It’s all in the details: Five tips for a successful event

By Kellie Davie, APR
Vice President of Awards, IABC Nashville

Business communicators are often tasked to plan and execute the “tactic of all tactics,” a special event. It could be organizing a conference, hosting and running an awards reception, or an event that draws in hundreds of people. Whatever the subject, special events are an effective way to reach audiences in-person and in real-time.

They also can be a bear to run.

Throughout my eleven-plus years in communications, I have helped or took the lead to plan and implement dozens of special events: hotel and restaurant grand openings, trade shows, a week-long fashion show, professional development luncheons, and most recently the Music City Yoga Festival – an annual fundraiser benefiting local wellness nonprofit Small World Yoga attended by several hundred yoga enthusiasts and affiliated exhibitors. Each event has varied in budget size and audience demographics, but the formula for executing them remains the same: it’s all in the details.

Above: Music City Yoga Festival

Being a detail-oriented individual is vital in becoming a successful and respected professional in any field, but it is critical in that of business communications. The ultimate test of this skill comes when implementing a special event for your organization. Here are my five tips in planning and executing a successful event:

Develop a Structured Plan

Like any marketing communications campaign, events need to be structured with intent and purpose, not created on a whim. When developing an event for your organization, consider the following outline:

Goals: Does this event help to advance the mission of your organization, and will it bring back a strong return on investment from execution?
Objectives: Develop SMART objectives: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time specific. Are your objectives designed to change audience behaviors and perceptions of your organization, or are you trying to raise general awareness or a product, service, or client? Strategies: How will you go about reaching these SMART objectives and accomplishing the event you are planning?
Tactics and Tools: What are the communication channels and tools you will need to not only get the message out about your event but to execute it with quality, on-brand and on message?

Above: Ribbon-cutting for the Omni Nashville Hotel

Create Detailed Timetables

A successful event is 1,000 things happening on time and in order. A timetable makes that happen. Use every tool available to develop timetables to collaborate with your event team. Google Sheets, Trello, and Basecamp are three tech tool that help keep everyone on the same page. While every organization varies when it comes to its planning processes, there are some standard documents you should make when planning any event:

Timetable: A detailed timetable of what is happening and when is critical in the event planning process to ensure details are not missed. I like creating these in a Gantt chart format that illustrates a project timetable to make it reader-friendly for various teams.
Task List and Affiliated Task Ownership: Task lists can help everyone understand their responsibilities. They also facilitate clear and consistent internal communications to remain clear and consistent.
Run of Show (ROS): Put simply, this is a document that shows what happens when. A Run of Show is essential for speakers/presenters, production teams, and all internal stakeholders involved to know how the event program will run and the specific times each transition occurs. And they cannot be too detailed. David Green, host of NPR’s “Morning Edition,” has a ROS that even includes scripted lines such as “Good morning, I’m David Green.” A good ROS leaves nothing to chance.

*    BONUS: It is also helpful to become familiar with other event planning documents including Banquet Event Orders (BEOs) for catering setup, stage plots for audio/visual teams, and detailed scripts for speakers.

Above: Nashville Fashion Week

Know Thy Budget

This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how often I have seen budgets thrown into disarray when someone gets a little too excited about décor, entertainment, or gourmet food and beverages. Good communication is the key to successful budgeting. Consider the following to help you plan a budget savvy event:

Everyone Must Understand the Budget Limitations: Work closely with your organization’s accounting department to understand how much money is allocated for the event and keep track of all revenues and expenses by creating and updating an event income statement. Trust me; your accounting manager will love and thank you for doing this.
Consider Sponsorships: Are you planning an event on a shoestring budget? Consider reaching out to like-minded brands on sponsorship opportunities. Not only will sponsorships help offset additional costs, but sponsors can help spread the word about your event by sharing it across their communication channels. A “win, win” if you ask me!

Communication is Key

This goes without saying in our profession, but healthy communication practices are critical when planning any event. Everyone involved with your event, whether its attendees, production teams, or sponsors, should be kept informed with the latest updates on what is happening and when. Make sure you are keeping the following in mind to streamline communications with your event planning:

Accuracy: Are all your promotional materials and communication channels (i.e., websites, social media handles, news releases, and e-newsletters) for the event accurate with dates/times, location, presenters, and registration details?
Clarity: Are your event materials easy to read and understand for both internal and external audiences? Does your event messaging and programming reflect the objectives you are trying to achieve?
Team Meetings and Updates: Be sure that all who are involved with implementing the event are continuously updated throughout the planning process leading up to the big day. Schedule regular meetings to review timetables, get status updates on tasks and troubleshoot any possible concerns. Meeting in-person or over the phone goes a long way, plus it ensures communication details don’t get lost in email chains.

Above: Good planning leads to things like IABC Awards

 Be Kind

Deadlines, ticket sales, catering and managing a timetable and a budget is stressful and can represent high-stakes tactics for an organization. It’s stressful and can bring out the worst in people, so it is essential to maintain professionalism and show gratitude to those who are involved. As the saying goes, “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” so remember to be kind and respectful to others throughout the planning process.

Keep Your Cool: Murphy’s Law is real; anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Be prepared to go straight into problem-solving mode if a speaker fails to show or a delivery isn’t made and find solutions to work around any event issues. You are in control of your work and emotions, so do not let a setback cause damage to your reputation post-event.
Maintain Professionalism: You may be the only one keeping your cool when a problem occurs. That’s where your problem-solving mode can be beneficial. Astronauts and scientists at NASA always expected someone to go wrong during a space flight (and something almost always did). The key is to work the problem and you do that by remaining professional. Expect to isolate that lone wolf who does lose their cool; they aren’t solving the problem(s).
Show Gratitude: Everyone involved with planning the event is putting in extra time to make it a success. Be sure to keep your teams motivated by continuing to thank them and give praise on excellent accomplishments. A genuine “thank you” or “great job” goes a long way with team members and volunteers.

At the end of the day, producing a successful event is all about creating a memorable experience and helping your organization reach its goals. By keeping these tips in mind the next time you plan an event will help you to strengthen your professional development and bring even more value to those you serve.

While we are on the subject of events

 Are you interested in sharpening your event management skills? We are looking for volunteers to serve on our IABC Nashville Music City Gold Pen Awards Committee. The Music City Gold Pen Awards is an annual celebration taking place in late August/early September that recognizes Middle Tennessee professionals who exemplify excellence in strategic business communications, management skills, thought leadership, and creativity. Opportunities to get involved with the committee include judging, marketing communications, event logistics, and sponsorship outreach. Please email kdavie@keycompr.com by Friday, March 20, if interested and available.


Why are social media posts like the cobbler’s children?

Finding good writing on social media can be like finding the proverbial unicorn.

A guest blog by Joe Diorio

The end of 2019 represents not only the end of another year, but the end of a decade.

That’s prompting no shortage of #grateful type posts on social media. Sadly, there is more than a bit of repetition to all of them, since the posts all start out the same way.

“So grateful for …”
“So happy to see …”
“What a year this has been …”

The problem with this is that if everything reads the same, then nothing may be read at all. The scan and skip nature of reading online material makes it way too easy to gloss over these posts.

It’s not just end-of-year messages, either. After IABC Nashville presented its annual Music City Gold Pen Awards, the avalanche of social media messages about the awards mentioned a lot except what was done to win the awards. Here’s a sample of what showed up in my various social media news feeds:

“Congrats to all of today’s award recipients!”
“We are thrilled to announce …”
“Wow, we are in awe …”
“So proud of you …”

At the risk of making everyone hate me, we are communicators, right? Then why are our social media posts so – what’s the word? – dull? Repetitive? Uncreative?

OK, everyone put down the torches and blunt objects and please read on before sending me a variation of a “WELL, YOU TRY IT” email. Don’t kill the messenger (a variation of that phrase can be traced all the way back to Sophocles in 442 B.C., but I digress). We all know the demand for quick and up-to-the-nanosecond communications is leaving good writing in its wake.

Dull writing is the proverbial kiss of death for marketing communication professionals. A decade after Nicholas Carr asked in The Atlantic asking “Is Google making us stupid?” we seem to be forgetting that the single most important job for us is to communicate.

We get it that you are proud, happy, and thrilled to have won, but go a step further and tell us why. Rather than saying “we are thrilled to announce” how about:

  • “Teamwork and a dedication to the goal of increasing widget sales by 10 percent resulted in our being recognized with a Music City Gold Pen Award.”
  • “A team from our agency and our client who believed we could pull off an event that
    heretofore never took place in Nashville was honored…”
  • “We taught consumers something they never knew before …”

In other words, use social media to tell your followers what you did, how you did it, and why you did it. We all have scores of social media accounts we follow. Identify those nuggets of wisdom that made your communication effort an award winner and lead with that. And along the way omit the needless and, sadly, self-serving words. Everyone should plan their social media posts about their awards as carefully as they plan the communication activities that garnered them said awards.

In 2009 I had the privilege of meeting Ted Sorensen, who wrote so eloquently while chronicling the presidency of John F. Kennedy. He explained the need to communicate clearly and effectively with a brilliant shaggy dog story.

He said a salesman was setting up shop to sell seafood. First pass at a sign: “Fresh Seafood, Fish for Sale.” Well, he thought, who would sell stale fish? So he shortened the sign: “Seafood, Fish for Sale.” Heck, fish ARE seafood, so the word “fish” was dropped. But if he’s selling seafood in a store, then why say it’s “for sale”? The final sign, eloquently and to the point, read, simply, “Seafood.”

And, by the way, I’m confident he was proud, excited, and humbled by the chance to open his store.

Happy new year, and let’s write carefully out there, people. 

Joe Diorio is a Nashville IABC member and a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. You can sign up for his newsletter, “A Few Words About Words,” by visiting his website

Would you like to be a guest blogger?
Email us at iabcnashvilletn@gmail.com


A Poulet-zer Prized Mascot

A guest blog by Joe Diorio 

Fans of the Nashville Sounds know it’s not unusual to see a very different team on the field from one year to the next. Change is the nature of the game in the minor leagues as players move on to another team, or even to the major leagues.

But since April 17, 2015, one uniform for the Sounds has been consistently worn by the same individual. That would be “Booster the Rooster,” the Nashville hot chicken, who continues to be an integral part of the Sounds’ marketing and outreach efforts.

Booster is a goodwill ambassador for the Sounds, and he can be found at all the Sounds home games. He’s also frequently seen on the road, or on a Metro bus, or downtown on lower Broadway handing out tickets to Sounds home games. He appears at corporate events, charitable events, even the occasional private party. In early June he’s sure to be seen at more than a few events aligned with the CMA Music Festival, Nashville’s celebration of country music.

“Booster is what we like to call a ‘free range chicken’,” explains Buddy Yelton, mascot coordinator for the Sounds. “When he’s not here at the stadium he’s venturing out to downtown, saying hello to people who are out and about on their lunch break. He goes to schools, to the children’s hospital, charity runs and a lot of grass roots appearances, all the while spreading the word about Nashville Sounds baseball.” 

Although closely aligned with Nashville, Booster hasn’t appeared on another thing that’s closely associated with Nashville: he hasn’t been on a pedal tavern – yet. “He’s not against a pedal tavern,” Yelton says. “We just haven’t worked out the scheduling.”

The underlying, heck, the overt message is: Booster is all about fun. “Booster is a big kid. He can hang with the two-year-olds as well as the college kids and adults,” explains Yelton, who knows a thing or two about the team mascot after having been the mascot coordinator for the Sounds for the past 20 years.

Business entities choose many ways to market themselves. Mascots are a popular marketing tool for professional and collegiate sports teams, and Booster has established himself as the feathered face of the Sounds, the Pacific Coast League AAA minor league affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers. 

Booster came about, so the story goes, when the Sounds first moved to First Tennessee Park from Herschel Greer Stadium in 2015. Allegedly a Sounds souvenir baseball was accidentally knocked into a deep fryer containing chicken. “There was an explosion, and the next thing you knew there was Booster,” Yelton says.

The team likes to use social media to engage with fans and get a feel for Booster’s effectiveness. Follow @SoundsBooster on Instagram and Twitter and you can see where Booster will show up when he’s not at the Ballpark. You also can see who’s following him, and who “likes” or retweets his photos.

“It’s real grassroots marketing for us,” Yelton explains. The Sounds take photos of Booster with fans and post them to social media, and the fans often tag Booster in their posts. “It’s a 21st Century way for gauging our effectiveness,” Yelton says.

Yelton admits that while Booster seems immensely popular with fans, he sometimes gets confused with other mascots. When the Sounds play the Memphis Redbirds, for example, the minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, Memphis fans confuse booster for the Cardinals mascot, “Fredbird.” And occasionally, a youngster has thought Booster was Elmo from Sesame Street. 

“We haven’t done any DNA testing to see if Booster has any relationship to the San Diego Chicken, though,” Yelton says, with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Booster is available for events. Just tweet him for details.

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Joe Diorio is a Nashville IABC member and a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. You can sign up for his newsletter, “A Few Words About Words,” by visiting his website

Would you like to be a guest blogger?
Email us at iabcnashvilletn@gmail.com


A Twitterstorm on Twitter about the weather

A guest blog by Joe Diorio

Over a century ago, journalist Charles Dudley Warner* wrote in The Hartford Courant that “everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” Nowadays, meteorologists are doing something about the weather when they talk about it.

Case in point: on December 23, 2015, tornadoes roared across northern Mississippi and middle Tennessee, killing 13 people. As then-WKRN meteorologist Lisa Patton was delivering her report that night she reminded viewers, “I’m using my ‘mom’ voice right now.” Her underlying message was clear: Take what I say seriously.

Patton’s action showed that how we say something is equally important as what we say. And it can come across clearly via the written word. David Drobny, one of three voices behind the NashSevereWx twitter account, demonstrates this regularly in his weather tweets. He also says Patton was “spot on” in her tone of voice on that December evening.

Life-threatening weather events are rare, so many times Drobny will have fun with meteorological terminology by poking fun at his preference for scientific terminology over water-cooler jargon. For example, as a storm headed toward Nashville in January he wrote: “Pro-snow weather terms [include] ‘deformation zone,’ [and] ‘frequent mentions of the ‘dendritic zone’ (impress people by saying ‘DGZ’) … Anti-snow: ‘dry slot,’ ‘dry air monster,’ ‘the low went north’.” He quickly followed up by adding “we cannot be close friends if you like ‘freezing rain’ [or] ‘ice storm’.”

With freezing rain and ice possible, but increasingly unlikely, on the weekend of January 19 and 20, someone tweeted their relief that their drive via I-65 to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center was clear. Will Minkoff, another one of the @NashSevereWx authors, responded “We could all use some culture.”

While Nashville was in the grip of an unusually bad cold spell, NashSevereWx tweeted “26 degrees at the airport. Colder in the hollers.” The tweet was accompanied by an image of John Travolta from the movie “Pulp Fiction,” photoshopped to show him in a large snow drift and holding a snow shovel.

That same day he posted a poll on Twitter, asking readers if bridges and overpasses – which we all know freeze first – are the same thing. Fifty-eight percent of the nearly 400 votes cast over a 60-minute period said they were different. The technical difference does not matter. “The point is they are both elevated and therefore cool off faster,” Drobny says. He was not setting transportation policy. He was driving home the point that drivers should be wary of slick bridges and overpasses.

(FWIW, Dictionary.com says “overpass” – the noun – is a road crossing over something, whereas “overpass” – the verb – means to pass over or traverse a region or space. It also defines “bridge” as a structure passing over something. Let the arguing begin. Break out your Venn Diagrams!)

Drobny’s tweets are indeed humorous, but they all have a bit of weather education included. (BTW, since I didn’t say so earlier, “dendritic” means having a branched form resembling a tree. A good term for a growing weather front, methinks.)

“I try to be humorous,” Drobny explains. “People need to see a lighter tone when I am not concerned, then when I am concerned, and the jokes and good humor evaporate, hopefully people understand the gravity of the situation.”

Drobny started NashSevereWx in 2010. “Friends were contacting me during severe weather wanting to know conditions where I lived (he’s in Williamson County) or worked (downtown Nashville). Weather data and software that had been only for the NWS and local TV meteorologists recently had become available to the weather nerd community. I snatched it up. I was equipped to follow storms myself. Friends were pestering me for information, and I wanted to give to them. Turned out it was easier to put it out there for them on Twitter rather than take multiple phone calls and reply to several text messages.” The Twitter handle gained followers at a rapid pace and Drobny realized he’d need help managing it.

Drobny is an attorney by day. NashSevereWx is something he and two friends –Andrew Leeper and the aforementioned Will Minkoff– run as a hobby, but the hyper-local nature of its weather reporting (it covers only Davidson and Williamson counties in Tennessee) has grown its Twitter presence to over 158,000 followers. Nowadays they have a media partnership with the National Weather Service in Nashville to add more specificity to their tweets.

“Most of what you see on Twitter is me,” Drobny said. “Andrew and Will also tweet, but their primary responsibilities concern other parts of our operation.”

The gang at NashSevereWX may not have a “mom” voice, but they do manage to leverage language to entertain and get their point across.

*Yes, it was Warner, not Mark Twain. Go look it up.

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Joe Diorio is a Nashville IABC member and a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader. You can sign up for his newsletter, “A Few Words About Words,” by visiting his website.


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