How to Plan an Event: a Complete Guide

Events December 16, 2021

Tatiana Morand

By Tatiana Morand

Looking for advice on planning an event? You’ve come to the right place.

We’ve seen a lot of organizations’ events over the years. And while we can't identify all of the details you’ll need to think about (it often depends on the type of event!) we’ve got a bushel of best practices for you to follow.

In this blog post, we’ll guide you 13 key steps needed for planning your event: 

  1. Develop Your Event Goal and Objectives

  2. Organize Your Team 

  3. Recruit & Train Volunteers

  4. Establish Your Budget

  5. Set the Date

  6. Create an Event Master Plan

  7. Choose Your Event Software

  8. Book Your Venue

  9. Brand Your Event

  10. Confirm Speakers & Special Guests

  11. Identify and Establish Partnerships & Sponsors

  12. Create a Promotional Plan

  13. Determine Day-of Processes

We’ll also cover:

  • Things to keep in mind the day-of the event

  • How to conduct your post-event review

  • Perspectives from seasoned experts in the events space.

Plus, to make sure nothing falls through the cracks, we’ve prepared this free, easy-to-use checklist for your event planning. If you're throwing a virtual event, we’ve got you covered. Here’s our downloadable virtual event checklist

We hope you find this guide useful. Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about planning your event.

What is an Event Plan?

An event plan is a guide for all the components of your event. 


It coordinates these elements against SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) goals and objectives, as well as a timeline. To identify your timeline, we recommend working backwards from your event date (a workback schedule!).


Your event plan helps keep you on track and can serve as your North Star as you prepare for the day of your event. Regardless of the size of your event, a good plan covers the same essential components, which we’ll cover in the next section.

What Are The Core Features of an Event Plan?

Your event plan is the launching point for your entire event, so it’s important to make sure it covers the right fundamentals. 


Your event plan should cover:


  • Event Goals and Objectives

  • Individual Roles and Responsibilities

  • Volunteers and Volunteer Training

  • Budget

  • Date of Event

  • Event Master Plan 

  • Event Location

  • Event Software

  • Event Branding

  • Speakers and Special Guests

  • Partnerships and Sponsorships

  • Promotional, Advertising, Marketing, and Publicity Plan 

  • Day-of Processes

  • Vendor information


While this may feel like a daunting list, we’ve created a step-by-step breakdown of each element and everything you need to know to get started.

Without further ado, here are our 13 steps to creating a comprehensive event plan. 

1. Develop Your Event Goal and Objectives

The very first step in planning your event is to establish tangible goals and objectives.  

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.

Even better, figure out what happens if you meet, exceed, or miss your goal. At what point do you wrap up shop? At what point do you get to do something more exciting next time? Understanding where you’re going will only help you get there faster.

 

  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

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

  • Volunteer Management 

Assigning individual roles to team members creates a system of accountability and prevents 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. Recruit & Train Volunteers

Your volunteers make the gears turn for your event. But before you begin working with them, make sure you understand what their roles are and how you can begin recruiting them. 

 

1. Define volunteer roles. Make sure you have an understanding of what types of volunteers you’ll need and who will lead them. You may need volunteers for parts of your event such as:

- Setting up and tearing down the event

- Ushers and coat check

- Parking

- Refreshments

- Registration

2. Make a plan for recruitment. A great place to start is to share the volunteer opportunities with your existing contacts. Then identify the best channels for putting up your volunteer posting, such as volunteer sites and social media. 

3. Identify volunteer leaders. Once you have volunteers, who’s responsible for training them? And how will you manage that training? Select volunteer leadership and provide either written guidance or in-person (potentially virtual!) workshops. To knock it out of the park, you could even provide both.

To make sure you have the volunteers you need, organize your volunteer roles and put up your volunteer posting far enough ahead of your event.

4. Establish Your Budget

Establishing your event’s budget is one of the most important parts of planning an event. 

Creating a solid budget enables you and your team to generate ideas within realistic parameters. This means that the parts of your event that you’re excited about stay top of mind. Instead, they’re just readjusted for what you can afford. 

  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 might also dictate the number of tickets you’re can 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. Software can help streamline your processes, help save time, and enable your team to do more.  

  • 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. 

5. Set the Date

The date might already be pre-set for a recurring event, but if this is a new event, there are some things to keep in mind. 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 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.

  

6. Create an Event Master Plan

Once you know all the costs and the timeline associated with your event, it’s time to start the real plan!

Creating an 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

7. Choose Your Event Software 

The right event software can make all the difference in streamlining your processes when planning your event.

 

Types of event software that can be worthwhile having include:

 

  • Registration 

  • Ticketing

  • Event website

  • Attendee engagement solutions

  • Lead tracking tools

  • Virtual event solutions

  • Hybrid event solutions

  • Attendee management

If you run a membership organization and are sick of processing event registrations and payments by hand, membership management software could be right for you. It’ll totally automate the process online!

Here’s here's what it can do: 

  • Allow easy creation of online event 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 membership organizations easier. You can automate away administrative tasks like 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 WildApricot, the #1 Membership Management Software on the market.  The best part is that WildApricot is free to try for 30 days. Click here to start your free trial now.

WildApricot 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

8. 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.)  

When picking a venue for your event, make sure to consider:  

  • Accessibility. Does the venue have accessible entrances and elevators? Are there all-gender washrooms? Will you have space for interpreters or a live-captioning screen? 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 other small group activities (or, hey, even a green room for your speakers and/or VIPs!).  

  • 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—including plugs, or extension cords, in the right places. 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

9. Brand Your Event

A timely and compelling theme can be just the thing that sets you apart from other events. Choose a dynamic theme and apply it to all elements of your event, including its name. Highlight the elements that make it special, especially in online media, because this can be what attracts people to attend. 

  • Brainstorm names: When you’re brainstorming the event name, ask yourself:  

  • 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, craft a tagline – a short, memorable branding slogan that describes the event.  

  • Design a logo: If you’re planning a major event or recurring event series, make sure you’ve created a logo. 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).  

  • Create your visual identity: Create a cohesive visual identity for your event to bring everything together. Choose a distinct font, colour(s), voice and tone, story, graphics, and thematic elements. By doing so, you’ll be sure you’re creating a memorable experience for your attendees.

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

10. Confirm Speakers & Special Guests

Industry leaders, subject matter experts, or local influencers are all examples of great speakers or special guests to have at your event. The right speaker can make all the difference in increasing registrations and turnout!


If you’re planning to include notable speakers and special guests, here are our tips for finding the right people and inviting them. 


  1. Use social media. Use your Linkedin network to find potential speakers or guests that have interests or expertise that aligns with your organization. You can also browse hashtags related to your organization’s mission to find people who would be a great fit. 
  2. Browse professional speaker websites. Sites like the National Speakers Association and SpeakHub are great resources to tap into to find a great speaker. The directory is organized by topic and also lists a track record of their previous events. 
  3. Reach out to your existing network. Ask people within your organization—or your board!—for recommendations. See if they can peruse their social media networks too, then cross-compare lists for potential contacts. 
  4. Reach out to your local Chamber of Commerce. If you are a chamber of commerce, refer to the tip above. However, if your organization is not, a chamber of commerce can be a great resource for finding like-minded businesses who may have had success with a speaker at a past event. Ask them for recommendations. 
  5. Ask your members. Events are great ways to expand your membership base, so who better to ask about what would resonate best with your attendees than your members? Reach out and ask them for suggestions of who they'd like to see at their event. A member survey is a great way to do this. 
  6. Review post-event survey results. The event survey questions you asked in the past are chock full of useful information. Review survey results and use that information to find a speaker that your attendees will be interested in.
  7. Review events you’ve attended in the past. Remember a great speaker from a past gala you were at? Reach out to them and see if they’d be interested in making your event special. 
  8. Check industry publications. Whether in print or online, look for notable people who have written about topics of interest to your organization and could be part of your event. Depending on who they are, they may be speakers or be great special guests at your event.

11. Identify and Establish Partnerships & Sponsors

Partnership and sponsors can help defray your costs and increase potential participation. 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: 

  • Seek 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. 

  • Partner with community organizations who can 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

 

12. Create a Promotional Plan

Even with the most amazing speaker or entertainment line-up, you need a promotional plan to get people in the door.

Make sure you have the three major functions of event promotion covered:

Some components you might want to include in your promotional plan include: 

    • Marketing: Consider this the analytical side of your promotional plan. The marketing of your event should be driven by key objectives and KPIs to mark success. Anything within your marketing should be informed by the needs and pains of your attendees as well as the objective or goal of your event. This can include the creation of a marketing landing page, social media campaigns, or email drip campaigns. 

    • Advertising: You want to make sure the right people know about your event. Whether it be through event listing websites, social media, around your community, via partnerships, or in print, use information about your audience to figure out what channels to focus on to advertise your event. Then, distribute and disseminate information to get people excited for and interested in attending the day-of.

    • Media Relations and Publicity: News stations, radio, and print media are all excellent ways to garner interest in your event. Reach out to media outlets and pitch an idea for a compelling story, such as a feature on a notable speaker or on your event’s cause.

Some components you might want to include in your promotional plan include: 

  • Web page announcement 

  • Social media 

  • Email blasts 

  • Printed materials

  • Press and media connections 

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.

   

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

 

 

   

13. Determine Day-Of Processes

Okay. You’re ready to go!

Or…almost. The last thing you need to put together is a full-day agenda for your event. This agenda should walk through the whole day from setup to cleanup. Include every detail, no matter how small, and you’ll 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 who needs to do what—and when—can also ensure that there’s clear accountability leading up to the event. 

Things to Keep in Mind on the Day Of Your Event

In the days leading up to a successful big day, you’ll need to check off some crucial last-minute items.

Here’s a list of what to prepare 48 hours in advance:

  • Reach out to attendees with a reminder email

  • Contact your media attendees

  • Check the setup of your venue and do a walkthrough

  • Set up a room or space that will act as your command centre

  • Check the weather forecast and prepare accordingly

  • Touch base with your team to make sure everyone is on the same page

  • Check in with vendors and deliveries

  • Confirm speakers and special guests

  • Double check your event checklist 

  • Charge and check all technological equipment

  • Prepare a kit of day-of supplies (extra pens, highlighters, paper, USB drives, chargers, extension cords, etc).

  • Prepare an emergency event collateral kit that has PR documents, itineraries, etc

  • Pack an extra outfit (in case something happens to the one you’re wearing)

  • Set aside time to centre yourself and relax

That last point is key. You’ve done all the hard work to create a robust event plan, so the last part is to rest and remember that you’re prepared and ready for what comes next!

Bonus: Post-Event Review

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 WildApricot’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 the 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.

With the right software, your event planning can be streamlined to make the most of your resources. Reduce your time spent on administrative tasks with Wild Apricot with features like membership renewal, waitlists, discounts, early bird registration, email automation, QR codes, and more.

Interested in taking advantage of what Wild Apricot has to offer? Access your 30-day free trial here.


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Comments

  • Jumoke:
    This information is so much appreciated
  • Julie:
    I greatly appreciate this valuable information. I'm new to events planning and have been stressed out thinking about how to go about. This has been very helpful. Thank you.
  • Tatiana Morand

    Tatiana Morand:
    Thanks Julie! I'm so glad we could help. Best of luck with your event!
  • Dennis Boadi Antwi:
    Great knowledge. Thanks so much.
  • Aurora:
    Great info, thank you for your help!
  • Cheyenne:
    This is so helpful to me. I'm planning my first ever event and now I have so much confidence to do so.

    Thank you!
  • Tatiana Morand

    Tatiana Morand:
    We're so happy we could help, Cheyenne! Best of luck with your event.

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