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How to Create an Event Schedule, Part 2

Today I’d like to continue our crash course in schedule creation by 1) suggesting some important general approaches, 2) exploring the anatomy of a good schedule, and finally 3) giving you step-by-step instructions on how to create a schedule with “self-correcting” times.

GENERAL APPROACHES- Probably the most important overall concept, for direct sellers at least, is to keep your audience’s time and money in mind. For your schedule that means:
1. Favoring weekend meetings over weekdays (minimizing days off from work & away from home).
2. Starting your event late in the day. This enables most attendees to travel to your meeting on the day it begins, thereby saving a hotel room night.
3. Ending your event early on its final day so most attendees can return home on that same day, also saving a hotel room night.

You also need to keep your own budget in mind by making sure your schedule doesn’t unnecessarily drive you into crew overtime. Beware of late nights, early mornings and long breaks that stretch your days later than they need to go. Sometimes overtime is unavoidable (especially on weekends), but often it’s the result of simply not paying attention. Early on, ask your audio/visual company how and when they start charging for overtime. Even if you can’t avoid the overtime entirely, at least you won’t encounter any expensive surprises when the bills come in.

A few more general ideas: 1) always include both page numbers and line numbers in your schedule 2) have one and only one “keeper of the schedule” All revisions are made by this person, and all updated schedule updates come from this person. 3) I said this in my first schedule blog, but it bears repeating- keep your schedule brief & simple. Don’t make it substitute as a work projects list, a script book, a shipping manifest or anything else.

ANATOMY OF A SCHEDULE- Use a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel or Apple’s Numbers to build your schedule. Your “keeper of the schedule” should be at least an intermediate user of the program. These are the row & column headings that work best for me:

Let’s quickly take a look at each element…

Line Numbers- Add your own; your spreadsheet’s row numbers will probably be too small to read. In Excel, you only need to type the first 3 line numbers, and then copy down to fill the remaining cells.
Start time- Specify AM or PM. Don’t bother with end times; they’re obvious.
Length- Don’t make readers do the math; include the duration of each presentation.
Script Numbers- The first number refers to the day, the second number refers to the order within that day. So the first script on the first day is #1-1. The second script on the first day is #1-2, and so on. These make it easy to refer to scripts, the titles of which can sometimes get long and clunky. Also, as you save scripts to your hard drive, they’ll automatically arrange themselves in show order.
Contact & Writer- The contact is the person who supplies the information to the writer who creates the script. These columns are useful in the weeks leading up to your event, but can go away once you’re on site.
MC- You might also want to include whoever else is onstage in this column.
Presentation- Keep script titles short & simple. When naming scripts, be aware of titles that could refer to more than one presentation. For instance, “First Afternoon Closing Remarks” is a better title than “Afternoon Closing Remarks” which could refer to any of your afternoon sessions.
Notes- Let this column be your catch-all column for all other pertinent information- awards, special considerations, etc.

CREATING A SCHEDULE WITH “SELF-CORRECTING” TIMES- This is why you use a spreadsheet rather than a word processing program. When you change one time on your schedule, all the other times change correspondingly. It would be too complicated to write out these instructions here, so I’ve created a 5 minute online screencast that shows you how to do it. Make sure your speakers are on, then click on this link, or paste it into your browser:

Writer/Events Producer Dick Wilson has been managing budget events, schedules and themes– plus all the other elements of direct sales conventions– for over 20 years. Learn more how Dick can help you at

Recently I photographed an event for a client that totally “gets it” when it comes to social media. They had a home office employee dedicated to posting pictures immediately after I took them. At first I thought this was going to be a huge pain in my backside. But it didn’t take long for me to get caught up in the excitement. Within minutes, the sales consultants at this event were checking Facebook and tagging themselves in the photos. They would then update their status with something exciting that was happening at the meeting. There was a buzz all during the conference among the consultants but more important was the affect it was having all over the country. Hundreds and eventually thousands of friends had become fans of this company. I was so intrigued by what was happening that I asked several people how they were liking it. They shared that posting all these pictures during the conference opened up many conversations about the product and career opportunity that probably would have never happened.

Mark Taulbee is a professional event photographer and commercial product photographer with over 25 years experience in the direct selling industry. Learn more about Mark and how he can help your company with photography at To view some of his work visit and

Whether you’re having a national convention, leadership conference or incentive trip, your photos can really come to life with props. With all of the time, money and effort it takes to put on these events, you want to make sure give your participants great memories. Here are a few ideas to consider:

1. If your event has a theme, buy props that goes with your theme. Fun props like hats, sunglasses and blow up musical instruments help drive home the theme and make it more memorable.

2. Buy props based on the location of your event. Whenever I’m shooting in Mexico we buy the most colorful sombreros and ponchos. When we’re in Texas, the huge foam cowboy hats are always a hit.

3. The crazier the better! I find that once people step outside their comfort zone and put on or hold up a crazy prop, they have much more fun in the picture and are always glad they participated.

The best time to do these types of photos is during registration. It helps get people excited about what’s coming up in the next few days. We usually provide these things free of charge for our clients but if your photographer doesn’t do this you should give him the idea or have some home office staff do this.It would be a great way for them to interact with the sales force. I’m going to go ahead and state the obvious – women are much better at this crazy picture thing than men. I wouldn’t suggest any of this silliness for an all male audience.

Mark Taulbee is a professional event photographer and commercial product photographer with over 25 years experience in the direct selling industry. Learn more about Mark and how he can help your company with photography at To view some of his work visit http://www.proshotsevent.comand

Your top sales people work very hard to achieve success in your company. They deserve outstanding recognition that shows that you value their efforts. With a little bit of attention to detail, you can make your people feel like a million bucks.

  1. Make a Plan – Rehearse the Plan. A quick rehearsal and a few helping hands can make all the difference. In your rehearsal, establish who will be welcoming achievers to the stage and who will be placing them in their spots. Don’t let people come to either side of the stage. This causes confusion and usually looks sloppy. People appreciate being shown where to go so they don’t look goofy trying to find their way. Have a system so everyone on stage and those helping from back stage know exactly what to do and when to do it.
  2. Make it a BIG deal! Do everything possible to set apart your recognition from the look and feel of you general session. The lighting should be more dramatic and the decorations need to be scaled up – making for a special evening and great photos. Even the voice of the presenter should take on a more regal tone. Make sure your music also reflects the importance of the occasion. Choose your music ahead of time. Don’t rely on the sound guy to pick what he thinks might work.
  3. Feature your Stars. Have escorts (if possible) walk your winners to their spot on stage. Place them in order from #10 – #1 and have everyone slightly angled towards #1. This leads everyone’s eyes towards the top achiever. If they are holding a gift or award, make sure they all hold it the same way. We’re setting up the photo for use in a printed publication or on-line newsletter. This way the names can be quickly associated in order with the winners in the photo. Finally, take 20-30 seconds for these top award earners to stand in the spotlight, receive their applause and have their photo taken.

The time you spend on the details of your on-stage recognition makes a huge difference to the award winners and to those in the audience. The more special you make it, the more motivated others are to work hard to be on stage next year. Make sure the photos are available to the winners so the recognition lives on with family and friends via social media or traditional methods.

Mark Taulbee is a professional event photographer and commercial product photographer with over 25 years experience in the direct selling industry. Learn more about Mark and how he can help your company with photography at To view some of his work visit http://www.proshotsevent.comand

Remember Joe the Plumber?  Of course you do.  He became one of the stars of the 2008 presidential election, a living symbol of the issues that divided Republicans and Democrats. Joe the Plumber was a classic example of using storytelling to liven up otherwise unlively information.  That’s because storytelling is a great tool, and it’s something that should be part of every one of your events.

Why?  Simple—people love hearing about other people.  And whether you use storytelling to illustrate a theme, support change or inspire performance, it’s arguably the best way to hold an audience’s attention while you make your point.

We hit on the idea of storytelling briefly in my last blog post, when I wrote about using the personal photos of leaders to build content at your January Leadership Conference.  Collecting photos and inviting people to talk about what’s in those photos is a fantastic way to incorporate the power of storytelling into your key messages.  You have words AND pictures.  But there are other ways to go about it as well.  Here are just a few ideas:

 1- Solicit!  Your audience at any event is a library full of stories waiting to be told.  Before, or even during an event, ask who has a great personal story that can support an idea you’re presenting.  Then incorporate that story into your presentation, or better yet, ask the owner of the story to tell it.  Your January Leadership Conference is a great place to collect and solicit stories you can use throughout the year and at your national convention.  Don’t miss the opportunity!

 2- Search!  What’s your topic? What words or terms might be related to your topic?  Use Google or any other search engine to uncover news, anecdotes, videos and more things that will add variety and human interest to your presentation.  Or go to the creative commons section of or other photo websites to find images that can help turn your words into pictures.

 3- Reflect!  What about your own stories?  What moment happened in your own personal life or career could carry your message forward?  The memory doesn’t even have to relate directly to your topic, as long as it helps you transition to it.   

 I’ll leave you with two great websites that are excellent storytelling resources.  Check out and  They’re both full of great stories from everyday people.  And if you still doubt the power of storytelling to add power to your event, check this out– The Moth website even has its own Corporate Training & Events page at

Writer/Events Producer Dick Wilson has been adding creative touches– like storytelling– to direct sales meetings for over 20 years.  Learn more how Dick can help you at

Continuing with our look-ahead to your January Leadership Conference, this week I’d explore what a great creative opportunity that event can be—if you’re ready to take advantage of it.

Think about it.  You’ll have all of your top people together in the same place at the same time.  So why not let your leaders help you build your national conference program? Here are just a few of the ways you can do that:

1.  Harvest the national conference quotes you didn’t get in 2010. As I mentioned in earlier posts, strong quotes about the excellence of past events are a great tool to promote future events.  If you missed getting quotes about your national conference when it was happening, your leader event is a chance to play catch-up.  Collect quotes in writing or as audio or video recordings.   Then use those quotes in your invitation, on your website or within event promotional pieces. 

2.  Ask leaders to talk about your national conference theme.  Let’s say your theme is “Excellence 2011” (with the number eleven replacing the two l’s in Excellence, of course).   Ask your leaders to think about what excellence means to them, or cite examples of excellence in their lives or the lives of others.   Again, you can collect these quotes in writing, or as video or audio recordings.  Then use your excellence quotes as the basis for talks or other presentations at your national conference.

3.  Invite leaders to bring personal photos they can tell a story about.  Sticking with our imaginary “Excellence 2011” theme as an example, you would then invite leaders to share why or how the photo they chose came to represent excellence for them.  Be ready to scan the photos on site (if they’re not already in digital form).   It’s also best if you can video tape leaders speaking about their respective photos.  Now you have both the visual and verbal elements you need to create powerful “mini-documentaries” that can become the creative threads of your national conference.

If nothing else, set aside time in your Leadership Conference for some free-form brainstorming about your national conference.   You’re certain to learn some things you probably didn’t know.  And more than likely, you’ll hatch a bunch of good ideas while it’s still early enough to work with them.

Regardless of how you go about it, your January leadership conference is a wonderful opportunity to make progress on your national conference.  And in the process, you’ll make your leadership team feel like they’re part of the process as well!

Writer/Events Producer Dick Wilson has been adding creative touches to direct sales meetings for over 20 years.  Learn more how Dick can help you at

So many companies begin the event planning process by pulling out their last schedule and using it as a template for their next schedule- new products on the first night, awards on the second night, incentive trip on the last day and so on.  That approach certainly works.  And it’s certainly boring and predictable.

Of course there are often good reasons to do some presentations “the way we’ve always done them.”  But that doesn’t hold true for all presentations all the time, year in and year out.  Which is why now is a great to time to think about mixing things up at your 2011 event.

You still begin by looking at your 2010 schedule.  Identify the key events.  Assuming they were in the right place to begin with, ask yourself if they really need to be in same place next year, or if they need to even need to be at all.  For example, could the recognitions that made up your awards night be spread throughout the entire event?   Did having a guest speaker make that much of an impact on your sales force and how they approach their business?  How many keynote speeches were there, and how much value did they really add?  In other words, what would really be missed by your attendees if it weren’t there? 

Once you’ve determined what really needs to be part of the program, take a look where you placed it on the schedule.  Does it have to have the same time and place in your schedule again this year, or can it occur elsewhere?   For example, maybe this year your new product introductions needed to be followed by training, but that’s not going to be the case next year.  So maybe your new product introductions could wait until the last day instead of being earlier.

Or instead of waiting until the last day to kick your 2011 incentive trip, do it on the first night, then follow it up with intensive “How You’re Going to Qualify” training the next day.  Maybe you could even turn your incentive trip announcement into your opening presentation and accomplish two things at once.

There are many ways you can approach your schedule.  But the one approach you definitely want to avoid is making your 2011 schedule an exact copy of what you’ve done before.  That’s no treat for anyone.

Writer/Producer Dick Wilson has been adding creative touches to direct sales meetings for over 20 years.  Learn more how Dick can help you at

Pumpkin carving & photo: Dick Wilson

According to some travel experts, the newest trend to hit the market is “All About You!!”  While this may seem a daunting task it’s the simple pleasures that bring travelers back and gain brand loyalty.

Three key areas seem to be the focus of most business travelers today;


Business Travelers want a “hassle free” stay.  This means different things to different people ~ it’s not a one size fits all.  Travelers want a more customized and personal experience and to deliver this often does not cost the hotel a lot of money.

For example, in the past when a business traveler arrived “after the kitchen” closed, he might be offered a pre-packaged sandwich or dry snacks.  But now, hotels want to “take care” of their guests and will go the extra mile to order the meal and personally deliver it.  Some are adding amenities such as late laundry services, movie rentals, coffee and juice with your wake-up call.  Whatever they can do to make an “emotional connection” with the guest is the key factor in repeat business.


When a Business Traveler does return; hotels want to do everything they can to create privacy for them. Hotels are designing their lobbies to be more comfortable environments offering high tech application opportunities for meetings with clients or colleagues where they won’t be overheard and create small work spaces that blend into the overall feel of the lobby.  Many are expanding their lobby areas and creating “trendy” bars offering wine tastings, small bite meals and privacy.


Once a guest checks in the “home away from home” theme continues.  Recent research shows that guest empowerment technologies tend to increase repeat business.  Some hotels are now offering an iPod at check-in that has a special concierge applications so they can request extra towels, wine, a meal, wake-up calls and a host of other things to make their stay feel more like home.

A flat screen TV and a coffeemaker just aren’t going to cut it anymore!

Image credit: Seafarer

Karen Peterson

When Karen Peterson works her magic, you’re not likely to notice. That’s because it’s her job to think about the things most people take for granted, and then make them happen… flawlessly and within budget.  For over 25 years, Karen Peterson has been finding the meeting space, making the arrangements, negotiating the contracts, and even running the show for conventions, events and incentives with attendance from 50 to 7,500.  Bottom line — if your company’s plans include travel, events or incentives, Karen Peterson is the one who can make it all happen … the thoughtful way … the cost-efficient way … the right way.  Learn more about how Karen can help your company plan your next event here:

Soon you’ll begin planning and promoting your 2011 national convention. Maybe you’re thinking about sending out printed invitations, professionally designed evites or maybe posting videos online. All of these are great ideas, but they can be time-consuming and costly to produce. However, one of the most effective tools in your arsenal is also one of the easiest (and cheapest) to implement—plain testimonials from your attendees. And if you didn’t collect these at your 2010 event itself, now is the time to get them!

Simply send an email to everyone who attended your 2010 event and tell them you’re looking for quotes you can use to promote your 2011 event. Ask for short comments on specific aspects of the events—the training, major announcements, guest speakers, the recognition or any special fun events you had. Invite attendees to share their photos with you as well! While many may not be useable, others may be and you’ll be glad you have them.

Comments on training are especially valuable. It’s been my experience that training, more than any other part of a convention, is what brings people in and keeps them coming back. So be sure to ask specifically for comments on training.

Your own field events happening over the coming weeks are another great source of testimonials. Many companies will be having fall meetings or Leadership events in the early part of the new year. These are great opportunities to harvest testimonials, both written and on video. These days, decent video cameras can be purchased for surprisingly little money. So use your fall/winter events to collect more testimonials. You’ll be glad you did!

Then once you have your testimonials, post them on your website, put them in communications about your convention, make them part of your printed invitations or evites. There are many places and ways to use testimonials, but first, you have to have them. So start collecting your testimonials now, and then use them to promote your 2011 national convention in the best, easiest way possible.

Dick Wilson has over 20 years experience writing and producing events for direct sales companies. Learn more how Dick can help you at

Choosing a Theme for Your Next Event

A theme is an important component of a meeting, but probably not for the reasons you think. So before you spend hours in brainstorming meetings in anticipation of your 2011 event themes, consider why themes exist and what they’re really meant to do. To do that, you need to understand 2 basic truths about themes.

Truth #1: Your audience doesn’t care about your theme. Really, they don’t. A theme is like so many other things at an event—it’s only likely to be noticed or remembered if it’s absent, weird or not working. If you need confirmation just ask anyone who attended one of your recent events what its theme was. Chances are they won’t remember, probably because they never knew what it was in the first place. And that’s fine, because the theme really isn’t for the attendees at all!

Truth #2: Your theme is for you. Regardless of your role in an event, a good theme is your best friend. It will help you decorate your room, design your logo, write your scripts and create your Powerpoints. So choose your themes thoughtfully and carefully. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  1. Less is more. The theme is the official name for your conference, so keep it short. For years it seemed as though “verb the noun” themes (Seize the Day, Leading the Way, etc.) would never go away. Fortunately these days one and two-word themes are more common and more workable.
  2. What kind of starting point does your theme present? Your theme should be versatile enough to let you go places with it, lots of places. For example, a theme like “Imagine” opens up all sorts of possibilities… creativity in business, the future, famous artists and their works, the list could go on and on.
  3. Think of your theme as the bookends for your event. Picture yourself delivering your opening and your closing remarks. Imagine what you’ll say about your theme—why you chose it, how it relates to the audience, your event, your key announcements. Then consider what your parting words will be to your audience and how you’ll wrap your theme around that. Your theme should provide the logical bookends for your event. If the words come to you naturally and quickly, you have a good theme.

Quick! What was the theme of the last event you attended?!

Dick Wilson has over 20 years experience writing and producing events for direct sales companies. Learn more how Dick can help you at

Logo Design: Dick Wilson