In Any Event 

Plug the right pieces into planning

EventCheck_ResizedPlanning an event takes teamwork, and to make that team work, it takes planning. As someone who has chaired numerous event planning committees, Gay Lyons is an expert at building an effective team.

Lyons, in our blog post last month, shared advice about coming up with catchy and clever event names. Now, we’re back with the woman known as the Party Goddess with tips for assembling planning committees.

A successful event always starts with proper planning, and Lyons handpicks the members of her committee.

“All the planning in the world is meaningless unless you have the right people executing it,” Lyons advised.

Of course, choosing the right people starts with establishing the right connections. Over the years, Lyons has developed an extensive network of professionals in Knoxville – from caterers to interior decorators – that she draws from when assembling a planning committee.

“I’m the least talented person on the team,” Lyons noted. “It’s like I’m the director and I assemble the best possible team. The people I choose are the best party planners in town. I am good at assembling a team. I know a little bit about each element, but the people I choose are experts.”

As a guideline for how many people to include, Lyons recommends at least five, but no more than 10 planners on the committee.

“At least five to get the right minds to help plan, the right skills sets,” she said.

Gay Lyons, left, with Gov. Bill Haslam and Margaret Gehring, a member of the family that originally owned Howell Nurseries, which today is the location of the Knoxville Botanical Garden. The gardens are a popular site for event planners in Knoxville.
Gay Lyons, left, with Gov. Bill Haslam and Margaret Gehring, a member of the family that originally owned Howell Nurseries, which today is the location of the Knoxville Botanical Garden. The gardens are a popular site for event planners in Knoxville.

Once Lyons has assembled her planning committee, she divides it into teams that focus on a particular aspect of the event. These include teams for food, beverage, entertainment and ambiance.

“Ambiance” is about so much more than decorating, as it includes the design elements of a space that create an aesthetic experience for attendees.

As Lyons explained, “Ambiance speaks to the way furniture is arranged in the space, colors that are used, centerpieces, lighting.”

“A successful event is theater,” she added with a smile.

And a successful event is a testament to teamwork. Collaboration and effective communication are key, particularly with the way Lyons splits her teams into specialized groups.

“Everyone weighs in on everything together,” Lyons said.

If one group comes up with a plan – such as a decorating scheme or hors d’oeuvres menu – it consults the rest of the committee for feedback.

As a team leader, Lyons values the input of others. For example, rather than categorize bartenders and caterers as hired hands, she takes the extra step to heavily involve them in the planning process.

“With experts, I don’t tell them what to do,” she said. “I ask them their opinion. I ask the caterer, ‘Where should the food stations go? What will work for you and your staff?’

“I do the same with bartending services. I will consult with the people at Pour Guys – we’ll have this many people, how should we do the bar setup?”

If it seems like Gay Lyons, at right, is everywhere, it's because she is. She is joined at an event at the Knoxville Zoo by Judith Foltz and Rosa Mar.
If it seems like Gay Lyons, at right, is everywhere, it’s because she is. She is joined at an event at the Knoxville Zoo by Judith Foltz and Rosa Mar.

 

Lyons recently committed to planning her first wedding, which also will be her first paid event. Despite the hours and weeks she dedicates to planning phenomenal events, Lyons offers her services to nonprofits free of charge.

“I don’t know if I would like it as much if I were paid for it,” she acknowledged. “The nonprofits can’t afford to pay for that and they’re who I do it for.”

While Lyons does great work for deserving organizations, she also feels rewarded.

“I love planning a great event,” she expressed. “I get such joy from it. There’s no better feeling for me. I cry when I go to an event that I helped plan that looks exactly like it was supposed to and feels exactly like it was supposed to.

“I literally stand there and look at it and cry.”

Martha Ashe, a summer intern at Moxley Carmichael, is a senior at the University of Richmond studying marketing, English and art. When she’s not planning her future – and studying – Martha spends her time putting together 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles.

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