Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Success equals a system and backup for everything

In the world of events - especially tradeshows in the software industry - one learns very quickly that everything that can go wrong will go wrong. If you're lucky, not everything will go wrong at the same time. The sign of success is when no one but you ever knows anything didn't go according to plan.

Keys to a successful event
  1. Inventory checklist: A physical spreadsheet on which you mark each item packed once the item has been carefully packed. Having a checklist in front of you that you mark with a pencil or pen forces you to concentrate on the task at hand - this is especially important as you've done this many times before and could probably do in your sleep and accidentally miss something. I typically pack the checklist after I'm done at the top of the first box I'm going to open and reuse it when I'm repacking at the end of the event. I can quickly tell if I've lost something or run out of supplies.

  2. Event-at-a-glance cheat sheet: A physical booklet with directions to/from the event, site map, schedule, names and phone numbers of emergency contacts. Don't rely on your PDA/iPhone/laptop for this information; print it out in a format that's easy to put in your back pocket or purse. Think Murphy's Law - when you need this information the most, you're almost guaranteed to be on the phone and unable to access it, on the tarmac waiting for a gate and unable to power up your laptop, or about to run out of battery charge.

  3. Equipment configuration notes: Physical notes on any settings that aren't default settings. If your equipment gets lost or damaged and you have to rent equipment, you'll want to be able to set it up quickly the same way you're used to.

  4. Backup equipment: If it's crucial to your event - projector for a presentation, laptop for a demonstration, etc. - have another piece of equipment with you or contact information for an equipment rental vendor (this contact information should be under Emergency Contacts on your Event-at-a-Glance Cheat Sheet). Items get lost and damaged in shipping. The more you rely on an item the more likely that something bad will happen during an event; additionally the further you are from "civilization" the more likely something bad will happen. (If you've done tons of events and never had a problem, probability is pretty high that your next event might just be the one where you'll need your backup equipment). I also carry extra blank inventory checklists with me just in case the box with the original checklist doesn't arrive.

  5. Spare parts: Even with your inventory checklist there's still the possibility that you overlooked something (burnt out bulb in the projector, scratched filter on your camera lens, etc.). Pack extra batteries, cables, chargers, power cords, Flash cards, USB drives, etc.

  6. System for drained batteries/filled memory cards/so on: A pocket or box where you place all the materials that need to be serviced before they're used again is key. You don't want to grab a dead battery by mistake and miss "the shot" of the event. By keeping fresh/to-be-serviced items separate you reduce the likelihood of not being ready.

Keys for pulling off back-to-back events
  1. Backup equipment: Have a duplicate set up ready to go for the second event. If you have three events - you'll have equipment from the first event or in an emergency the equipment from the second event. If you're traveling internationally, remember that shipped packages (including equipment) have to go through customs. Assume that this equipment will not be available for a back-to-back event with a quick turnaround (i.e. less than 3 to 5 days) in a different country.

  2. System for drained batteries/filled memory cards/so on: If you've carefully kept track of your fresh/to-be-serviced items, you can quickly pull out and replace the to-be-serviced items.

  3. Inventory checklist: Here you'll want both the completed checklist from the last time the equipment was used/stored and a blank checklist. With the completed checklist you can tell at a glance which items need to be serviced or replaced. The blank checklist allows you to doublecheck yourself and make sure that everything in your bag is ready to go. It's always better to check before you leave to see if you have batteries and that they're charged than arrive at an event and realize you have batteries but they're all dead.