3 months for Interfaith Food Shuttle. She also helped to organize TEDxEnloeHighSchool – the first TEDx event hosted by a Wake County Public School system – during her senior year. She scored five speakers ranging from the CIO of SAS (a stats software company) to a NASA space ambassador… and Next Gen’s very own Justin Lafazan.
Now, she works for Paragidm where she hosts events often – her role includes organizing speaking engagements, networking meet-ups and internal company bonding events. Keep an eye out, because this fall they’re hosting their first summit!
Her Best Event Planning Tip: “My biggest tip for event planning is to set strict timeline reminders. I get lost in the creativity sometimes and go on thought tracks where I’m, like, ‘AND THIS COULD HAPPEN HERE AND WE COULD HAVE THIS PERSON THERE!’ but it’s important to get these ideas on paper first, and actually start implementing them on time so the creative extras can happen.”
Michael Ioffe is the Founder of TILE Talks, the world’s largest conversation series. He brings together teachers, innovators, leaders, and entrepreneurs to share their stories. So, to say he knows events is an understatement. As someone who has hosted so many, he has a unique way of planning: “Err on the side of simplicity. The content of the conversation should be enough to draw viewers in and captivate them, and that is entirely dependent on the questions you ask and how direct they are.”
His Best Event Planning Tip: “Acknowledge that whatever you are hosting is just a gathering that will come and pass; there is no need for anxiety, especially if you keep the event casual and understand the humanity in all the moving parts.”
It’s true – your event, just by bringing others together and with the heartfelt intention for community behind it – will be a success regardless.
It’s no easy feat to bring together an event or conference, but with these tips and event-planning role models, there’s a sense of direction and inspiration! A huge THANK YOU to all the planners out there who make the world feel a little smaller by hosting events.