When it comes to planning an event for your company, whether it’s a local 2-hour popup or a full-blown conference across the country, there are ways to stay on top of all the moving parts. You’ll want to make sure you are planning as far in advance as possible, keeping current status reports and to-do items organized, staying within budget and working with vendors you can trust.
Even with the best organization and planning, there is always the chance that something may go wrong that is completely out of your control(#BombCyclone, anyone?). To minimize disasters, it helps to have a few backup plans and contingencies for any number of possible scenarios — from electrical outages to catering no-shows to weather emergencies. To maintain sanity, remember to remain flexible throughout the process.
Finally, before you go diving into details, make sure to get the bigger picture. Set aside time before planning starts to decide as a company the purpose behind your event, so you can make decisions that will help you achieve your company’s goals. Agree on an audience, theme and messaging, too.
To help set you up for success, I’ve compiled my best tips and tools for event planning:
Know Your Timelines
The larger and more complex the event, the longer you will need to plan. Give yourself more time than you think you’ll need to arrange everything, while making a note of items that require external input and will take longer to finalize, such as coordinating staff and volunteers. Set internal deadlines for yourself a few weeks before your drop-dead deadlines. If you start missing your early internal deadlines, it can lead to a very stressful and heavy load right before the event when your time is at its most limited.
It’s essential that you know the status of each moving part, who is responsible for it and what is left to do at any given time. There are many types of software for this (I’m a huge sucker for anything with Gantt charts), but if you’re in a pinch, you can even manage through Excel or Google Sheets. Whatever you end up using, you’ll want to be in that file every day, keeping it up-to-date and adding necessary notes. Checking off things as they’re completed is also a great way to keep yourself from getting overwhelmed.
Keep all your vendor contracts, receipts of payment and important files in properly named folders (Team Alice uses Dropbox for easy access), so that you can easily reference them when needed. As you get closer to the event, take the time to draft a detailed run-of-show (a minute by minute chart of who needs to be where doing what at any given time), and then share it with your vendors and key players. Pro tip: stick to the run-of-show.
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Budget with a Cushion
When you are creating your event budget, make categories for the items you expect to spend money on, such as venue, catering, production, décor, activations, speaker fees, photographers, swag, printing, travel and shipping.
Know that you’ll likely forget something until it pops up in a stress dream, so plan a little extra cushion into your budget and always operate as if it is about 10% lower than it actually is. This will come in handy for last minute needs, like accommodating guests with special needs, re-purchasing something that got lost in the mail or correcting estimated to real budget line items.
Find Amazing Vendors
When it comes to finding vendors, word-of-mouth recommendations, Google and Yelp are your friends! If you can,start by asking your venue if they have recommended vendors or any limitations — sometimes you may have to use in-house catering or pre-screened production companies that the venue trusts, for example.
As you start to secure more vendors, ask them if they have recommendations. They’ve often worked with many other vendors in the area and know which are the best. Yelp is also a fantastic tool to use for narrowing down certain vendors, and if you have some time to sift through reviews and compare averages, you might find a hidden gem that becomes your absolute favorite (I’m looking at you, Copy General in D.C.)!
Trust Your Team
Big events can’t come together without help, and this is where having an awesome and supportive team is important. Assign tasks to match your team’s skillsets, make sure to give them all the necessary information they need to succeed and check in on how they’re doing from time to time to keep things running smoothly.
If you’re planning an event that requires more help, organizing a team of volunteers goes the same way. As much as you can, try to get to know a select few ahead of time who will be your go-to leaders and pinch hitters. Knowing that your team and volunteers have what it takes to follow through will make your job much easier.
Expect the Unexpected
Speakers will cancel, last minute ticket requests will come in and even the weather might have it out for you. Keep backup plans in mind for your programming, and try to leave some wiggle room so that you can shift things around, if needed.
If you air on the side of perfectionism, know that you will have to let some things go, and that everything will be OK. A flexible attitude will keep you present and available throughout the event. A melt-down from putting too much stress on yourself will help no one. At the end of the day, guests won’t notice the things that are a little different than intended; they’ll be too busy having a blast!
Keeping these tips in mind and letting the larger goals and purpose of your event guide your decision-making will set you up for success. After your event is over, follow up with your guests, key players and team to see what worked and what didn’t. But make sure you also take time to relax, reflect and learn, so that you’ll be geared up and ready for an even more amazing event next time!