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How to Plan an Event: 10 Step Event Planning Guide

Whether organizing a small meeting or orchestrating a large conference, event planning is a huge task! Every event, no matter how simple or complex, requires detailed planning and organization. From establishing an accurate budget to promoting your event, there are a number of components you should start to consider early on to make the process as stress-free as possible.

While no two events are the same, and every event has varying goals, budgets, and audiences; there are several steps you can take to jump-start the planning process, keep on track, and maximize your event’s success.

Want some more support? We’ve also put together an easy-to-use checklist that provides a framework while planning your next event. See the full checklist.

1. Define goals and objectives


Before jumping right into the logistics like venue or speakers, you should spend time identifying the purpose and reason for planning this event. You should answer this question:

What the ultimate goal for this event? 

This is the why that spurred you to plan an event in the first place. Are you looking to:

Drive new sales? Support a product launch? Increase brand awareness? Or maybe, you have a combination of multiple goals? Determine what you are looking to accomplish and how this event will help you do that. 

Next, what are the objectives?

In planning any event, you should identify a set of objectives that will support your ultimate goal. Here are a few examples of event objectives:

  • Increase registration 10% from the last event
  • Increase revenue by 25% from the last event
  • Receive 100 preorders for upcoming product
  • Increase social media mentions/follows/reposts during the event

With your goals and objectives in place, you can create a preliminary scope of the event. Your scope should offer key details and point to how you will achieve your outlined goals. While not set in stone, you should lay out preliminary event details including: 

  • Dates. Your time frame for the event, i.e. in 9 months.
  • Attendees. Will this be a 100 person event, a 1,000 person, or 10,000 person event? You should begin to think about size. Are your attendees coming from around the country or is this a local event? You’ll also want to keep your attendees’ demographics in mind as you plan. 
  • Location. Is your event local? Or, will it be hosted in a destination? Start to create a shortlist of cities and venues that make sense for your event.
  • Type of event. Are you driving awareness of a new product? A one-day event with keynote may make sense. Bringing together thousands of customers? A two-day user conference may be right for you. Hosting an internal or association meeting? A day of small sessions could be a fit. 

Building out your goals and preliminary project scope enables you to frame your event and get buy-in from leadership. If your organization is already on board with the event, your goals and scope help move you along into the next stages of planning. 

2. Establish an event budget 


Creating a budget is an essential early step in event planning that helps to clarify other aspects of your plan. Additionally, establishing a budget helps to avoid unwanted surprises (like running out of money for decor, etc.). You will be more successful if you map out your entire budget in advance, continue to update as you finalize variables, and stay very close to the process.

Based on your high-level budget and initial scope of needs. You should begin to map out your line item costs to gain an understanding of how your budget will be dispersed across your needs.

According to Eventbrite, “Budget is broken down by marketing and promotion (43%), speakers and talent (32%), printed materials (29%), venues (18%).”

As your plan solidifies, you’ll have to revisit the budget. Line items will undoubtedly change, just remember to keep an accurate budget that reflects any changes or updates you make, too. And because you never want to exceed your budget, it’s common for planners to make adjustments to ensure you are maintaining your budget. 

3. Build your events team


For small events, you may personally be handling many or all of the tasks discussed in this section. However, for large events, it takes an organized team to execute the production.

If you are building a team from the ground up, it’s important to designate roles early on to ensure accountability. All members of the team should report into a project manager who has visibility across all of the moving pieces.

Building the ultimate event team

According to Eventbrite, only 12% of events have teams of ten or more people and the most common number is 2 to 5 employees (45% of events), so often individuals wear multiple hats. If you’re among the few that have 5+ team members, here’s a look at how roles are typically distributed:

Project Manager

Oversees all of the moving pieces described below, this person is ultimately responsible for the execution of the event. Manages the budget. Drives strategy. Makes top-level purchasing decisions.

Venue/show floor

This person is the main contact for the venue, the vendors, the sponsors while on-site, and the onsite volunteers and staff: security, photography and food/beverage. They remember everyone’s name, and they know where all the outlets are.

Scheduling

This person leads agenda development, work with speakers, and makes sure the schedule is up-to-date and communicated to the right parties. Your scheduling guy coordinates meetings at the event, and he lives to make attendees into successful networkers.

Creative design

Creative designers put together all visual design for printed and web materials like schedules, collateral, registration and signage, and anything needed for the mobile event app. To break it down: they make you look good. You may want to work with an event design agency. 

Marketing and Communications

This person or team makes the right people aware of the event, create offers and timing strategy to boost registration, oversee branding, communicate with registrants, coordinate social media amplification and media relations, and send and measure follow-up materials. Oh, and they’re just nuts for measurable performance.

This team makes sure a guest has everything he needs to get the most out of the event, from maps, schedules, speaker info, and how to network. They build out and update the mobile event app.

Registration and Check-In

These folks own registration setup, work with a software provider, produce and manage badges, generate reports, and make sure the registration process (pre-event and during the event) is running smoothly.

Sponsorships

This team member works to map out booth spaces, sell sponsorship opportunities, maintain relationships with sponsors, and explore community organization relationships. They have killer timing and great people skills. 

Keeping your team organized

With a team in place, you’re ready to create an event project plan. A project plan is more than just a to-do list. It’s a detailed breakdown of every single action item that identifies owners, dependencies, due dates, and completion status. You should be able to justify every action item by mapping it to your top-level event goals. 

Event management tools 

Project management tools streamline event management and organization. Utilize these tools to keep all of the moving pieces accounted for. With the ability to assign and monitor projects, a project manager can maintain an accurate view of progress and timelines with these tools:

  • Asana
  • Trello
  • Smartsheet

4. Pick your venue and date 


Choosing your venue and date for your event are two major considerations that will shape the rest of your project plan. Start researching venues as early as possible. The event marketplace is crowded, so finding a time when there will be venue availability is important. When deciding on a venue, you’ll also have to consider dates for your location based on seasonal factors like travel and costs. 

“In January it’s very challenging to find large spaces,” says Romy and events industry veteran at PRIME, a full-service events agency in Vancouver. “January and February are heavy on sales conferences, and it happens again in September and October.” She says that during these times it’s tricky to find traditional locations with show floor space.

As you research and begin talking to the representatives of various venues, ask as many questions as possible to ensure it’s a good fit. Look for budget, thematic fit, location (is it central, easy for transportation?), facilities, on-site staff. Are there restrooms conveniently located throughout the venue? What’s the situation with fire control and emergency response? 

Tip: Once you find the perfect venue, don’t be afraid to negotiate your rates. Half of event planners negotiate a discount off of published rates, and of those who do, organizers most commonly negotiate free WiFi, AV, or parking, according to EventManager. 

5. Develop event branding


From the event name and theme to the event website design and on-site look and feel – your event’s branding sets the tone for your event. When people think of your event, you want a strong personality to shine. Additionally, a strong event brand provides a vision and helps to steer the direction of your event.

60% of US millennials expect consistent experiences when dealing with brands online, in person, or by phone. (*)

When choosing your event branding, consider that an event brand should reflect your organizations brand but it should have a brand of its own. Additionally, think about how your brand will come across online and in real life. Lastly, consider how you will weave your event brand into the individual elements of your event. 

When thinking of event branding, it typically includes:

  • Event name. The first crucial step, your event’s name is the first thing attendees will see, so you want it to reflect your vision for the event.
  • Theme. A name alone can’t tell the whole story. Often events will create a theme to tie the event together. 
  • Logo, colors, typography. There should be consistency across all marketing touchpoints.
  • On-site decor, email, signage, and more. While every touchpoint doesn’t need to be hyper-branded. Individual elements should come together to support the story you are telling. 

With these branding elements solidified, you should use them across all platforms including, your event website, social media, emails, tickets and registration, and your event app. 

Tip: Want a little more on branding? Take note from Salesforce! The CRM giant hosts Dreamforce, it’s annual user conference year, putting on a branding lesson as well. The entire event journey – from promotion to onsite decor contributes to building a strong brand around the event. 

6. Plan your program


Set your agenda as early as possible! Is there a keynote speaker? Will there be an extra day or evening planned just for your sponsors? Will there be a single “track” of workshops and talks, or will attendees have the choice to choose between multiple sessions at a given time? As you answer these preliminary questions, you can begin to build a high-level view of your event program.

Don’t fret: it’s not crucial to have the schedule finalized before you start promoting the event. You can make changes to the schedule after you have begun to market your event and registration begins to grow. Technology makes this easy to quickly make updates to the schedule on your website and mobile app. 

Your attendees will want to know what to expect, so it is best if you have the basic framework confirmed as early as possible. Additionally, the schedule is an important selling point for sponsors as well!

Other Considerations

In addition to the core event program, there are a number of other program aspects to think about. If your event is a full day or multiple day event, you should also think about planning:

  • Food and Beverage. Will you be providing lunch or snacks? 
  • Ancillary events like happy hours, networking opportunities, or wellness activities?
  • Entertainment. Will the event conclude in a celebration or party?

7. Confirm sponsors, exhibitors, and speakers


If you’re hosting a large scale event, you’ll most likely want to get others involved to offset costs and showcase multiple voices from the industry. Speakers, sponsors, and exhibitors are common ways to add value for your attendees and can offset costs. 

Speakers

If your event is session-based, you’ll need to identify speakers for each session. Here are two ways to add speakers:

Call for session submissions

If you have an engaged community, hosting an open call for session submissions is a great way to utilize your partners and customers as speakers. Typically an open call will require individuals to submit a session abstract that outlines the session topic and value proposition. With this, your team will review submitted abstracts, select speakers, and communicate with those who have been selected and those who were not.

Personally invite speakers

Reversely, if you have individuals in mind, you can invite them to speak at your event. In reaching out to a prospective speaker, provide a compelling snapshot of the event and audience, and also convey your enthusiasm for them participating in the event. Keep in mind, invited speakers often expect compensation as well as travel and lodging provided.

Managing speakers

Once your speakers are identified, don’t forget to maintain an open line of communication. Create a speaker agreement that includes necessary information like presentation expectations, content deadlines, available technology onsite, and compensation. Be clear about your expectations upfront, so there are no surprises the day before the event!

Continue communicating beyond sending initial confirmation communication and speaker agreement. Want your speakers’ presentations to align with the event theme? Make sure to provide materials as you develop them. Requiring speakers to submit their final presentations, send a reminder to ensure each speaker gets it to you on time. 

Sponsors

74% of event attendees say that they have a more positive opinion about the company, brand, product or service being promoted after an event.

EMI & Mosaic

Build a list of sponsors you want to participate in your event. Before reaching out to them, conduct research to understand how they would benefit from participating in your event. Do they have mutual customers? Complimentary services? You should also ensure every potential sponsor brings value to your attendees. Take the time to create tailored proposals that highlight those unique benefits and be sure to emphasize them when reaching out.

Additionally, before reaching out to potential sponsors, take the time to create sponsorship packages. Your packages should offer varying levels of cost and benefit. In addition to standard sponsor packages, don’t be afraid to get creative and offer unique sponsorships like:

  • A sponsored lounge
  • A wifi and phone charging station
  • Event App sponsorship
  • Or wellness activity sponsorship

Think about the activities and tools your attendees are eager for and bring value to the event.

Exhibitors

Another common way to bring in sponsors is with an exhibitor package. With this, you’ll typically have space at your event dedicated to your exhibitors. Each exhibitor sponsorship agreement comes with a specific amount of allotted space for your exhibitors to occupy, brand, and engage with your attendees.

Tip: If you’re working with exhibitors, you want to be sure to drive attendees to your exhibitors. Schedule dedicated exhibitor time blocks to encourage attendees to walk around and engage your exhibitors. 

8. Identify and select tech tools


Technology is improving the event space for both organizers and event-goers. When mapping out your next event, you’ll want to identify your technology needs and implementation timelines. Certain technologies will need to be implemented far before the event, while others can hold off until closer to the big day(s).

Registration and Ticketing

Managing attendee registration is more seamless than ever! Eventbrite and other online platforms make it possible to start selling tickets in minutes. You’ll want to select your platform early so you can promote registration and send your audience to the registration website.

Productivity Technology 

We covered this above, but we’re going to say it again to hammer in on how critical it is for event organizers to utilize project management tools. Events are complex, but project management software helps to alleviate some of the stress. Trello can get you started on the right foot with a number of event planning templates. 

Mobile App 

83% of event organizers use an event app.

Eventbrite, 2019.

Streamline your communications and create a single information hub. A mobile app, like Guidebook, enables attendees to access schedules, build a custom agenda, interact with other attendees, and more. You’ll want to get your app ready ahead of your event so you can promote it and encourage adoption, so that once onsite your attendees will have everything they need in their pocket.

Did you know you can create a custom app with Guidebook? Get started on Builder today to see how easy it is! Start building.

Live Streaming or Recording

Have a large community spread out across regions or countries? Live streaming sessions is a great way to connect and extend the reach of your event. Recording sessions is another way to extend your event’s reach and encourage the conversation to continue far beyond the physical event. 

Engagement Tools 

Technology is changing the way audiences expect to be engaged and events are always evolving to meet those expectations. If you’re looking to take your engagement a step further, think about incorporating onsite technologies like a social media wall or digital swag bags, and event gamification tools which encourage attendees to get involved in the event. 

9. Create a marketing and promotional plan 


How are you going to attract audiences to attend your well-planned event? 

Every successful event has a marketing and promotion plan to spread the word and drum up excitement. But where do you start? There are many different ways to go about marketing your event – social media and blogging to online advertising and even billboards – but whatever you do choose, each tactic should a strategic element of your marketing plan. 

Components of an event marketing plan:

Goals and Objectives

When creating a marketing plan, it is a must to set out marketing-specific goals and objectives. Similar to your event’s overarching goals, setting specific marketing goals is a way to ensure every effort is working towards measurable results.

Common marketing goals include:

  • Increase online registration 15% over last year
  • Drive x amount of traffic to event website
  • Drive x amount of event app downloads
  • Increase social media engagement 20% over last year

Tactics

Your tactics are what you will use to achieve your goals. This includes everything that you will be using for your marketing efforts such as online advertisements, video marketing, social media, email marketing, public relations, etc.

In deciding which tactics to use, you need to have an understanding of your target audience. Is your event geared toward young professionals? Instagram ads may be a tactic you choose. Are you gearing your event exclusively towards a local audience, geo-targeted ads are something to think about. 

Timeline and Cadence

As you identify tactics, you should start building out a marketing timeline that provides a view of your marketing activities.

For example, if you decide to use email marketing, you should plot out each email you plan to send:

Email Marketing Timeline

Date Email topic
4.13Save the date
5.27Early bird pricing open
6.15Keynote speaker announcement
6.26Exciting session topic announcement 
7.1Last chance for early bird pricing
8.1Registration closing

For an in-depth look at creating a strong marketing plan for your next event, check out our Guide to Event Marketing

10. Determine your measurement 


How will you measure the success of your event? You should begin to think of the ways you’ll evaluate your event far before it takes place. A good place to start is with the goals and objectives you identified in step one.

Data and analytics 

How many tickets did you sell, and through what sources? What was the cost per attendee? And how many qualified leads did you gain? How many pre-orders did you sell? Once the event is over, these are a few of the metrics you may measure.

In addition to quantifying the success of your event, you should also take a qualitative look at the event. To understand the sentiment and attendee satisfaction, you can look at:

Event surveys

In addition to the numbers, another way to measure success in feedback from your attendees. With surveys, you can gain an understanding of attendees’ perception of the event, which can help you identify strong and weak points from the event. Because let’s face it, even if the event was sold out, can you really call it a success if attendees did not find it valuable?

Social and online buzz  

Are your followers more active than usual on your company channel? Are registrants posting about the event to their channels? Also, read the posts to know what attendees are actually saying. Are the posts full of praise? Were there more than a few common complaints? You should monitor before, during, and after your event to pick up trends and insights.

A comprehensive plan 


Together, each of these elements comes together for your masterplan. Work through each of these to create a strong, actionable plan for your event. When planning an event, you should begin your planning as early as possible. With many moving pieces, getting a head start means a smooth finish. 

With a strong plan in place and the wheels in motion – the next step is to flush out your marketing plan and put it into action. Continue on to the next guide, Guide to Planning an Event: Marketing and Promotion, to pick up practical tips on creating a 360 event marketing plan that increases registration and engagement.