Fire-breathing dragons–or a day in the life of an event coordinator

Sometimes as an event coordinator you might hear “I want a castle. With a moat and a dragon. A fire-breathing dragon. A dragon that breathes fire every time a guest arrives, but it has to be close to the airport. It can’t be out in the countryside, nobody wants to travel that far. It needs to be right next to the airport. A castle with a moat and a fire-breathing dragon right next to the airport. Got it? I need that confirmed by tomorrow.”

Don’t laugh. This is an actual quote from an actual client while scoping an actual event. My first international event. No, scratch that. My very first event (period). My gut told me to scream “I’m not an event coordinator!” and hang up the phone. Instead, I said “Castle. Moat. Fire-breathing dragon. Tomorrow. Noted.”

Nothing says “Welcome” like a dragon breathing fire at all of your guests.

And so began my career as an international event coordinator for one of the world’s largest enterprises. The partner channel is gold to this client, and as such, their partner-facing events are Gold Standard. Maybe Platinum. No excuses. Flawless execution. Fire-breathing dragons.

Event Coordinator Calendar

Planning and Project Management

Full disclosure: I should mention here that I wasn’t actually able to secure a castle with a moat and a fire-breathing dragon, but I did find a castle-like hotel right across the street from Buckingham Palace and I scoped dinner in the Tower Bridge, which is sort of like eating over a moat. In the end, we opted for dinner at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. “Yes, that’s perfect! I want Gordon Ramsay to come out and yell at us during dinner. Can you make that happen?”

“Gordon Ramsay. Yelling. Noted.”

I also managed to suggest that a fire-breathing dragon might be a legal liability. So score one win for me (and logic).

Of course, not all events are like this, some start off much more organized … “We would like you to run this *massive* partner event with touch points across every member of our team—sales, marketing, executives. We want content and side meetings and social media and gala dinners and swagger.”

“Swagger. Noted.”

And so, the event planning commences … action items, checklists, t-minus communications, site visits, venue sourcing, social media accounts … full swing. About half way through, my client pulls me aside and says “When are you going to kick-off the event planning? Are we on schedule?”

“Three months ago. Right on track.”

“But, I haven’t seen any tears yet. Nobody is stressed. Everyone seems too calm. I don’t believe it’s really happening.”

“Tears?” There are not going to be any tears here.

Conference Event Coordinator

Event Execution

Look, event planning is no joke. The stakes are high. The audience is invaluable. The budgets are significant. The time, effort, and energy required by every speaker, host, and administrator is substantial. I have one job as an event coordinator—to make my clients look good. All of them. At all times. Months of planning are required for one week of engagement—engagement with partners, future partners, potential partners, strategic accounts, new executives, and the press.

To laugh off the pressure would be insane.

But, the key to avoiding total meltdown is not waterproof mascara.

The key is thoughtful, organized, professional project management and, as any certified Project Management Professional (PMP) will tell you … there is no “Easy Button.”

Project Knowledge Areas

Executing flawless world-class events for a global audience is hard work. It requires finite attention to detail across all ten project knowledge areas:

  1. Integration Management—How does this event align with the client’s overall goals? What is the clearly defined charter of work? What is the plan? What will the deliverables include? How will we effect changes mid-stream? What does success look like?
  2. Scope Management—What are the time, costs, and resources required for successful execution? Who is responsible for making adjustments if necessary?
  3. Time Management—What are the key milestones for each work stream? What happens if a timeline slips? What impact will a missed timeline have on the overall project? How will we resolve schedule challenges?
  4. Cost Management—What is the budget? What are the top priorities for this event, and which items are negotiable? Who is on point to review and approve expenses on the client side? How will costs be forecasted and reported?
  5. Quality Management—What is the baseline for quality assurance? How will quality be reviewed, inspected, and approved? What is the process for resolving quality concerns? (Flawless execution. Fire-breathing dragons.)
  6. Human Resource Management—Who will drive this event? Who will contribute to this event planning process? Who will be on-site to execute the event? What roles are required on-site? Who will compile the final report? How will role and responsibility conflicts be mitigated? How will we keep everyone working together toward the same goal? (No tears. Zero ego.)
  7. Communications Management—What is the communications strategy for the event coordinator and team? Client stakeholders? Field participants? Partner invitees? Status reports? Executive reports? Who is on point to write, design, and disseminate the communications? What is the communications schedule?
  8. Risk Management—What happens if there are no castles with moats and fire-breathing dragons next to the airport? What happens if Gordon Ramsay is out of town that day? What happens if the budget is too small to support the event requirements? What happens if your event planning team feels too much pressure and doesn’t wear waterproof mascara that day?
  9. Procurement Management—Who is in charge of identifying the gifts, venues, transportation, menu items, invitations, participant name badges, give-aways, brochures, stickers … ? How will those items be purchased? Who approves the charges? What if the charges exceed the budget? How will we document the decision making?
  10. Stakeholder Management—Who is the primary client? Who is responsible for each work stream? Who is accountable for each task? Who is a contributor to each line item? Who needs to be informed?

Flawless Coordination

Effective event coordination also requires seamless engagement with stakeholders across the five process groups:

INITIATE > PLAN > EXECUTE > MONITOR & CONTROL > CLOSE

But, more than anything, it requires a skilled and personable team of stakeholders, project managers, event coordinators, content developers, designers, and creative problem solvers … all operating with zero ego getting in the way. Because, at the end of the event, clients don’t remember every single detail of your massive event coordinator checklist. They remember how the event made them feel, and more importantly, how the event made their partners feel.

We definitely don’t want any tears here.


Christine Mulcahy

Christine Mulcahy is a seasoned business consultant, innovation facilitator, and team leader. Christine serves clients ranging from the world’s largest technology enterprises to small business start-ups and non-profit organizations. She is a problem solver adept at quickly understanding a client's needs, identifying a program goal, developing a strategy for achieving that goal, and ultimately creating the communication pieces to launch a measurable solution. Christine and her husband, Eddie, co-founded Mulcahy Consulting in 2005, which was re-branded as The Odigo Group in 2016. They reside on an island in the Puget Sound with their two children and two dogs. They enjoy spending time as a family boating, crabbing, kayaking, and hiking in the San Juan islands when pursuing the elusive work/life balance.

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