[The Ultimate Guide – 2nd Edition – 2016 Updated]
Looking to learn how to plan an event? You’ve come to the right place.
You’ve found the Ultimate Guide for How to Plan Events, updated in 2016.
Note: If you want to learn specifically how to become an event planner, then don’t miss reading about how you can become an event planner.
There are lots of things to consider as you get ready to plan any type of event. It takes a lot of pre-planning to make sure everything is well-organized in order to create a successful outcome.
If you are the only person responsible for an entire event, it can be a little overwhelming if this is your first time. However, there are particular guidelines to follow to make things easier and eliminate stress. Whether you are planning a small gathering or a large corporate event, many concepts are still the same and similar factors need be taken into account.
Although some events may require a lot of forward planning and require hosting several meetings, others do not. If you are running a large-scale event, you should create detailed record-keeping of each meeting. Remember that written communication is just as essential as verbal communication. Staying organized will be a major key to planning a successful event.
So, where to start?
When the idea to create an event is brought forward there is always a goal.
It may be a celebration like a birthday, anniversary, graduation or engagement party. Then the focus will be to add personal touches to make the person or people feel special.
Or perhaps you have an idea for a charity and wish to plan a fundraiser? In this case, you need to have a fund raising target and means to meet your goal through donations, an auction or sales.
Whatever the event, each requires a lot of hard work, creativity, and organization– all events need to have careful thought, attention to detail and skilled management to achieve success.
Gather yourself or your team and sit down for your initial meeting. Here, you are to start from scratch by collectively brainstorming thoughts and ideas. Pen and paper ready, because mapping out ideas is crucial!
NOTE: Always be sure to make copies of what you have at the end of each meeting to keep everyone and everything coordinated and up-to-date with the information to make it easier when revising each stage. By creating a log, you are ensuring that all team members are on the same page and avoiding confusion. You can see that record keeping is important even in the early stages.
So who and/or what is the focus of the event?
The focal point goes in the middle of the page; from here you can start to relate relevant points and create separate lists for these individually while assigning jobs to the correct, designated person.
What kinds of things are we talking about?
You need to have in mind an appropriate overall figure that will cater for all the components necessary to make this event work. In the beginning, an estimated budget is your toy to play around with. Once you have finalized lists of all the necessary purchases, then you must re-calculate and check that you are working towards an achievable target. You may need to find alternative suggestions to fit the budget in mind. In the back of your mind always view the budget as a small range rather than focusing on just ONE number. Budgets constantly change as unforeseeable expenses come up and also cost-saving opportunities present themselves. So by viewing the budget within a reasonable range, you will always remain on track.
- SCHEDULE & DATES
An event should have a set date that you can aim to have everything ready by. If you know how long you have to organize each aspect of the event, then you can create a schedule according to this time frame. You should have a calendar that reflects the dates and times of appointments, orders and collections and anything else that assists the preparation of the event.
Gather images of the things that inspire you for this particular event. Create a mood board and begin to bring your vision to life. A collage of your ideas brings the concept together and allows members of the team to envision the end product and leads all towards the same goal. Using Pinterest for your idea board or mood board is a great way to do this online. You can either create private mood boards or keep the public if you want to be able to share them with other people.
Every event needs a venue. When you are selecting a venue, you must consider the capacity and then, of course, the safety. Bathrooms are paramount and need to be accessible for guests – make sure that they are in good working order with numbers that are compatible to the expected quantity of people attending.
Does the venue have seating and access for all the people attending i.e. elderly, wheelchair users and children?
Remember, guests appreciate having somewhere to sit so if you can find a venue that supplies chairs, this is a bonus.
You must also be able to turn your research ideas into a reality within this space and ‘set the scene.’ In our course we call this ‘prototyping’.
NOTE: Be realistic with the venue you settle for, do not just take the first place that you view – shop around and do your homework – you may just find a better deal or a better fit. Finding a venue within the budget and still having a substantial amount left over for everything else that follows is critical.
What type of décor are you going to need to create the effect that suits the event perfectly? Think about how you wish to present the theme.
Decoration is vital for dressing the venue to add the desired effect that surrounds your focal point. If it is a birthday, you may wish to have balloons likewise for a charity event you will need photographs to stimulate emotion.
NOTE: Practicality is essential when deciding on décor. It is very easy to go over the top. The rule of ‘less is more’ applies to most compelling events and is much easier to clean up afterward. You want the event to surround the focal point and if the focal point is the décor, by all means, go all out!
- EQUIPMENT & MUSIC
Does this event require music? If so, what kind of system are you going to need? And what kind of music should you play to assist the mood?
Even if you are simply playing from a CD or mp3, you are going to need to arrange this properly. Speakers and a source are going to need to be obtained and a playlist that suits the schedule needs to be created beforehand in order to create the atmosphere.
You may wish to assign this job to someone or have the audio taken care of by a professional. It can be fun to have a live act, but this requires extra planning to be taken into consideration.
- FOOD & BEVERAGE
Guests are much happier if there are at the very least snacks and refreshments. The environment may even require a bar and so it may be wise to recruit waiters to serve? Many events need an open bar and so stock needs to be taken into consideration and should be ordered and delivered to the venue in good time.
Food is a whole new level of responsibility; there are so many risks involving allergies and preferences, you as the coordinator are responsible for.
The last thing you want is anyone getting sick. The simple way to take care of food is by hiring a caterer if you have it in the budget.
Some events are easier to supply a buffet where guests can pick and choose what they want on their own time whereas others require table service, chefs, and waiters.
The main thing to seriously get right when involving food and beverage is consistency and speed. People do not want to watch others eat and likewise those people do not want to be seen eating – everyone should be offered food at the same time.
Hungry or thirsty guests can be demanding, difficult to deal with and harder to satisfy.
NOTE: Try to chose something to serve that is easy to make and quick to deliver, while acknowledging the dietary requirements of your guests – alternative options like vegetarian meals or gluten-free options are important.
- SUPPLIERS & VENDOR SELECTION
It is important to network and find the right people or companies for each job. Photographers, caterers, florists, and artists are usually found by word of mouth recommendation or online reviews.
Typically, you should be able to sample what the service has to offer and inspect whether it is both compatible and manageable. You can request to see past examples by asking to view a portfolio. It is highly important to build trust with whomever you decide to collaborate with and apply clear instructions, ensuring that they understand the vision you wish to achieve.
Good communication is the key, however, always leave room for un-timely appointments and deliveries – you do not want to risk ruining the whole event by having someone cancel or messing up your schedule. These things do happen.
No matter how organized you are, you cannot do everything! The art of management is being able to assign jobs to others, supervise, encourage and coordinate.
You should delegate each task to someone who is capable of doing the job as good as, if not better than, you yourself. Being able to oversee that all operations are a success requires checking in on each area in intervals and being available to consult if there are ever any issues.
- INVITATIONS & ADVERTISING
Once everything is decided i.e. the date and time, location, theme, and amenities – you can start to inform your guests as to allow them to prepare themselves to participate. It is best to give plenty of notice as people need to fit this into their schedules, book time off work, arrange childcare, etc.
You may wish to make and distribute posters, flyers, personal invitations or online invitations.
Digital and social media is also great ways of sharing information. You could make a group page on Facebook for example and direct messages to those you wish to invite – this is excellent for collecting data as there are the three options for those invited to choose from: ‘Going,’ ‘Maybe’ and ‘Can’t go.’
Client meetings – (for the event planner who is hired to make the arrangements for someone else.)
Everything we’ve talked about so far has to do with creating an event around your own vision. Now we’ll touch on bringing someone else’s vision to life.
Some people may have an idea and money to create an event, but are missing the time or knowledge to put into making it work. You may have been hired to bring this person’s vision to life. In this case, you will need to go back and forth to your client to ensure you are on the same page.
It is best to have an initial meeting with your client to gather all basic ideas showing them or make with them the mood board, present your portfolio or any other suggestions that you have complied from your research. You must understand each other’s terms completely in order to make this work.
Frequent follow-up are essential to let your client know how everything is moving and check to see if all present operations are satisfactory to your client’s vision and budget.
We go into a lot more detail about planning events for clients in this course.
Day of the event.
Make sure everything and everyone is prepared in good time and before the guests are to arrive. You need to make sure you have enough time to gather everyone involved to attend a briefing of the expectations and order of scheduled activities. Briefing offers the opportunity to answer any questions and is a last chance to go over all aspects of the event.
In order to achieve all goals, everything must run smoothly and control must be sustained. It can be chaotic if you slip just for a second, like a domino effect. The main rule is not to leaving anything until the last minute. This is the ultimate no-go!
Being able to think strategically in an unexpected scenario is the key to keeping a steady flow of activities. If something does not go to plan, you are going to need to come up with a backup or resolve the situation on the spot. Having a hard working team of reliable people to assist is an absolute life saver when something doesn’t quite go to plan.
It is always nice to thank all who were involved as well as all of the guests. Ensure that everyone is paid accordingly and if your goal was to raise money you should share your achievement with all who attended.
Some events may be ongoing and so let attendees know the future arrangements for following events.
As you can see event planning covers everything from weddings, birthdays, parties, graduations, anniversaries, bachelor / bachelorette parties, launch parties, corporate events, celebrity and special events, networking, speed dating and more.
If you are interested in become an event planner, then please visit the Become An Event Planner page.
For more details about the types of vendors you may need, you can read about different vendors here. These include:
- Event Entertainment
- Photographers & Videographers
- Music & DJ’s
- Limo Rentals
- Event Security
Read these articles to learn more:
Sample Event Planning Timeline and Checklist
Three Weeks Before Event
- Decide on a location for your party or celebration – think about whether the guests will be adults or children
- Make an invitation list
- Decide on a theme if appropriate
- Send out invitations – email, evite, snail mail and phone calls are all acceptable
- Plan a menu
- Ask people for help – think about any help you will need with pre and post-party setup and tear down; bartenders; caterers; appetizers; cooks; etc
Two Weeks Before Event
- Get plates, eating utensils, tables and linens ready.
- Decide on music – you can use your own stereo, ipod and laptop; or you can hire a DJ.
- Make a list of shopping items you may need to buy – go purchase the items that will not go bad.
One Week Before Event
- Clean thoroughly! – if event is at your home, be sure to clean thoroughly. If you are renting a venue, then skip this step.
- Set the furniture – arrange the furniture in the way you want it and double check that it allows for comfortable walk-ways and sitting. Check on bar, coffee, appetizer and food areas.
- Double check your cookware and dishes – make sure you have enough for all your guests.
- Stock the bar
Three Days Before Event
- Decorate the venue
- Set up garbage cans in convenient locations
- Designate an area for coats and jackets – buy hangers if you need it
- Grocery shopping – purchase everything you need for the meal (disregard if at restaurant)
One Day Before Event
- Set the tables and seating areas
- Buy flowers and set up final decorations
- Start cooking and preparing food that can sit overnight
- Put away all valuables – if party is at your home, put valuables in a safe place
Day of Your Event
- Set up chairs and seating
- Finish last minute cooking – you will probably start cooking first thing in the morning
- Place food on tables or buffet area
- Welcome and greet guests as they arrive – create a warm and welcoming entrance for your guests
- Enjoy the party!
Choosing the right venue is an important part of planning your event. The correct venue can really make or break your event. If you select a venue that is too small there will not be enough room for all of your guests to enjoy your event they way that you intended. If the venue is too large you risk the chance of paying too much money and unnecessarily increasing your costs. The size of your group will help determine what type of venue you will need for your event. If you are planning a small birthday party for a dozen or so guests a restaurant might be your best option as many locations are able to offer you a private room to use for your party, while utilizing the cooking staff they have on hand for the meal. However, if you are planning a large corporate event you may want to rent out a meeting room in a hotel or convention center, where you will be able to hire a catering service to handle all of your cooking needs.
When it comes to planning a great event you will want to keep many different things in mind when making the preparations such as number of people attending, food that will be served, decorations, and entertainment. If you keep these four main aspects of a large event in mind when starting your planning you will quickly see just what needs to be included to make your event a success.