Sherri McMillan, M.Sc., has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 20 years and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, the 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, and the 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year. Her million-dollar training studios in Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA, have received Better Business Bureau Business of the Year recognition. McMillan is a fitness trainer, a fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals (including “Go For Fit—The Winning Way to Fat Loss,” “Fit over Forty” and “The Successful Trainers Guide to Marketing”), a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs, an international fitness presenter, and a spokesperson for Nike, Nautilus, Twist Conditioning and PowerBar. She can be reached at www.nwFitnessEducation.com.

Special events are the best way to develop community, create excitement, set training goals and offer something to look forward to. Unfortunately, few operators have been taught how to do this well. Most neglect the fine details and wind up dealing with chaos, stress and an unsuccessful event.

At Northwest Personal Training, we have hosted monthly events, including exercise-a-thons, half marathons, running/walking events, triathlons, obstacle challenges, biking treks, hiking treks, fitness retreats and other programs. Visit our website at www.nwPersonalTraining.com and click on upcoming events to see some of the specifics about our events.

Here is a template of steps to take for special events that you host at your facility:

Step 1: Timeline and action steps. Your first step is to brainstorm and determine the end picture and what constitutes a successful event. Envision the event and picture the best scenario. Determine all facets of the event and establish all of the action steps and deadlines. Account for promotion, staff instruction, pre-event organization, event organization and facilitation, and post-event follow-up. Brainstorming should happen a year in advance for larger events and at least three months prior to smaller ones.

Step 2: Permits and rentals. Before you get too far into planning, determine if the event will require city permits or renting space or equipment. Check on the availability of these items before you recruit sponsors, develop fliers and plan details so you can avoid redoing any work.

Step 3a: Promotional materials. Once you confirm permits and rentals, start planning your promotional materials. Typically, you’ll create registration fliers or brochures, promotional posters, e-mail blasts and website pages to promote your event. Include all the need-to-know information in your materials (who, what, where, when, why and how). To increase your outreach, post your event on local online event calendars and social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. Also send out press releases about the event so that magazines, newspapers, TV and radio can put it on their calendars. Drop off your brochures/fliers at local businesses, especially those supporting the event. Typically, you need at least two months to effectively promote an event. Simultaneously, you need a solid registration system so when someone gets your promotional material, they can easily register. Online registration is a huge advantage.

Step 3b: Sponsorship recruitment. Make a list of all the items and services you will need for your event, including food, a speaker system, finishers’ gifts (i.e., T-shirts, medals, water bottles, etc.), door prizes and stuff for goody bags. Begin approaching local businesses to rally their support. Write a letter that explains what you need and what sponsors will get in return (i.e., logo on T-shirts, website link on e-mail blasts, banners posted at the event). You can try to get financial sponsorships or just ask for businesses to donate their product or service in return for marketing exposure prior to, during and after the event. The sooner you start recruiting sponsorship assistance, the better. If you wait too late in the year, many companies (especially large ones) already have allocated all of their charitable contributions and marketing dollars. Having an important community beneficiary associated with your event makes it a lot easier to generate support.

Step 4: Volunteer recruitment. Regardless of the size of the event, you’re going to need help. You may require course marshalls, aid station assistants, registration assistants, goody bag stuffers, race timing crew, volunteer massage therapists, set-up crew and clean-up crew. The bigger the event, the more assistance you’ll need. For example, for an exercise-a-thon that we host, we need about five volunteers, but our half marathon with 1,500 participants requires about 200 volunteers. For large events, assign a volunteer coordinator to oversee the volunteers and ensure they know where they need to go, and when and what they need to do. Good sources to find volunteers include clients, friends of clients and Craigslist.

Step 5: Event logistics. Be sure you’ve thought of everything from start to finish, and that you have everything written in a timeline. What time will set-up happen, and what exactly needs to be done by when? Will you play music? When will people start arriving, how will they be greeted and what will they be given (i.e., goody bag, T-shirt, water bottle, etc.)? Do you have enough temporary toilets? When will the event start, and how will you start it off? What will happen during the entire event? Will you have local businesses there with booths? Will you offer massages? Will participants get something when they finish? Will you offer refreshments? What will happen post-event? Will you give out door prizes? How will you thank sponsors and participants? Will you have someone taking photos at the event? When will clean-up start, and who is responsible for what?

Step 6: Post-event responsibilities. Even after the event is done, you’re not done. You have to finalize a few more things to guarantee support for next year’s event. For example:

  • Send out a post-event press release with results and an event recap.
  • Post event stories/photos/results on your website and social networking sites.
  • Send a post-event e-mail to participants.
  • Send a thank you to all sponsors, volunteers, contributors, municipalities, facility owners, etc. This is critical to gain their support for next year. E-mail them links with photos and an event recap so they really feel part of the event.
  • Do a post-race evaluation with volunteers and participants.
  • Send out your donation to a beneficiary, if applicable.

Event planning is so rewarding and fun. But if you fail to plan, plan to fail.