Learning with TBOE

Planning celebrations fit for a president

Posted on November 1st, 2018 in Event News, Industry Insight, Leadership, Speaker Interview

It may feel like every event we put on is the be all and end all, but spare a thought for those who put on events for heads of state. Not only do they have every aspect of their work broadcast and watched by millions, but they have the expectations – not of a company or an industry – but of an entire country to live up to.

We spoke to Laura Schwartz, the former Director of Events for the White House, about the organisation surrounding a president’s inauguration. She talks about the preparation, the timings, the hidden snipers and the little touches each president brings with them.

Planning for the inauguration

In America, presidential inaugurations occur on 20 January while elections are in early November. This gives the organisers less than three months to get everything ready for the incoming president. However, there are some teams at the US Capitol and the National Park Service who begin work on the stage and setting up the West Lawn from July onwards.

The organisational committee has their work cut out to work out invitation lists, performers for the ball, finding out what the new president wants, setting a theme for the day, organising security and all other the fine details that go along with planning a national celebration.

Schwartz said, “Presidential inaugurations are a magnificent moment for the democracy of the United States of America, no matter who’s getting inaugurated. It really is something to be held to a very high standard as seen in the United States and what it stands for.”

“People are impressed by what they see. That’s very planned. What you don’t see are all the snipers on the rooftops and inside many of the hotel rooms and offices that line the parade route. The Secret Service takes over a lot of that area.”

“And all of these efforts bridge together after November. They’re at high gear in December and then it all starts at noon on inauguration day.”

Events on the day

If there’s a change in office holder, the inauguration day begins with the sitting president and the president elect having a coffee together at the White House. From there, they take a joint motorcade to the United States Capitol where power is transferred.

After the incoming president takes their oath, it’s on to celebrate with lunch, parades and inauguration balls. This is a time for people to meet the new president and congratulate them on their success. It’s also a time for celebration, with music, readings and other forms of entertainment, which can be a great way to showcase some of the heroes of the country and the new president at the same time.

Talking about the celebrations, Schwartz added, “President Clinton had Aretha Franklin sing at both of his inaugurals. Maya Angelou, the great poet, read. So, really, you can incorporate great American heroes in music and literature, and religion for the benediction and opening prayer.”

The inauguration balls

Into the evening, there are several inauguration balls – some official and some unofficial – to celebrate the change of the guard. The new president can go to as many as they like. Schwartz tells us that some presidents have been to as many as 15, while others limit themselves and just go to a couple.

These balls will have all sorts of people invited on behalf of the president by the organising committee. This can include people who have helped with the campaign, party members, lobbyists or members of the public. With such a varied list of guests and such high-profile people attending, it’s important to make sure everything is in order and no one has been left off the guest list. For sit-down events, seating plans are very important as some guests may feel slighted if they’re not in as prominent a position as they might like.

Schwartz talked about the way different presidents made up their invitation list. She said, “Many times, the invitations are allotted from the political headquarters of the president’s party. For example, for President Trump, the Republican National Committee would send out invitations to their largest donors that had given money, partners, lobbyists, members of Congress who are Republican, as well as any other notable people that were helpful to the election of their party to office. That’s pretty much how it works on both sides. ”

She added, “The Obamas were awesome, they did a lottery for teachers and school kids and really opened up the gates to get more people in. The Clintons were very much the same way. George W Bush really reached out and had a lot of folks come that weren’t necessarily donors; I thought that was great. The Clintons, the Bushes and the Obamas all did a great job with that.”

To hear more from Laura Schwartz and her time at the White House, book your ticket to The Business of Events, 7- 8 February 2019 at Sheraton on the Park, Sydney.