This is a guest post by Howard Givner, Executive Director, the Event Leadership Institute

“Does my timeline look ok?”

This the most common question I get on this topic from meeting and event planners, particularly the “occasional planner” who may not produce events full time.

My answer is always that it’s how a timeline is used that’s important, not what it looks like.

Timelines go by many names, including Run of Show, Show Flow and others. The key purpose of a timeline is to map out what’s happening at your event, including pre-event set up, and post-event break down, so everyone can be on the same page in executing it.

The main columns should be:

  • What (description of what is taking place)
  • When (list activity in chronological order)
  • Who (which person or vendor is responsible)
  • Where (exact location: such as ‘stage’, ‘exterior entrance’, ‘check-in table’, etc.)

Just about every timeline I’ve seen has that requisite information in some format. The problems arise, however, when timelines are poorly implemented.

Here are a few examples that are easily preventable

  1. Failure to check timeline during the event. This seems really obvious, but you have to actually look at the timeline regularly. In my 20+ years of running my event company, at least half of the time I’d have to remind my planners to refer to the timeline during the event. The problem is not negligence, it’s just that things happen fast and furious on site, and planners get absorbed in the flow of the event and don’t think to look. They also have so much of the event embedded into memory that they go on auto-pilot. But that’s how you miss last minute changes and other small details!
  2. Not sharing the timeline with the right people. It’s great that you think the kitchen can clear the entrée course in five minutes so you can resume your awards program, but that’s probably news to the Captain, who may have a good laugh when he sees how little time you’ve allocated. Be sure to share the timeline with all vendors and service providers early on so you get their buy-in on timing and deliverables.
  3. Not clearly indicating version changes. Don’t ever mark a document as “Final” because nobody will notice if there’s an updated version afterwards. Always use version numbers and “as of” dating.
  4. Having a “War and Peace” timeline. Some events are complex and do warrant a long timeline, but most don’t. Keep it as simple as possible without losing any key data. And to be sure your vendors pay attention to their specific assignments, consider highlighting all the sections that pertain to them, so they can quickly glance at their areas.

For additional tips on timelines, check out the Event Leadership Institute’s class “Workflow Management & Production Timelines” by Rick Moelis of First Protocol.

Here’s a clip:

Do you use a production timeline for your events? Share your tips in the comments below.