Designing an event without a plan is like going on a road trip without a map; eventually, you’ll reach your destination, but it will take longer, be more stressful, and you’ll encounter way more bumps along the way.
Whether your event is for 10 or 1,000, an intimate dinner party or an extravagant trade show, you need a well-crafted plan for a successful event. A solid event plan will keep you organized, sane, get everyone on the same page, and make it way easier to navigate the many, many moving parts of planning an event.
Before you begin to pin or start picking palettes, ask yourself these questions to build a solid event foundation.
What is the event goal?
Create a statement that defines your event’s purpose and how you plan to achieve it. This statement will dictate how the event is planned, who will attend, the event schedule and timing, location and time of year, entertainment and activities, and be critical in the post-event evaluation process. There is a between we’re going to host a fun party and we’re hosting this kind of party for this reason to accomplish this goal.
Examples: This cocktail party will be a friendraiser where we’ll introduce XX potential donors to our organization. Or this gala will have XX attendees, with XX percent new attendees.
What kind of event will it be?
Now that the event has a goal, it’s time to pick the right event type to complete it. A cocktail party will have a different feeling than a sit-down dinner, a golf tournament will draw a different crowd than a free musical festival, and attendees will have a different experience with a hands-on service project than just a lecture. The event type will influence who attends your event and what kind of their experience will be.
Who will be attending this event?
You should build your event plan around your ideal attendee, not vice versa. A fundraiser attended by millennials would be an entirely different event than a breakfast meeting filled with baby boomers. While you can’t predict the future, it’s important to build a general avatar of the ideal event attendee. Determine how many people will attend, their age, gender, and income levels. These answers will decide your event date and time, venue, menu, event layout, entertainment, ticket prices, schedule, and how you market your event.
What is the event budget?
If the event plan is the road map, the budget is the compass. Hands down, it is the most important part of your event plan. Create a budget that includes estimates for income and expenses (food and beverage, venue fees, entertainment, AV and lighting, marketing and promotions, printing and postage, and misc.).
Keep your ideal attendee and event goal in mind when creating a budget. If your goal is to sign up 100 new brand ambassadors at your event, you’ll have higher marketing and printing line items.
When creating a budget, it’s better to leave a buffer in your numbers and come in under budget then hit or go over your budget. And remember, once you finalize your budget, it’s finalized! Update your expenses often to ensure you’re on the right track.
When will the event be held?
Put yourself in your ideal attendee’s shoes and determine what day of the week and time is best for them. While a late weeknight event could be fantastic for college students, but torture for working professionals, and vice versa for an 8 a.m. breakfast meeting. Before you commit to a date, make sure you won’t compete with large and annual events (it’s inevitable there will be another event on your day). Check local event calendars and competitors or similar organizations’ websites and local calendars for conflicting events that will affect your ideal attendees.
What kind of venue will you need?
There are four factors that influence where your event location. Can you guess what they are? Your event’s goal, the type of event, date, and ideal attendee will determine your event’s location.
What is the event schedule?
You don’t need every single detail when you’re in the early event planning stages, but it’s good to figure out the basics. Start with your start and end times, guest and staff arrival, food and alcohol serving times, and programming times.
Who is helping with the event plans?
Before you figure out what to do first, it’s important to figure who is helping with the planning. Will you have a friend or other group host an event with you? Will there be a committee or co-chairs? Will you need 5 or 50 volunteers to help that day?
What is the planning timeline?
I start each event plan by building a planning timeline. First, I list all of the elements of my event (vendor relations, invitations, outreach, committee, catering, auction, sponsorship, etc.You). Then, I break down each month by what I have to do for each event element.
Sponsorship – Send out sponsor packets to individual donors.
Outreach – Send a save the date email.
Invitations – Create copy and get approved.
Catering – Select a menu.
Sponsorship – Follow-up calls to the mailing.
Invitations – Send to the printer.
The goal will help dictate your planning timeline. For instance, if your goal is to raise $10,000, you’ll want to start by creating sponsorship materials. Or if you’re hosting a friendraising event, you’ll start with outreach.
How will you stay organized?
You’re almost on your way to planning your event! An event planner is a multi-tasking master that needs to keep track of a lot of moving parts. Whether a binder, notepad, word or google doc, or project management software is your organizational weapon of choice, pick one central way of staying organized throughout the planning process.
The pre-planning is the most important part of the event planning process.
Before you get lost in the little details of your event, build a strong event foundation by determining the event goal, type, ideal attendee, budget, date, venue type, schedule, event help, planning timeline, and organization style. These ten questions will help you reach your ultimate destination – a fun and successful event! Happy planning!
Photos by Kevin Shields and Katharine Friedgen.