On October 22nd, the VH1 Save The Music Foundation hosted “Family Day” at The Anderson School on the upper west side of Manhattan.  I spent all summer and some time after helping plan this event, brainstorm activities, spread the word via social media, pitching to advertisers, and so much more.  So, needless to say, I was pretty stoked for the event the day of. And even though I couldn’t have felt more prepared, or excited, or ready for the event to happy already, I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the day that was “Family Day.”

Photo Credit: http://features.rr.com/photo/03oLeBx2205ks?q=VH1 Hanson & Voca People

I landed in New York on Thursday afternoon, and just 24 hours later I was on the LIRR on my way to Penn Station.  From there, I would walk to the VH1 STM offices in Times Square.  It was a whirlwind once those wheels stopped moving, let me tell you….

I go up to the offices, and I’m greeted by busy bodies making last-minute changes, print-outs and adjustments as necessary in the short amount of time we have before we need to leave and haul everything to The Anderson School.  I make some copies, staple some papers, get a cart from the mail room and make myself as helpful as I can.  Then, it comes time to bring the boxes from the 20th floor to the loading dock, put as much as we can in a tiny car, and hopefully find a cab for the rest.  Have you ever tried to hail a cab during rush hour in the Times Square and the Theatre District?

I went to find a cab after loading the boxes we could fit in the car, but upon returning to the area my partners were in, I found they were already in a cab with the boxes loaded and ready to take off. So, I was told to just climb in the car, which had next to no room, so we could get the show on the road! Well, the girl that’s 5’8″ managed to fit in a space about 4 feet by two feet, with two stacks of paper towels on her lap.  I’m still not quite sure how my supervisor, driving the car, managed to see out the windows…

But sometimes, you just have to make it work.

Little did I know, this was just my first taste of that major lesson I’d learn through the next 24 hours…

We arrive at The Anderson School, and it’s a mad-house of moving boxes, opening boxes, and production crews and sponsors setting up their respective areas.  We were organizing, re-organizing, re-planning, moving, lifting, and setting the stage for the event that would follow the next morning.  We hit a few speed bumps, like leaving a few things at the offices, and needing to cut-out a large amount of sign stickers, but we worked through them.  We had some hiccups, but we pushed through and strategized the way to make the most of our time.

Most of all, though, we worked together.

You can plan an event for as long as you want, but you’ll never know how your team is going to work until they come together and work together.

The night came and went quickly, and before most of us had a chance to blink to sleep, it was time to be back at the school and prepare for the day ahead.

We were greeted about an hour before doors even opened with a few over-eager Hanson fans, which set the stage for how the rest of the day was expected to pan out…

Everyone was designated to their stations, we had walk-throughs, volunteers (though, a large hand-full dropped out… which, I learned, is to be expected!), we had meetings, we had schedules, and headsets, captains, and everything between.  Everyone was at their stations, and everything was ready to go.  All we needed was to begin!

There’s no other way to describe the day than success, which I think could be no greater accomplishment for all of us who had a hand in creating the event.

Throughout the day, we had over 1,040 guests come to the event and explore all the different activities, expos and workshops (such as Smilebooth, Bash The Trash, VocaPeople, a drum circle, yoga, Parenting Magazine, Plum Organics, We Adorn You, instrument petting zoos, and so much more!) as well as performances by Hot Peas ‘N Butter, Brianna Kahane, Hanson, American Secrets (The Freecreditscore.com band), Mat Kearney and Safetysuit! Spongebob was also walking around, as well as stations with free water and Apple & Eve juices, and some of NYC’s most popular food trucks to sell food and donate part of their proceeds to STM.

Though the feedback was all positive, and the event was almost flawless, there are always lessons to learn from the event.

1.  Not everything is going to go as planned, or as smoothly as hoped.  – That’s okay.  I spent a good 45 minutes trying to fix a door-stop, with two men, so that it would actually stop the door.  We had merchandise to sell, but for most of the day, we were in a bad location and didn’t mean the goals we set for ourselves.  We had to work with the needs of the talent and those doing workshops to make sure everyone was happy.

2. It’s about everyone else who is there for you – You must be accommodating, friendly, and constantly on your toes.  Event Day is NO time for slacking off or taking your time. In fact, your time is all about making sure everyone else’s time is as perfect as it can be.  In some cases, this may even mean working straight through your lunch break and always being present and available to those in need of your assistance.

3. You never know how all parts of your team will work until event day – You think you know someone and know their personality, but you never know how that person is going to change or act until the day of the event.  You never know if the person is going to stay assigned to the task at hand, stay at their station, or simply do what their told.  You don’t know if someone is going to seek out a place they feel more entitled to, you don’t know if someone is going to spend all day texting, you don’t know if someone will have good customer service for 6 hours straight… you just don’t know, and you have to be prepared.

4. Pick your battles – Feeding off number 3, you have to be ready to face the worst in your employees and volunteers, you have to know how to handle them, and you have to know what battles are worth fighting.  You have to know what issues are worth bringing up, and which ones are not effecting the flow of the event.  If you’re aggravated with how someone is acting, but everyone else is happy, chances are, there’s no need worth causing anymore ripples in the water.  An event is no time for added, unnecessary drama. It may be best to be handled and dealt with when the event has passed.  However, on the same note, you cannot be afraid to step in and speak up when something is going on that shouldn’t be.  If someone is in a place that they don’t belong, or is clearly acting sly or trying to get in a position that is inappropriate, it may be worth pursuing.  It’s all in judgement, which is where the lines become very fuzzy, but you really need to think before you speak or act and figure out if your actions (because of the other persons actions) are going to hurt the event or better the event.

5. Smile, smile, smile, and smile some more – Being present and helpful is worth nothing to those at your event if you, your staff and volunteers are not friendly.  No one wants to interact or be part of something where the people are not friendly and happy.  Even when you are tired, your feet hurt, you’re hungry, and you just want 5 minutes of silence, smile until your teeth fall out… and then keep smiling. 🙂

6. Brush it off – Problems will happen, people will ask you questions that you don’t know the answer to, there will be complains, there will be trouble… but don’t let it discourage you.  Don’t become so consumed in what is going wrong not to focus on what is going right.  Don’t let one persons negative comment get you down from the rest of the positive feedback you are getting.  Or, even if the negative comments outweigh the positive, take it with a grain of salt and know that this does not define who you are or what you’re trying to carry out. Plan for the best but expect the worst, because in one situation or another, it will arise.  And then you smile and go on with the rest of the event.

7. The online presence during the event may be just as your presence at the event itself – people will be tweeting about the event just as much as they’re talking about it.  You DO NOT want to ignore this.  Interact with these people, and more important, tweet live.  Use a hasthag (#STMFamilyDay) to track what people are saying.  Search your name, search topics about the event or people there (if featured performers or speakers…)  This also helps include those who are unable to attend the event and make them feel a part of something.  Tweet photos and videos, if possible.  This will NOT go unnoticed.

8. When the event is over, it’s still not over – Yes, there’s cleaning and packing up, which is just as time-consuming as setting up, but then there also comes the time to search Twitter and Facebook and the web for what people were saying.  Respond to them.  Answer questions, talk about what happened, talk about favorite parts, suggestions, what could have went better, what shouldn’t be replaced, and make sure your audience knows you are listening to them.

9. Say thank you – When the guests leave, as I said above, this doesn’t mean they’re done talking and thinking about it.  It does not mean they’re gone.  Comment on blogs or news articles about the event, saying thank you, reach out to the Facebook pages or Twitter pages of those people and organizations that helped out and thank them for their time.  A bit of time in this goes a long way when interacting with the people who helped out.  It shows that you really appreciated their time, as well as gives them some sort of connection to you and what you’re trying to do. Social media and events work perfectly together, because they’re all about connecting with people.  Follow up those connections to let those people know you are appreciative of their support.

10. Celebrate! – You worked hard.  Whether the event went flawlessly or was full of flaws, it’s always a learning experience.  Reward yourself for all the hard work and dedication you put into it.  And most importantly, celebrate with the people who helped make it what it was.  Spend that time with them and enjoy the time outside of all the stress and worries of planning for the event, or the next task at hand.  Just liked you need to let your supporters know that you appreciate them, you need to let your employees and volunteers know just as much, and the perfect way to do this is to celebrate together in one way or another once the event has come to an end.

I could not be happier that I had the opportunity to attend and work this event.  I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, as were the rest of the people working the event, but as a result from all of our dedication, we’ve heard an overwhelming amount of positive feedback.  We’re still trying to sell some of the merchandise, but we’re also still receiving compliments on how great the event was.  All I can say is, I can’t wait until next year!

In the meantime, I’ll take these lessons, and then some, and stick them in my bag of experience and bring them with me to every other event I work in my PR future and beyond.

Smilebooth photo of the VH1 Save The Music Interns on Family Day 2011

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