If you're here, you probably have an idea of what type of event you want to execute. You’re either down to the final few options and you need to know a few more details to make the final plan, or you’re ready to start putting the pieces together!
The best way to deal with an extensive laundry list of tasks – and not a ton of time to do those tasks – is to have a plan of attack. And if things get a little too overwhelming, don't be scared to lean on event planning software to automate how you get everything done!
But wait! Where exactly DO you start? With everything to do from the venue to entertainment, food to promoting your event, and all the timelines in-between, how do you know where to start?
What is event planning?
Event planning is a process that includes researching, planning, and executing an event. It can involve identifying the main goals, venue, caterers, budget, decor, marketing, and more.
Composer, conductor, and author Leonard Bernstein summed up the event planning and marketing process with this quote: “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”
It’s a feeling we are all too familiar with: “I don’t have enough time!”
And, if you have planned any event, you know it’s something you can relate to. (If this is your first event, don’t be scared – I promise everything on your to-do list will pay off in the end!)
Think back to your LEGO building days. (There’s no shame if it was yesterday!) The shape you make for your base determines the entire configuration of your creation. Consider these basics before committing to an event. Then, you’ll ensure you understand what is involved in each type of event – before you make a commitment you can’t break.
How to identify your event needs
There are many reasons you may choose to participate in event planning. Remember, while events are often fun or educational, they still have to be worth something. You can put endless hours of work into creating an amazing event, but if it doesn’t positively benefit your company, why are you doing it?
In the words of the famous business speaker and author Zig Ziglar:
“I don’t care how much power, brilliance, or energy you have; if you don’t harness it and focus it on a specific target and hold it there, you’re never going to accomplish as much as your ability warrants.”
So let’s talk about how to focus and harness the power and brilliance of your event.
My very favorite marketing mantra I learned from Bob Miller, who was the General Manager of Marketing for Toyota: “What you can measure, you can manage.”
Look at the potential benefits of event marketing. Which ones apply to your event? Then think about what you can tangibly measure after the event and which of those items relate to the benefits, or results, you want to achieve. Those items you can measure are known as marketing metrics.
Whenever possible, include goals that your metrics can measure.
Brand awareness is one of the hardest marketing elements to measure. Think about it. How do you know who knows about your brand? And even if someone recognizes your brand, will they remember you?
Thankfully, the rise of technology has helped. While you can’t see people’s thoughts, you can at least measure where your brand name is getting out there.
Some elements you can look at include media coverage (learn how to write a press release for more on that) and social media statistics. That could include mentions of your company and the event on any platform, as well as interaction with your posts about the event. How many people liked it? Were you retweeted? How many times was your event hashtag used, and how often were those posts liked?
Social media marketing doesn't come easily, especially at smaller events, but it is something you can measure!
B2C companies that take advantage of sponsorships and expos may have the opportunity to make sales on the spot. Some B2B companies are also able to do this. It often depends on the cost of the item. Products with a lower price tag are easier to buy on the spot, especially as events often sell items at a discount or with free bonus items.
At a trade show or expo, you might have a specific revenue goal you want your event to achieve. You have paid to be there – make sure you’re getting more money in than you are putting out!
Perhaps customers are interested but unlikely to buy your product then and there. This is when leads come into play for B2B companies.
Not everyone you meet at an event is a potential customer. An attendee could come up to your booth, find out what you do, and then find out whether or not your product is a viable solution for their brand. If it is, they are a lead. You can get their details and begin the sales process.
If you are a B2C company, you may not necessarily consider everyone to be a “lead.” You could simply be adding contacts to your email marketing tool list. This is another thing you can quantify.
Meetings can be booked by sales and customer success for both prospects and customers. This provides the opportunity to upsell or renew. Even if renewals don’t happen on the spot, events can be the only time when your customers meet with your company representative in person. That’s something worth noting!
What is the capacity of your venue? How full do you want it to be? If it’s an event you’ve sold out before, do you want to do so again? Keep in mind how many people need to attend your event for it to feel “full” – your event should be the place to be!
Your budget can be related to attendance. While it’s not the reason you do event marketing, it is an important goal. If you charge for tickets, breaking even is probably one of your main execution goals. (You could even make a profit!) If you want to keep doing events, staying within budget is key!
If your event itself isn’t bringing revenue, you still need to stay within budget. Events can get expensive quickly!
Vendors and budgeting
It doesn’t take long for costs to add up. (Especially if you want to add a “wow” factor and make your event memorable!)
This can often cause the most headaches when it comes to event planning. Managers are never thrilled when you spend more than they planned! It’s a challenge event marketers are familiar with.
A big part of budgeting relates to the vendors you hire. These are the businesses that will supply their products and services for your business. Aside from two of the largest costs (catering and vendors), there are plenty of other potential supplies you may need.
Here is a list of the products and services you may need to consider for your budget:
- Caterers: attendees aren’t happy when they’re hungry.
- Photographer: to showcase your event across internal and external communications post-event and use when promoting your event the following year.
- Videographer: needed if you want to share speaker sessions or event highlights on YouTube, your own website, or other video platforms. Sadly, your camera phone won’t do in this situation!
- Printer: this can be necessary for any number of things, including the program, seating charts, or a menu.
- Event management company: while they aren’t required to run an event, if you have a small team and a big event, they can be a necessity. If you work with an event management company, remember that regular communication is not optional, and this process also takes time.
- Venue: the place your event is held! This is a big one, which I’ll discuss more in the next section.
- Additional event staff: people you hire to help you execute the event on the day.
Venue and catering are often tied together. The venue will charge for the use of its space and may require you to purchase its food and beverage packages. When planning conferences, I’ve spent hours creating spreadsheets that compare costs per person. I would look at three numbers for each venue on our shortlist:
- The minimum food cost per person
- The maximum food cost – what I’d ideally love to supply each guest
- An average of the above two
After doing those calculations, we then added each of those price points to the flat cost of the venue rental and looked at the other factors affecting the final event venue decision.
This is when marketers put those math skills to use!
If you don’t have much of a budget, partners, and sponsors can help cover those costs. For example, you could have a customer with an auditorium space. The customer might let you use its space in exchange for sponsor privileges at the event.
Tips for finding event vendors
If you haven’t planned an event before and need to source suppliers, there are a few resources you can use:
- Check reviews of local suppliers. You do not want to sign a contract only to find the person won’t deliver on the day you need them. I never sign a contract without doing my research first.
- Talk to your network. If you ask around among coworkers or friends, you might be able to get a great recommendation. You could even pose the question on one of your social media accounts and ask for suggestions. There are also event planning groups on LinkedIn and Facebook where you will find experienced event professionals ready and willing to help each other.
- Ask the event space for recommendations. Your venue is familiar with event vendors coming into its space. Its team probably has experience with those who do good work. Plus, if the supplier has been to your event space before, it will make your event execution easier. Your audio-visual (A/V) supplier shouldn’t get lost if they’ve been there before!
- Research events you’ve attended. If you’ve attended events yourself and there was a supplier you loved, you can ask who they worked with. As long as it’s not your competition (you’re not super likely to attend their events anyway!), people are often happy to share recommendations.
The more events you do, the more suppliers you will get to know. Some you may need to change, and others will become your regular!
Event planning logistics
You can’t have an event without a time and place. It’s pretty much what makes it an event. Determining the day, time, and venue can be like putting puzzle pieces together.
Your speakers are another element of the puzzle. You might have your event date and venue locked in first and then source speakers later. Alternatively, you could have a specific speaker who wants to speak with your company. Then, not only do you need to find a date within their busy schedule, but you also need a venue available on that day too!
Date and time
When looking at dates, it makes sense to be aware of any holidays or other events which may keep people from attending. In addition, check for other events also focused on your target market. For example, if your target market is full of marketers, ensure there isn’t a national marketing conference on the same weekend!
If you have some flexibility for your date, talk to venues and ask for what they have within a certain time frame. Who knows, you may be able to negotiate a cheaper rate during a slow period.
Once you have a few places in mind, walk through the spaces and meet with the staff members who will manage your event.
The venue availability will also be affected by the agenda. Items to consider include:
- How much time do you need for registration?
- How long do you want your entire event to run?
- If it is for an entire day, how many sessions will you have, and how many breaks between sessions?
- How long do you want to give each speaker to present?
- When and how much time will you give attendees to network, mingle with sponsors, and enjoy catering?
Think about how long you want to give attendees for each of these items. This will help determine how long you need to rent your venue space.
While catering isn’t the reason people come to your event, it makes a big difference in the event's success. Do you know the word “hangry”? I love that word because it’s so true. Hungry people are not happy people!
You need to make sure your guests are full for both their sake and your own. Studies have shown that focus levels go down when people are hungry. This means guests can’t get the full value of your event if they are too hungry to take it all in!
Plus, when people are hungry, their outlook on a situation is negatively affected. It’s no secret; you’ve felt it yourself! And with all of the time and money you put into your event, it’s worth investing in a little food. By doing so, you make the experience a positive one. That means people will want to come to your next event too!
People often expect food during breaks at a full-day event. Regardless of how often you give food, I cannot stress the need for tea and coffee enough! Conferences are busy.
Life is busy – people are tired!
I have been to events where I don’t have time to get a cup of tea before the first session. I’ve come out at the first break, ready for my caffeine hit, only to find the catering tables empty. It’s my biggest pet peeve. Tea and coffee are not a major cost, and being tired is just like being hungry – people are not happy when they need caffeine!
As a rule of thumb, you should have food whenever there is alcohol. That is being a responsible host. You don’t want to put your guests in a situation where they drink on an empty stomach.
Thankfully, if you are sponsoring an event, catering is usually something you can take off of your list! If you are hosting a larger event for the community, such as a festival, you might want to bring in vendors such as food trucks. Then attendees cover their own costs, paying for the food they want and nothing else.
Finding event speakers
If the whole purpose of your event is for attendees to learn from a speaker, your speaker better be a good one!
Regardless of if you are paying your speaker or they are doing it for free, you want all of your speakers to:
- Have both credibility and authority. The person knows what they’re talking about, no question about it.
- Offer a certain level of charisma. You don’t want guests dozing off like it’s your 10th-grade history class!
- Focus content on attendees – not themselves. Your speaker is there to give your guests value, not a sales pitch. Their goal must be to provide valuable content for your guests.
Credibility and authority
The authority of your speaker has a direct impact on attendance. Getting an exclusive inspirational speaker will make more people want to attend. No matter what, you need to ask yourself: “Why should people listen to this person? What makes their unique point of view valuable?”
Perhaps it is a high-level title. Maybe they have results of a successful campaign they can share. The individual could have spoken at other events. Someone may have won an award or founded a company.
Whatever it is, you want something in the speaker bio that piques the interest of your target market and makes them think, “I want to hear what this person has to say!”
Your speaker’s authority doesn’t come from their title alone. What makes the person credible to speak on your specific topic? It probably goes without saying, but if I’m a marketer, I don’t want to listen to a session about statistics from a microbiologist.
Is your speaker engaging? Do people want to listen to them? It is a great sign if people are smiling and laughing during the presentation!
People often attend events to get motivated and excited about their work. A speaker who is truly inspirational will make that happen, and charisma is part of what inspires us.
One of my favorite charismatic speakers is John Kearon, Founder and CEO of System1 Group PLC (formerly Brainjuicer). I heard him speak at the Global Marketer Conference hosted by The World Federation of Advertisers. John could see guests were getting a bit fidgety (there’s only so long you want to sit in a chair). So how did he overcome it? By getting attendees to do the wave, of course! This woke people up as they moved their bodies and shared a laugh at a bunch of marketers doing the wave in a hotel conference room.
That last one can be a little tricky. Sometimes a person is an authority on the subject because it’s what their business does. Speakers will naturally discuss their own company – which is often the source of the stories for their presentation.
Talk to the speaker about the presentation content beforehand. Make the topic and purpose crystal clear. You might be able to find a YouTube video of them speaking at another event. If so, you can gauge their intentions – and how many times they mention their own product!
The party's just begun
From the venue to the budget, you’ve now considered the primary points which will affect your event execution. You’ve built the base of your LEGO creation, and you're ready to get the ball rolling on the event of your dreams.
Wondering how you can spread the word about your perfectly planned event? Dive into the world of event marketing to learn more.
This article was originally published in 2018. It has been updated with new information.