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Five tips for running an effective event

As enablers of change, running events is our bread and butter. Whether these be face-to-face, or online, we can tend to establish a routine. Then without us realising, the groove can become a rut and the effectiveness of the events reduce. Would you like to reverse this? Here are our top five tips for helping them really hit the mark.

Tip number one is a simple one – what is the outcome you are seeking? As Stephen Covey would say, begin with the end in mind. Are you hoping for a change in behaviour? Or are you just wanting to increase awareness of an issue and get people thinking about what might need to change? This will shape the event you are running. A change in behaviour means you need to allow time for people to reflect on what they have heard and adjust it for their context. It might mean allowing more time for discussion and learning amongst the people there. If raising awareness is your outcome, then simply being able to demonstrate and highlight people who have discussed the problem or issue might be enough. Allow the outcome to shape the event.

Tip number two is the one that is most often overlooked. Plan out the event! Write a runsheet and create a checklist. Think about what you are trying to achieve (more on this in a minute). Check the venue beforehand and have a list of supplies you need (extension cord anyone?). Winging it is possible. But realistically taking the time to plan and prepare will help make your event much more effective! Plus it helps you have a good night’s sleep beforehand!

Tip number three is engage, engage, engage. Don’t just talk at people! Allow time for discussion. Ask questions and allow people to think about what they’ve heard. This is possible whether you’re running an event with a small number of people, or a large event with hundreds of people. The key is to work out ways to break people into smaller groups. Maybe this is simply getting people to turn to the person next to them and have a quick chat for a minute. Maybe it’s allowing people 15 to 30 minutes in groups of 3 to 5 to work through a question and work out what it means for them. Whatever the number, always be thinking about how to give people time to engage with what they’ve heard by breaking them into smaller groups for discussion.

And it doesn’t always have to be verbal sharing. John loves using online tools like Slido or Poll Everywhere to allow people to easily share their ideas. This works especially well in large groups and is a clever way to get small groups to report back. No more butchers paper! And you can easily download all the responses afterwards if you want to. 

Tip number four is one of Denise’s personal favourite! Reward the behaviour you want to see! If you’re giving a presentation at a workshop, and you’ve incorporated tip number three into this, then you’ll have stopped and asked the audience to consider a question. When you ask for answers, give out chocolate to those who are willing to engage! This is about creating an environment where people want to engage. [Note that Denise’s answer to anything tends to be chocolate, but adapt it to fit your style. She leans towards food rewards, but there are sure to be other ways of doing this!]

The fifth and final tip is to think about how to prepare people for the event you’re running. Robert Brinkerhoff has undertaken a great deal of research in the area of effective training and his big take home message is that pre and post work are key to getting the best return on investment for training. We’ll put a link to his work in the show notes. An event should be thought of in a similar way! Can you email out a question for people to ponder as they drive to the event? If you use Eventbrite or a similar online registration system, how about adding a field for them to enter the burning question they want answered at the event? Can you get them to watch a short video before they arrive? Whatever process you use, you just want to get people thinking about the event beforehand.

And then think about what post-event processes you could use to help continue the learning journey after the event finishes. For example, you could spend the last half hour or so getting people to think through what stood out for them and get them to write down two or three key steps they’ll take after they leave the event. Perhaps you could follow them up a few weeks afterwards and remind them of what they talked about during the event. You could even plan to send an email a week after the event to prompt action. In the pre-Internet days, John remembers handing out cards and envelopes, and invite the participants to write a short note to their future selves asking if they’d taken the action they had chosen. They’d pop the card inside the envelope and address it to themselves, and we’d post it to them two months later. It was a good wake up call for some people and could stir them into action. 

So you’ve read our thoughts, now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below this blog post and tell us your experiences running events. What would you add to our list? What have you tried that hasn’t worked? We don’t want this to just be a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts with us! 


Brinkerhoff, R.O. & Apking, A.M. (2001). High-Impact Learning: Strategies for leveraging business results from training. Basic Books.

Mooney, T. & Brinkerhoff, R.O. (2008). Courageous Training: Bold actions for business results. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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Matt McCarthy
4 years ago

Thanks John and Denise. I liked your comment about using Polling. We sometimes struggle to integrate polling eg slido without slowing the ‘flow’ of discussion. Would be interested in your thoughts. At our larger events we utilise Textit which enables participants to text a question or statement which is moderated and displayed to the audience. Helps the introverts! I liked your tips about allowing real time for discussion. This is again a challenge when programs tend to be pressured to deliver content content content. We utilise workbooks with ORID based questions to encourage participants to think about the topic in… Read more »

David Jago
4 years ago
Reply to  Matt McCarthy

ORID (Technology of Participation Focussed Conversation Method) for the win! As you say Matt, getting enough time is always a real challenge.

4 years ago
Reply to  Matt McCarthy

Thanks Matt and David! I’m realising more and more that I need to plan, then take two things out of my plan (or take them out but have them up my sleeve in the mostly unlikely event I have time!). It’s the tricky balance of making something worthwhile but not cramming everything in!

David Jago
4 years ago

Thanks folks. Excellent as ever.

I strongly concur with the pre- and post session advice. I do like the Eventbrite rego question idea. That’s a new one for me.

Glad to hear that some people are getting value out of polling. So far, my experience has been largely gimmicky and distracting. Worse, it has occasionally given a session a spurious patina of quantitative authority. Again, it’s good to see potential value in it.

Graham Harris
Graham Harris
4 years ago

Thanks again – John and Denise. Good points about running a successful event – the key for me is good planning from the outset and making sure participants are fully engaged.

4 years ago
Reply to  Graham Harris

Thanks Graham! Planning is so important and means you have time to think about how to get participants engaged.

Jeff Coutts
1 year ago

Good tips! And of course build in the evaluation to help understanding whether the desired outcome was achieved and what can be learned to make such an event even better next time.

Ramesh Raj Puri
1 year ago

Thanks John and Denise as always for the content and presentation. I feel planning makes half work done. Engaging participants is the most important to get out of them. But engaging using slido and poll everywhere might not be always fit into the situation due to lack of technologies in place. So, I would like to use printouts and the tools (slido / poll everywhere) in face-face events. Selecting engaging methods is also an important task. Like where to use deliberative forums, world cafe or study circle. Evaluation of the event is also important and analysing the data. Thanks and… Read more »

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