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Event Planning

Special Emphasis Programs Observances: Tips on Event Planning

Special emphasis events are an important part of Special Emphasis Programs (SEPs). As a SEP Manager (or equivalent), you should encourage your facility or organization to appreciate diversity through activities geared towards raising awareness, highlighting achievements, increasing knowledge, and addressing any identified barriers to the full employment and inclusion of all members of society within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Special Emphasis Programs Observance Events

At VA, the following is a list of SEPs annual observances that have been traditionally celebrated at the departmental level:

  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration (January)
  • Black History Month (February)
  • Women's History Month (March)
  • Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day (April)
  • Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May)
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month (June)
  • Women's Equality Day (August)
  • Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15)
  • National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October)
  • American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month (November)

The following are suggested tips for planning and implementing SEPs annual observances:

1. Identify the current theme for the SEP observance. Information on themes for the aforementioned SEPs annual observances is posted online at the Diversity Store and the Defense Equal Opportunity Management lnstitute.

2. Determine what type of event will be most conducive to relay the theme and encourage maximum participation. Suggested SEPs observance activities include the following:

  • Training and career development activities;
  • Guest speakers such as community leaders, local government representatives, and members from the special emphasis group that have been able to advance, while overcoming barriers and obstacles;
  • A panel of subject matter experts to address topics on the observance theme, and participate in a question and answer session;
  • Sharing of best practices that promote diversity, inclusion and engagement in the workplace;
  • Special programs/award ceremonies to honor distinguished employees;
  • Flash mentoring activity; and
  • Brown bag/Lunch and learn sessions.

Event Planning Tool

This tool is provided as a general guide to planning special observance events or ceremonies. For smaller or less formal events, there may only be minimum steps required therein. This tool should be modified to meet your event type:

Phase One

Following identification of an observance theme and development of a proposal with information on the keynote speaker or panel, cultural activity, display of artifacts, etc., proceed forward with planning the event:

1. Organize an event planning committee to consist of a chairperson, committee, members, and support staff.

2. Project costs and allocate funds as per applicable facility or organization policies/guidelines.

3. Prepare a formal request with three proposed events and identify a point of contact for obtaining event date approval.

4. Brief management on the proposed event and funding needs. Obtain approval on proposal and implementation of plan.

Phase Two

Once approval has been received from management, proceed accordingly:

1. Reserve the event space, including requests for recording/live streaming, photography or videography, audio/visual support.

2. Brief and coordinate with stakeholder groups which may include internal employee affinity organizations or employee resource groups, as well as, organizations involved with planning or producing goods and services for events such as media services. Also, engage senior leaders’ executive assistants, et al. who manage calendar invitations.

3. Prepare the workplan, checklists, and schedule at a glance.

4. Obtain guest speaker names, titles, affiliation, mailing/e-mail addresses and telephone numbers.

5. Obtain speaker biographies and verify current titles.

6. Prepare speaker invitation letters/emails.

7. Follow up on authorization of approved funds.

8. Purchase all necessary supplies.

9. Determine estimated total number of participants.

10. Prepare broadcast message and utilize various forms of media for marketing and socializing the event (facility bulletin boards – online and/or hardcopy, Office of Diversity and Inclusion newsletter, etc.)

11. Prepare talking points upon request and obtain concurrence.

12. Prepare speaker introductions, talking points, and program format for Master/Mistress of Ceremonies.

13. Research history of the event location/venue.

14. Prepare event space layout including designated seating areas, podium, refreshments (if permitted), *press box if open press, *flags display, etc. (*consult with appropriate protocol officer).

15. Identify staging areas for program participants, guests, media, et al.

16. Invite internal and external guests of senior staff and partner organizations.

17. Ensure any requests for reasonable accommodations have been addressed; arrange for interpreting services and/or captioning services/CART.

18. Arrange for photography and/or videography services.

19. Arrange for refreshments (if permitted), decorations, and appreciation mementos.

20. Prepare briefing packages and other read-ahead material for management.

21. Provide external guest list and media list to security personnel one/two days in advance.

22. Prepare event binders or portfolios for resource reference material.

23. Confirm participation with any partners/external organizations.

24. Obtain and provide cell phone numbers for key players to include speakers,
interpreter(s), et al.

Day of the Event

1. Orchestrate set up for event space.

2. Brief program participants.

3. Provide final instructions to escorts/greeters, ushers, planning committee members, et al.

4. Review setup with caterer for refreshments (if applicable).

5. Provide water for program participants situated on the dais.

6. Coordinate with photographer and/or videographer on deliverables.

7. Review guest list and instructions with security guards.

8. Greet and escort guests.

9. Greet and escort media; provide press kits (if open press).

10. Distribute printed program booklets.

11. Take photographs and issue Certificates of Appreciation to key program participants.

12. Direct guests to exit areas following event.


1. Distribute photographs.

2. Send correspondence to include thank you notes or other types of mementos to key program participants.

3. Store resource documents for easy retrieval.

4. Prepare communications for newsletters, website, etc.

5. Conduct close-out with planning committee members, et al. to discuss any lessons learned, etc.

6. Prepare after action report.

Special Emphasis Observances Tool Kit