Event Planning and Protocol
Regardless of size and scope, events are opportunities to build on the positive reputation of Okanagan College. They must be well organized, well executed and support the key directions of the institution.
The first step in planning any event is to think about why you're having it and what you hope to achieve. These questions should help you gain the necessary focus.
What & Why
- Who is your audience?
- What is the appropriate time of day? Breakfast, mid-morning, cocktail hour?
- What is the dress code for guests?
- What is the goal of your event? To honour someone, to present information, to raise funds? To announce a new project or program? What message do you want attendees to receive?
- Is this event of interest to the media?
- Who is your audience?
- Determine key players (see Key Players below): speakers, honorees, hosts, and institutional, or government dignitaries.
- What is the appropriate size of the guestlist?
- Who must and who should be invited and who should speak, according to protocol (see Speaking Protocol below)?
- Contact all key players to determine as many potential dates and times for your event as possible.
- Be mindful of holidays, as well as other institutional and community events that may draw the same audience.
- Will this event conflict with or be held in conjunction with other campus events?
- Will it disrupt students or classes?
- Assigned seating or general admission?
- What is the appropriate venue (see Venue below)? Indoors or outdoors, on or off campus?
- Will you need a stage, podium, chairs, a public- address system, coat racks?
- Do you need AV equipment?
- Do you plan on using music? See information and forms for mandatory music licensing.
- Where will people park?
- What is your budget?
- How elaborate will the event be?
- What is the appropriate time of day? Breakfast, mid-morning, cocktail hour?
- What is the dress code for guests?
- Assigned seating or general admission?
Read through the Event Timeline (below), for a step-by-step countdown to your event.
Event Planning Resources
Okanagan College has two policies which should be considered when serving food and alcohol at events. These policies are:
Some things to keep in mind:
- If possible, particularly for high profile events, the culinary arts program should be given the opportunity to participate.
- If the event is being held off-campus the above catering options may still be available.
- If you haven't hired a particular caterer before, check references.
- When speaking with a caterer, explain the price range of your food budget.
- Clarify what your budget must include, e.g. beverages, catering staff, tables and chairs, cleanup, etc.
- Events scheduled between 5 and 7 p.m. should include a meal or a variety of hors d’oeuvres, both hot and cold.
- Events after 7 p.m. should generally include a heavier selection of sweets.
- If you serve alcoholic beverages, offer non-alcoholic options as well.
- Confirm that the caterer will serve decaffeinated coffee as well as caffeinated coffee.
- Block time to meet with your caterer to confirm details, including when they'll serve, whether it’s okay to bus tables during the program, etc.
- Check with the caterer on linen colors, type of china to be used, centerpieces and flowers.
- Sensitivity to individual, medical, cultural and religious dietary restrictions is imperative.
- Buffet meals are less expensive than meals served by a wait staff.
- If possible use sustainable food service methods and materials.
Once you have decided that food will be provided there are a number of catering options available for on campus events.
An event plan is an internal document used by event organizers, emcees and speakers to coordinate a public speaking event or announcement. A well-crafted event plan will include the names of speakers and their titles and references the key messages that each will provide, including an overview of what the emcee will provide by way of background, introductions, etc.
The more effort invested beforehand in choreographing an event, the smoother it will appear to the audience. Part of that choreography is clear and consistent communication. As they are developed, event plans should be shared among those participating in the formal program, but not be distributed beyond that group, in case last-minute alterations or changes are required.
Media should not be provided detailed event plans, although for photography, interview and information purposes, they can be provided a general breakdown of what is expected to take place.
When developing your event plan, remember that the object is to minimize the length of speeches and the number of speakers and still deliver important messages and acknowledge important contributors or players. It is difficult to always balance the need to deliver messages with the importance of acknowledging people’s contributions and interest in an event.
- How many (if any) speakers will you have, and in what order will they speak (see Speaking Protocol)?
- How much time will be allotted to each speaker?
- If a program is to be held in conjunction with a meal, consider scheduling speakers between courses.
- Who will serve as emcee?
- Will anyone need AV equipment?
- Have you followed the appropriate campus protocol for speaking order (see Speaking Protocol).
- Will guests and/or audience need handouts (see Greening Your Event)?
Careful planning can help ensure your event runs smoothly from beginning to end. Use the following timeline as a guide to keep the planning process as stress-free as possible. You may also download a pdf checklist to assist in your planning.
Two months to one year before the event:
- Reserve date on key players’ calendars
- Provide Public Affairs with notice of the event
- Develop guest list
- Reserve venue (on campus or off?)
- Arrange food and beverages (caterer?)
- Book entertainment if relevant
- Arrange for equipment:
- PA system
Four to six weeks before the event:
- Develop invitations and other print materials - work with Public Affairs graphic designers John Wecels or Len Nickel to draft an invitation.
- Send invitations.
One month before the event:
- Provide Public Affairs and the President's Office with briefing note.
- Develop event plan.
- Confirm speakers and emcee (considerations for speakers and role of emcee, who will develop speaking notes, etc.)
- Finalize menu, review venue setup, arrival time, etc. with caterer.
- Arrange photographer or videographer.
- Make arrangements to provide parking.
- Submit work requests to Facilities and IT Services.
One week before the event:
- Place RSVP follow-up calls to confirm final number of attendees.
- Connect with caterer to finalize arrangements and make any special arrangements (known allergies, food preferences). Review with caterer: serving order, outline of event such as the timing of remarks, etc.
- Print materials - name tags, program, place cards, certificates or seating assignments
- If media is to attend, connect with Public Affairs to send advisory, finalize any press releases, prepare media kits.
- Ensure clean-up requirements will be met.
- Develop seating plan.
Day of the event:
- Do scan to ascertain if other events beyond your control will detract from your event
- Decorate and arrange materials at venue – flag protocol
- Test equipment such as audio/video
- Brief the event’s key players
- Review RSVP list to identify VIPs as they arrive and update list of “must-mentions” for emcee
- Event coordinators ensure that all guests are accommodated
After the event:
- Evaluate the event and request feedback from those that attended
- Send thank you notes and acknowledgements
- Send info and photo (if applicable) to Inside Okanagan College
- Clean-up and leave the space as you found it
- If requested Public Affairs will share media hits with you
- Where possible, use electronic advertising, promotion and invitations
- Let guests know you are greening your event and encourage their participation
- Create signage and flyers that can be reused at future events
- Use Forest Stewardship Council of Canada (FSC) certified paper
- Choose recyclable party favors and with minimal packaging
- Train all of your event staff and volunteers in waste reduction and recycling
- Donate or recycle unwanted giveaways, decorations, and other party supplies
- Use cloth or sturdy plastic tablecloths that can be cleaned and reused
- Avoid disposable decorations (paper doilies, plastic figurines, glitter, etc.)
- Choose reusable and sustainable centerpieces that guests can take home (potted plants, local pesticide-free flowers, tree branches, fruit, etc.)
- Choose entertainment and games that produce little or no waste
- Buy efficient LED string lights and rechargeable LED candles instead of wax candles or tea lights
- Give decorations away as table prizes at the end of the event
Food and Drink
- Purchase seasonal/locally-grown/organic/free-range foods, fair trade coffee and tea, and local beer and wine
- Offer substantial, appealing vegetarian meals, which have a lower carbon impact
- Serve finger foods that aren't individually wrapped and don't require utensils (fruits, vegetables, cheese, crackers, etc.)
- To save energy, serve food that does not require heating or refrigeration
- Have dishes delivered in returnable, recyclable, or compostable containers and/or purchase items in recyclable bulk containers
- Serve condiments (sugar, salt, creamer, ketchup, jelly, etc.) in bulk containers
- Decline disposable plates, cups, silverware, and napkins when placing orders or use products such as Aspenware
- Avoid plastic coffee stirrers, straws, and toothpicks (or use compostable product or silverware if necessary)
- Request that your caterer/supplier follow these suggestions
- Ensure appropriate recycling, compost and garbage bins are available for responsible waste removal
The invitation should answer the questions who, what, why, when, and where. The invitation should provide guests an idea of the nature of the event, whether casual, formal or business attire should be worn. When possible, invitations should be sent out at least six weeks before your event. Designate your response deadline at least one week before the event.
If you use the Okanagan College logo, it should appear on the invitation appropriately (see our graphics guidelines).
Where possible, use electronic (emailed) invitations to reduce Okanagan College’s carbon footprint. Use Microsoft Word to send personalized email invitations via mail merge - not sure how? Follow this link for a step-by-step guide.
In some instances, more formal invitations may be required, but in these instances the invitations should be printed on paper certified by the Forest Stewardship Council of Canada.
When drafting your invitation, remember to include:
- Names of the official hosts
- Program start time
- Whether they may bring a guest
- Directions to the venue
- Parking information
- Rain date and location
- RSVP method and contact person
- Dress code
The President's Office should be notified of all events to which external VIPs will be invited in order to determine whether invitations should emanate from the President or the Board.
Invitation mailing list
Create a spreadsheet using Excel or similar software. Manage your list and use it as a database with categories such as first name, last name, title, and address. This database will be useful in creating name tags, table assignments, etc. If your event is annual, you’ll be able to add and remove names as necessary throughout the year, so it’s always ready to use.
Ask the guest of honor (if you have one) for input on the guest list and compare the size of your guest list with the size of your venue. Consider issuing “courtesy invitations” to people who aren't likely to attend, but would feel honoured to be invited. Remember to use campus mail whenever possible to save money.
Coordination with the President’s Office and Public Affairs on events and invitation lists is important – it is easy to overburden external VIPs with too many invitations to College-focused events.
- Printed card response: the response card is enclosed in the invitation with an envelope and postage is marked.
- Phone response: if you have a large guest list, make sure you can handle the increased volume of phone calls; someone must be available during business hours to receive the calls.
- Email response: make sure the email address you provide has room in its inbox for all of the responses.
- No response: depending on the event you may decide that no response is required. This would be appropriate if you are not serving food, and you are not worried about the size of the crowd.
- Board office for Board members, former Board members (Linda Le Gallee)
- Executive office (President, VPs, etc.) (Joanna Campbell or Margaret Johnson)
- MPs, MLAs, municipal politicians (Consult Public Affairs)
- Leadership Team (Joanna Campbell)
- First Nations (Anthony Isaac)
- Foundation, Donors (Dawn Douglas)
- Alumni (Kate Deglow)
- Regional Deans - Shuswap-Revelstoke, North Okanagan, Central Okanagan, South Okanagan
- Portfolio Deans - Science, Technology and Health, Arts and Foundational, Trades and Apprenticeship, Continuing Studies, Business
- Student Associations & Students (VSAOC, OCSU, OBSA)
- Employee Groups (BCGEU Vocational, BCGEU Support, Faculty Association, Administrative Association)
- Media (Public Affairs must be consulted)
- Staff (Public Affairs)
- Regional and Program Advisory Committees (accessible through the Regional Deans - see links above)
- Federal representatives (MPs)
- Provincial representatives (MLAs)
- First Nations Band representatives
- Municipal representatives (host Mayor or Regional District Chair acknowledged first)
- Okanagan College Board of Governors Chair
- Board of Governors members
- Okanagan College President, former Presidents
- Okanagan College Foundation Chair (and former)
- Foundation Board members
- Education Council Chair
- Student Association President
- Employee Group heads
- Honorary Fellows
- Vice Presidents
- Regional Dean (hosting event)
- Program Dean (if announcement pertains to a specific program area)
- Leadership Team members
While volunteers and students who are participating as part of their program (i.e. culinary arts, trades, etc.) may be acknowledged you should not feel compelled to publicly thank paid staff involved in organizing or hosting an event.
Commissioning original photography
You might want to use images from your event in future print or web materials, so consider arranging for a photographer. Hiring a photographer is often the most expensive option and not usually necessary for an internal event. If you choose to hire a professional photographer a list of approved photography vendors is available by contacting Public Affairs.
The most cost-effective solution to capturing images from your event is to take photos yourself or assign a staff member or volunteer to take shots. Public Affairs and each of the Regional Dean’s Offices have high quality cameras that can be borrowed for events.
Public Affairs Image Database
Other options include using internal stock photography - you will have greater control over the art and the faculty, students, and staff in these pictures are actually from Okanagan College. Public Affairs maintains a growing collection of campus and student images. To access a specific photo or series of images, please contact Public Affairs’ Len Nickel or John Wecels.
A variety of print materials may be required for your event, including:
- menu cards
- name tags
- logo'd swag
When developing any commercially printed materials, be sure to allow adequate time for design and printing. Public Affairs can assist with messaging, design and oversee the printing of your event needs, depending on the scale and the timeline.
Please allow a minimum of 14 days prior to the material delivery deadline for Public Affairs’ graphic designers to assist you with your vision.
The methods you use to promote your event will depend on its purpose, the audience, the best ways to reach that audience, and your promotional resources. Keep in mind the following when determining your promotion plan.It is vital that you review and consider the implications of Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) before planning and undertaking promotion.
Remember your audience
What groups of people will have an interest in this topic? Who would benefit by attending this event?
Best practices in communications
What is the best way to communicate information about your event to your primary audience? How do members of this group receive information? Can you reach them by e-mail (remember, consider CASL)? In what location (physical or virtual) would many members of this audience be likely to see your materials? Do you need posters up around campus to alert students to the event or is the best way to reach your target audience through the internal e-newsletter, Inside Okanagan College?
Be realistic about who will attend – will it be invite only or will the general public be interested? If so, is a press release the best way to spread the news? If so, what is the news hook? If there is no news angle, you may want to explore the possibility of purchasing an ad or using other methods of communication through the media like Public Service Announcements or placement in event listings. If you need help determining how to best communicate your event, please contact Public Affairs.
What promotional vehicles offer effective, cost efficient ways to communicate with your primary audience? The best methods are those that allow you to directly communicate with your intended audience. For instance, word of mouth can be a very effective way to promote your event.
Consider your timeline
The development of advertising pieces, news releases and other materials takes time. Be sure to talk to the team producing those materials (Public Affairs) about how much time they’ll need. Promotional materials should be delivered a minimum of one to two weeks ahead of your event. If your event requires registration, deliver materials a week or two before the registration deadline.
Develop quality materials
Ensure you use the official Okanagan College logo in its proper form if your event is tied to the College. Determine the core message about this event and state it clearly throughout all promotional materials. Remember that the first impression gained through the promotional materials will greatly influence whether people ultimately show up. Be clear about the costs associated with attending.
Is there media interest in the event?
If your event has one or more of these attributes, perhaps media outlets should be contacted. If media interest is determined, please contact Public Affairs for support.
- Timeliness: the event coincides with one or more current events
- The event is happening locally, or is relevant to local people
- Prominence: involving high-profile individuals
- Impact: having a major effect on a large number of people
- Magnitude (again, large number of people involved)
- The focus of the event may be considered controversial
- Human interest: the event offers an opportunity for personal feature or emotional appeal
- Potential for good visuals
Public Affairs can also consult with you as you consider:
- Physical location of media members if they attend
- Whether to set aside time for reporters to talk with your speaker
- Whether media interviews should be done in a news conference or in one-on-one interviews
- Location of cameras during the event
- What backdrop can be used or created to help identify your unit and the campus
Media coverage can add perceived value to the event for participants and attendees. Consider sending media clips and/or tapes to honoree after the event
During the event
You will want to promote your program and possibly the College at your event. Be sure to have promotional materials out during the event for participants to see. Okanagan College has pop-up visual displays that can add visual interest to any event. These resources are available to faculty and staff members who are engaging external audiences.
Consider collecting the names of participants at your event. This contact information may give you a chance for direct communication with members of this audience if the event recurs.
Still have questions?
If you have additional questions related to the promotion of your event, Public Affairs can help.
When is a Seating Plan Required?
Seating plans are more likely, but not always, required when there is a dinner service or a large crowd. Unassigned seating sounds great in theory and it is certainly less work for the event organizer. Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks. There may be an unseemly rush for the ‘good’ seats. VIPs may end up sitting where they cannot see or hear anything. It may take longer to get guests seated. The last few guests may end up walking around looking for seats.
Options for Assigned Seating include:
- Guest can be assigned to a specific seat.
- Guests can be assigned to a specific table.
Creating your seating plan
- Decide on your floor plan and room set-up, to ensure you have the right number of tables and guests at each table.
- Determine, depending on the number of VIPs, if you will have one head table or more than one.
- Once all guests have replied, use your invitation mailing list to arrange the guests at their tables.
Keep in mind:
- Put people together who know each other or have an association. e.g. family members, donors and their recipients, sponsors, invitees with their guest.
- Try to mix Okanagan College employees among all the tables to act as hosts for external guests.
- There may be reasons guests do not want to be seated with each other (ex-spouses, political adversaries).
- Seat your emcee and other speakers so they can conveniently access the podium.
- Print placecards with guests’ names.
- Tip: Print a few blank placecards in case an unexpected guest arrives.
- If your event is a plated dinner, for which your guests have to indicate in advance their meal selection, add symbols or abbreviations to each placecard indicating their dinner choice. Provide the explanation of symbols to the catering manager in advance. This can also be useful at small events where seating is not assigned. At these events, display the placecards near the entrance for guests to pick up and place at their seats.
At the event
- Have one or two event organizers at the door to act as hosts to greet guests, provide information on food and bar service, etc.
- Hosts should indicate to arriving guests whether there is assigned seating and direct the guests to their tables as appropriate.
- Ensure the table numbers are clearly visible and displayed prominently.
- Hosts can verify guests’ names as they arrive to ensure seating plan is still appropriate or make adjustments if unexpected guests arrive or if expected guests do not arrive.
- If due to an unexpected absence, a VIP table is left visibly short of guests, you may want to move an appropriate guest or two over from another table.
- Where there is no seating plan, you should “over-seat” at an event so that the last few people to arrive do not have to separate to find seats at different tables because only one seat remains at each.
- It is important to ensure all guests are welcomed and accommodated before hosts take their seats.
Determining who should participate at an event, who should speak and in what order is a complicated undertaking, but the primary goal should always be to keep the program focused and interesting. Make sure there are clear messages that can be understood and appreciated by the audience.
The size of the announcement may be a factor in determining who is asked to speak, but there are many other factors such as:
- How important is the announcement or event to Okanagan College priorities?
- How formal is the event?
- Is there significant political interest?
- Who does it impact? (the region, the institution, staff, students etc.)
- Will media be in attendance?
Who will speak?
The President or his designate will represent Okanagan College at public events of significance, especially those that have pan institutional implications.
The Board Chair or his or her designate may be called upon to speak when the event or issue pertains to a matter of governance or areas that are wholly the purview of the Board (tuition, budget, etc.) or when it involves major initiatives or areas of special interest to the Board.
The Chair of the Okanagan College Foundation or his or her designate may speak when the Foundation receives a donation, makes a significant contribution to a project, at the launch of a campaign, an appeal for donations, or when Foundation-provided bursaries and awards are being distributed. The Foundation Chair will focus his or her remarks on the role of the Foundation and will not represent Okanagan College.
What will they say?
For any event requiring the attendance and participation of the President, a Board Member, or if a speaker is going to require help developing their speech, the Public Affairs Office and the President's Office will require a briefing note two weeks in advance that answers the following questions:
- Nature of event (funding, program development, cultural, student-focused, community-focused, celebration of success, awards, alumni-related, employee-related, facility opening or project launch)
- Approximate dates, times and locations for event (provide as many as possible) and any deadlines that must be respected
- Other key players who are likely to be involved
- Approximate anticipated audience numbers and makeup
- Source of any funding involved in event
Once you have determined who will speak the next important step is to determine the order in which they will speak. This will mainly be influenced by the nature of the event. At a funding announcement, for example, having the funder’s representative speak first to make the announcement allows others (President, Foundation Board Chair, students, etc.) to respond and thank the funder. In the event of a ribbon-cutting, however, it may make sense to follow a reverse ascendancy (see Order of Precedence below).
At any event organized by Okanagan College or the Foundation, the Board Chair, Education Council Chair, Board members, Foundation Chair, and Okanagan College President should be acknowledged if they are in attendance. Unless otherwise determined, attendees will be acknowledged according to the Order of Precedence.
Determining a Location
- Which venues are available on the dates and times you have identified?
- How many people will be attending and what is the seating capacity?
- Will you require a sound system or other audio/visual support and is there a fee to use it? Can the location accommodate the equipment you need?
- Are there any contractual requirements that need to be met? E.g. a donor states in their award agreement that they wish to have their event in the classroom they are naming.
- Can you serve food and alcohol?
- Will you be encroaching on space used by students?
- Will the noise from your event impact classes?
- If the event is outside will you be able to move to an inside location if the weather changes?
- Can the room accommodate persons with disabilities?
- Is parking available for guests?
Setting up your Space
- How should the room be configured?
- If you have a stage can the entire audience see it from their seat?
- Is there a podium?
- What space is available for catering staging?
- If you have a table for food, can it be located to ensure the greatest amount of traffic flow?
- Is there space for your guests to mingle and talk to each other?
- Do you need a reception table or table for other things such as a silent auctions?
- Is there enough space between the chairs? (This can be a concern if the event is a dinner and guests need room to get up from the table.)
- Will you need to decorate the room with plants or flowers, stage backdrop, or lighting?
Facilities, Equipment and Services
- Ensure you check with Facilities Management and book the space well in advance of your event.
- Please submit an online work request to Facilities Management at least seven days in advance if you require room setup. You can do this by logging into myOkanagan. It may be useful to attach a diagram of your room setup.
- Book AV equipment with IT Services or an alternate vendor. Log into myOkanagan to submit a work request at least seven days in advance of the event.
- Are keys needed or will the room be unlocked?