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Event planning from start to finish: on the day

The VIPs are on the way, and three months of planning is about to come to fruition. So what actually happens on event day?

Shruti Doshi is Institutes Co-Ordinator in International Relations at the University of Birmingham, charged with the exciting task of launching the university’s new India Institute. You can read all about the planning process behind the scenes here.

After all that careful discussion and preparation, the practicalities began to be put into place during the few days before launch day itself, Monday January 29th 2018. The grand Senate Chamber has a convenient store room, allowing essentials such as name badges, a seating plan and the plaque to be unveiled all to be kept safe on site on Friday. On Sunday afternoon, the florist began to process of decorating the rotunda of Aston Webb with striking orange garlands.

Great hall rotunda

On Monday morning the preparations began in earnest, with Shruti and her colleagues collaborating at every stage with the Conferences & events team, using a clearly-structured and well-rehearsed schedule of tasks. Every detail is included, from the larger tasks such as placement of signage and banners, to the less obvious necessities like blu-tac. Tech arrangements for speakers and video in the Senate Chamber were in place by 10.30am.

Event attendees chatting

By 11.30am the reception area had been transformed, with uplighting using the colours of the Indian flag alongside stunning pedestal fresh flower arrangements. Aston Webb is the heart of campus, and always a busy place. As the curious passed by, they could now enjoy a photo gallery and video soundbites, and learn more about the India Institute.

Handing out tote bags

By 1pm, staff were briefed, and in set places to welcome and guide the invited visitors. Chancellor Lord Karan Bilimoria greeted special guest His Excellency Mr Y.K. Sinha, High Commissioner of India on the elegant steps of Aston Webb, the university’s original Victorian red-brick buildings.

Event attendees being welcomed

After a brief round of photographs for the VIPs, the remaining guests were welcomed with soft music. Using their experience of these events, the team then arranged for all guests to be seated in the Senate Chamber in good time, with staff on hand to assist any latecomers, ready for the official launch event to begin at 2pm.

Discussion in the Senate chamber

The fine acoustics and opulent feel of the Senate Chamber was the perfect setting for speeches, and the unveiling of the plaque which will be placed outside the Institute building itself. Gifts were exchanged before the High Commissioner delivered his lecture. This was followed by a lively India High Level Round Table discussion, in which the octagonal layout of the room proved invaluable in allowing a free-flow of debate from all attendees.

Behind the scenes, a team headed to the Barber Museum of Fine Arts to begin the decorative and practical preparations for the evening event. Meanwhile, back at Aston Webb plans for the 4.30pm reception adapted to an unexpected change of plan, when it seemed likely that the guests would finish the round table early. Drinks were already being prepared, and there were staff on hand to accelerate the programme – and then to halt the new plan, when the schedule changed again to require a later start time. Fortunately the team are used to such moments, and there was a quick efficient response; guests would have been unaware of any change of plan.

The upper floor of the rotunda made an ideal setting for a grand but more informal gathering, as guests enjoyed canapes and drinks as evening fell.

People picking canapes

With a green room provided for special guests to relax, media interviews underway in the Senate Chamber, and a second film crew en route to the Barber, it was a packed few hours. To ensure the timely arrival of different groups of guests from various locations to the next stage of the event, the schedule at this point included minute-by-minute timings, all managed by the events team. A second team handled the ticketing arrangements for the members of the public attending the cultural evening at the Barber.

With everyone seated by 5.45pm, all was in place for a remarkable evening of speeches, dance, music and celebration from Sampad.

You’ll find more images from the evening from Sampad here. This photo of Shruti and her colleagues perfectly captures their sense of satisfaction of a job well done at the end of the day.

Attendees leaving event happy

‘Thank you so very much for your contribution towards making our India Institute launch such a great success,’ said Shruti, after the event. ‘We couldn’t have pulled it off without you! … Hope you are as proud of our achievement as we are.’

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. An evening dinner with the Vice-Chancellor continued the night’s celebrations, requiring further careful planning, accurate timings and travel arrangements. A team worked late to strike down the decorations and lighting, returning the Aston Webb building to its quieter grandeur. The following day, the Conferences & events team welcomed the India Institute’s guests back to campus, for more meetings in Staff House’s well-appointed conference rooms.

You can learn more about the follow-up process that takes place after an event in part three of this blog series, Event Planning from Start to Finish: after the event.

All images by Nicola Gotts Photography.

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