How to Plan an Event: The Complete Event Planning Guide

how to plan an event

Looking for how to plan an event, or advice on event planning? 

 

You’ve come to the right place. 

 

We’ve seen a lot of organizations’ events over the years, and there are ten steps we’ve identified as key to a successful event. 

 

While we can't identify all of the details you’ll need to think about, since much of it will depend on the type of event you are holding, we can suggest some best practices that are important to follow for any event. 

 

With that in mind, the ten key event planning steps we’ve identified are: 

 


We've also put together an easy-to-use checklist so nothing falls through the cracks. To identify the timeline, start by working backwards from your event date. 


We hope the following provides a starting point for your event planning – and without further ado, here are the ten steps! 


1. Develop Your Event Goal and Objectives

event planning

 

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. 

 

event registration callout

yuanyuan zhou event planning“Identifying a list of tangible and intangible goals for your event can give you a better sense of your event management needs. Your tangible goals may be to attract 500 attendees, sell 100 products at the event, or raise $1 million for charity. Your intangible goals will help drive these tangible goals and may include raising awareness about a product or cause, or recruiting volunteers.” 

 

Dr. Yuanyuan Zhou, Co-Founder of Whova

 

2.  Organize Your Team

event planning

 

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;
  • speakers;
  • entertainment;
  • publicity;
  • sponsors;
  • 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! 

 

bill mcglade event planning"Delivering high-quality events requires buy-in at all levels of an organization. To create a truly unforgettable experience, you'll need support from your executive team all the way to your on-site event staff."

 

 Bill McGlade, CEM, Vice President, Account Management at Personify A2Z Events


3. Establish Your Budget

event planning

 

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. 

Even if some of these items aren’t fixed costs yet – for example, if you haven’t yet picked a venue – it's important to keep the maximum that you can afford to spend in mind before making those decisions. 

 

How to increase event registrations and cash received as a nonprofit, association or club: 


 

4. Set the Date

event planning

 

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.  

 

Planning an event right now? Download our Event Planning Checklist here.

  

5. Create an Event Master Plan

event planning

 

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. 

 

ciara hautau event planningEnsure that all your activities and services are built for the size of your audience. In the past, we've run some open bars for our events and would have a single bartender make each individual's drink from scratch. The line would get so long and our attendees would get frustrated. We knew we had to find a better solution but couldn't afford to hire another bartender so we decided to make some large batched cocktails beforehand. This cut down the line tremendously and our attendees loved the drinks we made! When creating your master plan try to see if you can cut costs anywhere by DIY'ing. Also remember that with new apps like TaskRabbit and Craigslist you can often find a talented individual who could provide a service for a lot less, which will make your life a whole lot easier when planning and executing an event.

 

Ciara Hautau, Lead Digital Marketing Strategist, Fueled

event registration callout

6. Book Your Venue

event planning

 

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? 

 

lauren grech event planningDo not believe everything you see on Instagram or Pinterest. It's a sad reality we face, but this industry is becoming more creative in terms of their marketing materials. They know the right photos to use, the right angles to photograph, the right photo edits to make venues look larger, cleaner, and nicer. So we advise going to see the venue in person, meeting your vendors in person, and taking the time to do your due diligence. And if you don't have the time, hire the right professional who will work to ensure these components on your behalf.

Lauren Grech, CEO and Co-Founder of LLG Events

7. Brand Your Event

event planning

 

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! 

 

 

nicole meyerson event planningIn addition to creating an event name, tagline, and logo, create a hashtag for all your marketing materials and for attendees to use when talking about your event on social media. The shorter the better, but it should also be unique. 

 

For instance, if your event is the National Conference for Dogs, you could create a hashtag such as #NCDwoof2019. It's unique, memorable, and short.

 

During the event, designate someone to monitor live posts using the hashtag: "like" the Facebook posts, "retweet" the tweets, and so on, to amplify the buzz while the event is happening. 

 

Following the event, you can search each individual social media platform for posts containing your hashtag for an excellent post-event report.

 

Nicole A. Meyerson, Founder, Project Parity

How to plan an event

 

8. Identify and Establish Partnerships & Sponsors

event planning

 

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.  


Read More: How to Write a Sponsorship Letter

 

9. Create a Publicity Plan

event planning

 

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.

 

For more details on promoting your event, check out our Event Promotion Guide.

 

jenn naye hermann event planningHire a professional photographer to attend the event and photograph, making it super easy to submit your event for publication. Plus, it's a great thank-you gift to attendees!

 

Jen Naye Herrmann, Founder, Girl Meets Party

 

 

 

10. Determine Day-Of Processes

event planning

 

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

8:45: Break

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. 

This Software Makes Running (and Filling) Events a Snap!

If you're sick of processing event registrations and payments by hand, there's a software that can completely automate the process for you online. It's called Membership Management Software and here's what it can do:

  • Allow easy creation of online registration forms
  • Put a calendar of events on your website
  • Automatically update your website with upcoming events
  • Deposit event payments directly into your account
  • Send automatic invoices and event reminders
  • Dump event attendee data directly into your contact database
  • and more

Not only does Membership Management Software take care of all event logistics, it also makes running any sort of membership organization easier, because it automates a number of other administrative tasks such as managing your contacts, website, finances, and email communication.

If you'd like to see if this kind of software is right for your organization, try Wild Apricot, the #1 Membership Management Software on the market.  The best part is that Wild Apricot is free to try for 30 days. Click here to start your free trial now.

Wild Apricot Review

As a small non-profit, this software has made organizing and communicating with our membership SO much easier. Membership is now automatic and registering for our events is easy for our guests and much less work for us. 

-DeeDee LaBaron, Oregon Employment and Training Association

 

How to plan an event

How to plan an event

Bonus: Post-Event Review

event planning

 

Congratulations: you survived your event! 

 

But wait a second. It’s not quite over. 

 

Before collapsing on the sofa for a well-deserved nap, assess your event to see what went well, and what you can do better next time. 

 

How will you determine if your event is a success? Do you measure success by the number of registrants or attendees, or is it dependent on you breaking even or raising a target amount in donations? 

 

When you set your initial event goals and objectives, you should also consider how you will evaluate the event to determine your success. If you’re using a membership management software package, such as Wild Apricot’s, you can easily track registration numbers and fees. 

 

But if your event involves tracking, for example, a silent auction, then you’ll need to put some processes in place to identify goods offered in kind and funds raised at the event, such as a post-event survey.

 

By the same token, if the objective of your event is to raise awareness, you’ll have to benchmark and gather data on online social media activity and mentions, as well as offline publicity – based again on your initial goals.

 

Once you’ve gotten back your attendee survey and talked to your staff, a few questions to ask yourself are: 

  • How did we perform against forecast? This can be your attendee number forecast, your budget, or any other prediction you made about the event. If you ended up on target, great! But if not, review what you could do better for next time. 
  • What was attendee feedback like? Some one-off comments can be written off, but if there are some points that come up several times whether positive or negative, they’re worth taking into consideration. 
  • How did our team perform? You can use your event as a great feedback generator for everyone else who helped you with it – as well as earmarking volunteers for particular tasks in the future. 
  • How did our marketing do? Which activities provided the most ROI? Whether it was creating an event on Facebook or talking to the local press, determining which one performed best will help you decide which route to take next time. 

Any other event planning tips we missed? Let us know! 

See for yourself how easy to use and affordable Wild Apricot is:


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