NACA BLOG - Setting Your Event Up for Success: How to Create an Event Playbook - 12/13/2022

Dec. 13, 2022

Setting Your Event Up for Success: How to Create an Event Playbook
Courtney James, Director of Student Involvement
DePaul University

A former supervisor of mine - Kay Robinson at the University of Central Oklahoma - used to tell me regularly while I was planning events that she loved a good attention to detail.  She taught me that the details are what take a standard event and make it exceptional.  As an early campus activities professional, I quickly learned, though, that I couldn't pay attention to the details unless I had my main event details outlined.  I realized that I needed a better system to organize event details- especially when I had multiple events I was preparing for at any given time. 

With this, the Event Playbook was formed.  As I put it to my staff, Event Playbooks exist just in case you win the lottery and decide to never come to work again.  In theory, anyone can pick up your Event Playbook and execute your event.  When used as a planning tool, it also helps to fill in details and centrally store information- particularly if you are co-designing an event experience with collaborators. 

Not every Playbook is the same.  The elements of an effective Playbook may differ from campus to campus and depending on your campus, may even differ from event to event.  Here's what's included in a standard introduction for a DePaul Event Playbook:

  • Main Event Details
  • Title of the event
  • Date
  • Time
  • Location (both primary and severe weather location)
  • Contact Name & Phone Number
  • Target Attendance

As you move into the core of the Playbook, more and more detail should be included.  For a standard DePaul Playbook, event planners will include the following detailed logistics:

  • Giveaway at the Event
  • Event Supplies
  • Catering Confirmation (including quantities of order and delivery/setup details)
  • Day of Schedule
  • Detailed & Confirmed Event Layouts

For some of the logistics, our Playbooks will often include multiple versions of certain elements.  For example, with a Day of Schedule, we will save two versions.  The first version is a very detailed full event schedule that has every delivery, set up, tear down, vendor delivery, and more.  The second is much shorter and is our public facing schedule that we can copy and paste as needed for partners that may be asking for details.

Over time, we've found that Playbooks are not only great to help with day of logistics, but they also help us to track progress as the event develops.  A few examples of elements that we may use a Playbook to track include:

  • Volunteer Confirmations
  • Vendor Confirmations and Details
  • Invited Campus Partners & Confirmations

By adding a "Status" section to a table within a Playbook, you can track progress when collaborating with others.  For example, if you add a "Status" section to your vendor table, you can note if you have only received a quote, if it's been confirmed, and what the status of payment is.  At DePaul, we frequently will add a date as well just so others know when the most recent update happened.

As you're reading, you may be thinking that all of this is pretty standard for what you do.  You would be amazed, though, how few professionals get in the regular practice of documenting and investing in the preparation of their events and experiences.  Once you get in the regular practice of detailing your preparation documents, you can start to focus on event details.  Additionally, when you have the core of an effective playbook, you will also find that setting baseline details for your event may become easier and easier.

As you consider developing an Event Playbook for your next event, check out a few examples from DePaul's Office of Student Involvement here:

Over time, I've realized that while Playbooks are helpful for us leading up to an event and on the day of an event, they have also been exceedingly helpful in staff transition.  As staff have moved on to the next stage in their professional journey, I've been able to pull up old playbooks to give a comprehensive look at all of the details of an event. 

Courtney James serves as the director of Student Involvement at DePaul University. There, her department directly coordinates over 250 events on two campuses annually.  She also serves as a member of the NACA Board of Directors.  

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