1. Develop Your Event Goal and Objectives
The very first step in planning your event is to establish a tangible goal and objectives.
First, start by asking yourself: Why are you organizing this event, and what do you hope to achieve?
If you know your organization’s key goals before planning, you can ensure that every part of your event is optimized for success.
Are you trying to raise awareness for a cause, or collect a predetermined amount of donations for your next project? Are you hoping to attract 50 guests, or 500?
Setting a goal with quantifiable metrics of success will make it easier for your team to ensure that you reach them.
2. Organize Your Team
Any event takes a concerted team effort to handle all the details. Consider identifying one key Event Manager or Event Chair as well as individual Chairpersons for subcommittees, such as:
- venue management;
- and volunteer management.
Assigning individual roles to team members creates a system of accountability, as well as preventing tasks from falling to the wayside. Plus, it’ll allow you to delegate – but don’t forget to account for committee meetings in your event plan timing!
3. Establish Your Budget
Establishing your event’s budget is one of the most important parts of planning an event. I’ve seen many great ideas fall by the wayside because the team who originally came up with it forgot to take their budget into consideration before beginning to plan.
Some of the critical expenses you need to include in your budget are:
- Venue: This cost should encompass the rental as well as any insurance you need to purchase.
- Food and Drink: This field is pretty self-explanatory. However, remember that the amount you can afford here might also dictate the number of tickets you’re able to sell.
- Entertainment: This field can be customized however you need it to be — whether it’s allocated for speakers, a DJ, or even a talking pig, make sure you have wiggle room for travel and accommodation costs as well as any compensation.
- Décor: Will you be going with a DIY mason-jar theme, or one that’s a little fancier? Establishing the costs upfront will help you determine which one you can afford.
- Staff: This category might often be forgotten, but it’s key to account for the transportation and lodging costs of your staff, especially if you’re headed out of town. Even budgeting staff time (what would they be spending time on if they weren’t working on this event?) can help you decide whether that extra meeting is worth it.
- Marketing: Whether you decide to promote your event through Facebook or go old-school by putting flyers up all over town,
- Software: If you’re not already paying for any kind of event management software, consider incorporating it into your event planning.
- A/V: From projectors to wi-fi to speakers, this category encompasses a wide variety of costs.
- Miscellaneous: Even the best-planned event will have some additional costs come up. Accounting for them in your budget will ensure you’re not caught unawares.
4. Set the Date
The date might already be pre-set for a recurring event, but if this is a new event, be sure to consider the following before firming up your date:
- Give yourself enough time! Ideally, you should have 4-6 months to plan, if not more (depending on the nature of your event)
- Be aware of statutory and religious holidays
- Avoid school holiday time periods (winter, spring and summer holidays)
- Check dates with key participants – speakers, presenters, VIP guests, etc.
Once you’ve set the date (and have already outlined your budget), you can start booking any external staff (such as caterers) you need right away.
5. Create an Event Master Plan
Once you have a good idea of all the costs and the timeline associated with your event, it’s time to start the real plan! Creating your event master plan will allow you to ensure every aspect remains on track, as well as making it easier to coordinate with volunteers and event committee members.
Your event master plan should encompass all aspects of the event, including:
- Venue, logistics, & catering management (contracts, permits, insurance, etc.)
- Speakers and presenters (identifying, confirming, logistics & management)
- Activities and entertainment
- Publicity and promotion (online & off-line, such as web page & online promotion; events calendars; printed programs; media relations; signage; social media, etc.)
- Registration (online sign-up, payment and tracking; on-site sign-in, etc.)
- Sponsor and partner management
- Volunteer management and responsibilities
While planning your event, consider also creating a detailed timeline, so that everything moves smoothly. Include when any permits or insurance policies need to be submitted, when registration ends, and a detailed timeline of the day-of.
Although it might be tempting to say, “It’s all in my head! I”ll be fine!” and not be concerned about writing it all down, beware: this kind of mentality will make it much more difficult for you to assign accountability. It’ll also make it more difficult to remember what you did for the next event – so do your future self a favour and keep everything written down.
Finally, if you or your organization has run previous events of a similar type, reviewing any documentation that exists at this stage can help you ensure you’re not missing anything.
6. Book Your Venue
Once you have the date nailed down, it’s key to book your venue as soon as possible. Your event has to have a date and location nailed down before you can begin advertising, so this task needs to be completed as early in the planning period as possible.
(Note that some flexibility around the date might also help you out at this stage and open up a wider variety of venues.)
Some things to consider when picking a venue for your event are:
- Accessibility. Does the venue have accessible entrances and elevators? Are there all-gender washrooms? Will you have space for interpreters? This and many other factors go into choosing a space that all participants will feel comfortable in.
- Size. An event for 50 people will need a very different space than one for 500. Additionally, consider whether or not you’ll need separate rooms for breakout sessions or the like.
- Parking. Is there a parking lot, or is it easy to access via public transit?
- Insurance. Will you need to purchase separate insurance? What are their liability rules?
- AV. If your event needs speakers and microphones, make sure it’s easy to set them up in the space that’s available. The same goes for wifi access (and cellphone connection!), or any other technological needs your event has.
- Costs. How much of a deposit is the venue asking for? Will there be additional costs? How much will you get back if you (heaven forbid) need to cancel?
7. Brand Your Event
If you want your event to stand out, you need to choose a timely and compelling theme that sets you apart from your competition. This means that you need to come up with a dynamic overall theme and you need to take great care with the actual name since it can be a key attention-getter, especially in online media.
- Brainstorm names: When you are brainstorming the event name, think about:How is your event different from other events in your sector?
- What are you hoping to convey through this event?
- What are the main components of your event?
- Create a tagline: Once you’ve come up with a name, also try to craft a tagline – a short, memorable branding slogan that describes the event.
- Design a logo: The final step will be having a logo created to represent your event. A logo can be an effective branding tool – offering immediate recognition of your event in all your publicity and promo items (such as t-shirts, water bottles, bags, and more).
Once you have your name, tagline, and logo, use it in all your marketing collateral so that people who are unfamiliar with your organization will start recognizing your brand – and remember that the event is happening!
8. Identify and Establish Partnerships & Sponsors
Are there organizations that you could partner with or call on for sponsorships to defray the costs and increase potential participation? Plus, when you involve other people or groups in your event, they have a stake in helping spread the word and making the event a success -- the more the merrier, right?
You might want to consider:
- Seeking corporate sponsors to fund a portion of the event. This can range from national organizations that might want to sponsor a dinner, offer a door prize or a key silent auction item, to local businesses that might be able to provide goods or services, such as flowers for the tables, gift bag items, etc.
- Partnering with community organizations who might be able to offer a venue and/or assistance with organizing or staffing an event.
If you’re looking for businesses to sponsor your event, keep in mind that they’ll be more likely to do so if they can see the clear benefit to them. If you’ve had sponsors in the past who are willing to speak up on your behalf, so much the better – but if not, be prepared to craft a compelling case for support when you initially reach out.
9. Create a Publicity Plan
Even with the most amazing speaker or entertainment line-up, you need publicity to get people in the door. Event promotion starts with the initial notice or page on your website, note in your newsletter or email to save the date, and then builds to include online and off-line publicity, media relations and on-going outreach to encourage registration.
Some components you might want to include in your plan are:
- Web page announcement
- Social media
- Email blasts
- Press and media connections
- Printed materials
Finally, no promotional plan is complete without the post-event thank-you’s, sponsor acknowledgements and articles about the event’s key messages or fundraising success.
10. Determine Day-Of Processes
Once you’ve prepared everything going on around the event, keeping track of the order of the event itself and planning out your program is the next step.
To ensure you’re prepared for anything, prepare an agenda that will walk you through the whole day from setup to cleanup. Including every detail, no matter how small, will help you feel like you have it all under control!
Here’s a quick example of what something like this might look like:
5:00: Drop off silent auction items at the venue (Diana)
6:15: AV setup (Terry, Diana)
7:00: Have quick volunteer coordination meeting (Terry + volunteers)
7:30: Attendees begin arriving
8:00: Hors d’oeuvres served
8:30: Speaker 1 takes the stage
9:00: Speaker 2 takes the stage
10:00: Awards presented (Diana)
10:30: Mingling, silent auction bidding finishes
11:00: Start clearing tables
11:30: Bar closes
12:00 Event ends; all guests must leave
Identifying just who needs to do what can also ensure that there’s clear accountability leading up to the event.
And as a bonus, you can also use a simplified version of this in any branding materials as your public-facing agenda.
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