Veronika Čechová is an Event Manager from the Masaryk University Career Centre, who has many years of experience with organizing university events. In today's interview, she will uncover how to make the idea of organizing an event come true. Whether an event for students, a workshop, or a trade fair... the key is to start!
Author’s note: I have known Veronika for ages already, so we're on first-names terms. :)
Hi Veronika. Could you introduce yourself briefly, please?
Hello, sure. My name is Veronika Čechová and I have been an Event Manager at the Masaryk University Career Centre for almost three years and I like it very much.
What kind of events do you organize for the Masaryk University Career Centre?
As a result of my position, I am the person in charge of the content, implementation and organizational aspects of conferences. In essence, I am responsible for making our plans to work and meet the expectations of both, companies as well as participants. We organize e.g. events for students from different faculties with a limit in attendance to up to 80 students to ensure personal contact with the employer. Then I am in charge of, for example, a course titled “Prvákoviny” which is an introduction for about 25 % of newcoming students at Masaryk University, and last but not least, of the JobChallenge fair which takes place once a year and accommodates 2,700 participants. A recent innovation is the JobNEST fair which will take place for the first time this year and is intended for the state administration and a non-profit organizations.
Who is the target group then?
Target groups differ, they include students, employers of university graduates or other universities across the Czech and Slovak Republics. Then there are universities all over Europe where we trained the staff from career centers to organize events.
How was your beginning with organizing events for students? If you could come back in time, what would you do before your very first event?
I would advise myself to take a closer look at the content. When organizing my first “Symposium” conference at AIESEC, I had actually no idea how to plan the agenda to form attractive content for the participants. I did not know how to make the presentations follow each other smoothly. I planned it according to what I would need if I attended the conference and used no more specific methods. Now it is different. I would advise myself then not to be afraid to ask experienced people. Simply put, to ask for feedback. You always have a lot of people around who are willing to help you. You just have to ask for it.
Imagine a person who wants to organize a university event , they have a great idea but know too little about where to start. Can you help them?
For myself, the very first crucial thing is the timeframe. To set up the timeframe in which I plan everything. Subsequently, I am creating the content. Working with focus groups proved to be the most advantageous for me. That includes finding the target group, reaching specific people, spending some 2-3 hours with them and finding out what they actually need. Out of these findings, abstract what we are able to deliver and build the entire event based on that.
Can you explain how you work with the focus groups?
As a university, we have a lot of students in the database that have cooperated with us or decided to use our services in the past. We filter out the people we need and contact them. Subsequently, we compile ten questions that we want to ask. At a controlled meeting with a focus group, there is one presenter and two recorders. They record all the opinions and insights into the questions we have prepared, leaving it for a week or two aside. Then I, two people working on the event – the one who communicates with the speakers and the person in charge of the implementation, the conference presenter, the marketing manager and the person who sells the conference, meet as a team. Together we go through the records and everyone says what is important to him or her from the point of view of his position in the team. We discuss and select things that are common to all of the target group, not just for one particular person. Then we define the goals of the conference, what we want to achieve, and find the appropriate format.
What would you recommend to have a good thought about before the preparation of the event itself?
After setting up your target group, consider thoroughly if the target group is interested in this. Make the best use of the discovery method (see our controlled focus groups method). Think about who will finance it and how. Whether you will have funding partners there, whether there will be a participant's fee, and in what amount. From the beginning, develop sidelights, accompanying programs, keep them in the forefront, and do not forget about them. One often thinks of great accompanying ideas, but then he or she finds that the time plan is shifted, so they are cut off, which is often a great shame.
What ideal composition do you recommend in an organizing team for a 150 student event? What positions in the team cannot miss?
A must is the person who is in charge of the actual implementation. A person in charge of communicating with the participants and a person in charge of communicating with the presenter and the speakers. In my opinion, these are the three most important positions to make sure the conference runs smoothly. Moreover, indispensable positions are also a marketing person and a copywriter who will work on all the texts.
How many people are necessary on the spot on the day of implementation?
Basically, the more the better. Definitely the three key persons mentioned above, then the presenter, a person taking photos, a person, who is recording everything and writing about the conference and then a person who takes care of the partners. So there is always a minimum of 6 in order to solve any problem or complication.
Do you use some online tools to help during the preparation?
Absolutely! We use Trello to manage the team's tasks. Drive is also useful, we store everything there so that we always have access to up-to-date information. We communicate with the participants via email. Our communication with companies is recorded in CRM, we use Raynet. And, when we plan the agenda for the participants and the course of the conference itself, we use the Eventee application.
We are glad you mentioned Eventee as one of the tools. Can you tell us how it helps you?
Eventee makes my sleep better. The biggest stress I always had was that a speaker (hopefully one only) would text me on the day of the conference that he or she has flu and cannot arrive. That is my own experience. You already have prepared and printed programs for a week and you can throw everything into the trash. Now, when a speaker writes something like this to me, or he or she sends a colleague to substitute, thanks to Eventee we can just replace it immediately in the agenda.
So what functions do you use in Eventee?
First we plan the agenda using the application. We set the time frame and add lectures and speakers. Then we plan the communication with participants during the conference, thanks to the newsfeed function. This will save us a lot of time, primarily the time at the conference. Everything is divided into phases, available to everybody and paperless. We do not need to invest in booklets, print programs or post them around the room. During lectures, we use the Live Questions feature. At the same time, we value the ability to collect instant feedback on site, it is very important for us and for the proper running of the event.
Imagine the event is coming in two weeks and you have less than half of the participants. Can you give some tips to our readers on how to quickly reach potential participants?
It depends on who the target group is. If they are students, we do direct emailing and offline happenings. We simply train a few people on the content, and then they go to schools to explain students why we are doing this event and what is beneficial about it. When the clients are external, we use phone calls. We choose companies that have already cooperated with us or companies where our target group is located, and we call them and offer the event.
What is your rough event budget? Can you tell how high the initial spending can be? What is for example the price of renting a hall for such university event, etc.?
It depends on where you want to do the event. If you want to make a huge conference in the lobby, the expenditures can go up to a million Czech crowns. If you plan to make a conference somewhere at a university or in conference facilities, I can guess that an all-day event for 150 people with catering will fit up to CZK 150,000 all-inclusive.
Can you offer some hints on how to get sponsors for the conference? What is the best service in return for their financial contribution?
Each partner wants to present themselves or meet personally the participants there. Ideally, you should offer space for a banner or online and offline advertising to sponsors. If a barter partner is involved, let him have his stand at the event and offer his product. We had a great cooperation with, for example, Nespresso that provided a coffee shop at our conference and had a sales representative there. I would be very restrained with offering a presentation space for financial partners. There is a huge risk that the partner will turn it into his own promotion, and this can be a major hurdle for the agenda. Then the participants might become angry that they have paid for a conference that is not about something they had expected. So if you would like to go for this option, I would recommend offering just 10 minutes to introduce the partner, but do not include them in the content part of the event at all.
In conclusion, could you provide 5 tips of must issues involved in the university event preparation process?
Keep thinking about making the present target groups feel fine, and about speakers always feeling convenient.
When planning catering, think about having enough of everything, including drinks and delicious coffee, and to have everything looking nice. Find out in advance if participants have any food intolerance (send a questionnaire on food restrictions three weeks before the conference and adapt to it).
Unite the graphics of the entire conference, tune up presentations with the event logo and promotional materials.
Sufficiently inform the participants about where and when to come, where they can park, what will be the event timetable, when is the first coffee break planned (important for conferences that start in the morning).
Always communicate as a team and meet. Ensure everyone knows everything and no information is lost.
Veronika, thank you for the interview and for your time!
Thank you for the invitation. :)
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