Mix Review: Simon Maier’s In Any Event

Many aspects of our work lives we can learn “on the job”. Organising a large corporate event isn’t one of them.

Imagine a large party, perhaps for several hundred people, at which colleagues, clients and work superiors will all be present. They will need transport from the airport, advice on visas, a group rate for the hotel(s), and when they arrive, that's when things get really complicated. The number of things that could go wrong multiplies at a dizzying pace.

This book aims to fast track you through those mistakes. Chapter headings are admirably clear: "The Venue", "Speakers and Contributors", "Powerpoint and other aids".

In his introduction Maeir says that the book is primarily “…for people who have a responsibility for delivering the perfect corporate event – mostly within productions companies and agencies but… also for people on the client side who are faced (and sometimes suddenly faced) with managing and delivering the perfect event.”

Assuming you are in the second bunch, then there’s much in this book that isn’t directly relevant, but may well be instructive, since one of the themes of the book is the potential for miscommunication between client and supplier or industry specialist. Maier makes clear that choosing the right people to help you with your event, and then giving them enough information to do the job to the best of their ability are essential.

This is more than an instruction manual, though. Maier is well placed to give advice, since it’s clear he has a huge range of experience and what he doesn’t know, he asks advice on from his numerous contacts.

In fact, much of the book is quotes from industry experts, and nearly all of it is useful, though in a strange framing device he insists on describing the circumstances in which he is speaking to these people. So you get a “writer friend” of Maier describing the challenges of using an event to communicate an organisation’s message, but then the passage ends.

“He grins again, takes the last biscuit (a Bourbon as I recall) and steps out of the café into the slushy snow of London’s deep midwinter.”

I think Maier includes these bits because he wants us to know that these people really do exist, and he isn’t just putting his own experience and knowledge into imaginary third parties’ voices, but it is very distracting. The novel he is said to be writing in the author’s information on the front page is probably the place for all of this.

That said, the book’s humour is its saving grace, and though you certainly are left in no doubt to Maier’s high opinion of his talents (“The opening motivational video, which I’d written and produced, had just finished and people were applauding, some even whistling and cheering…”) he includes a huge amount of information and insight, including long check lists which should be on every organiser’s bedside table.

For those who think that events always have a value, he includes a description very early on in the book as to the typical attendees’ experience (pages 8-9). How many of us will recognise ourselves “… forced to sit in a darkened auditorium that smells a little of the gala dinner held in it the night before…. On the plane back home, anything and everything to do with the event will be binned and no blogs or Tweets will be answered.”

So if you want to know the different between a RFI, and EOI, a RFT or a ROI (Registration of Interest, as well as Return on Investment), this is the book for you. If you think you know everything, then you’ll be able to skip the definitions section: Cash Bar, Wet Bar, Limited Consumption Bar, Open Bar and Service Bar all offer different services at different prices. Personally I found it fascinating.

There’s advice on everything from music to use at functions to what to consider when choosing a guest speaker. It also discusses the pros and cons of team-building events and Powerpoint and other visual aids, and there’s a good old rant about jargon: “out of the box” for “think differently”, “ducks in a row” for “organised”, “incentivise” for “encourage”, and how it’s a meaningless jungle which defeats the objective, which should be, communication.

A good read, on an interesting subject that for too many attendees, sadly, amounts to a dull few hours in a meeting room, or a deadly few days in a hotel. We should all try harder. This book shows us how.

Tom Otley


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