Whether you’re planning large professional conferences or small speaking events, event planning is a fast-paced, stressful business.
A refresher on the fundamentals of event planning can act as a confidence booster for event planners. So, if you’re getting started in event planning or if you need a refresher course, follow along as we go through the ins and outs of the industry.
This is The Ultimate Guide on How to Plan, Organize, & Host Any Event. From conception to analyzing post-event data, we’ll walk you through how to plan an event.
Table of Contents
- Form goals and objectives
- Create a budget
- Choose a date and venue
- Find a brand that fits
- Create a master plan
- Hire your event staff and lockdown suppliers
- Secure partnerships, sponsorships, and/or public speakers
- Sweat the small stuff
- Get the word out
- Analyze the event data
- Bonus: event planning tips
10 Steps on How to Plan an Event
1. Form goals and objectives
Step one in event planning is formulating goals, objectives, and a rough timeline of important events. However, before you can do that, you must define your target audience.
A target audience describes the group of people that you direct your message to. The target audience will influence the:
- marketing strategy
- branding tactics
- other event elements
For this reason, it is vital that you identify the target audience beforehand.
It’s like Dave Lutz, managing director at Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, said:
“Be obsessed with defining and segmenting your target audience. Participants are attracted to high relevance. You can’t deliver relevance without target audience obsession and intimate knowledge of what keeps them up at night.”
If the client has not identified an audience, it is the responsibility of the event planner to identify a potential audience.
So how do you define a target audience?
Three factors generally define the target audience:
- Demographics: Statistical data—age, gender, employment, education—relating to the population and particular groups in it.
- Psychographics: The classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria.
- Consumer Lifestyle: The consumer’s activities, interests and opinions.
To identify the target audience, the event planner must identify the need or want that they are fulfilling with the event.
For example, the client may want to garner awareness for a new technology to improve workplace productivity. In this case, the audience may be small business CEOs in the northeast or entrepreneurs who work in Silicon Valley.
Using the following example, you may opt to market the event in a small business newsletter or constrain your Google Ad campaign to the area immediately surrounding Silicon Valley. Additionally, you may invite speakers who are small business owners or hold a networking event with industry experts.
In the previous example, the event planner is expected to define a target audience. However, if the client already has a defined audience, you can use that to create an event specific to those needs.
For example, if the client is holding a 10-year high school reunion party, it’s obvious that the target audience is a graduating class or multiple classes.
Using the information that you gather about the school, pivotal moments, and groups to create a one-of-a-kind experience—whether that is the music selection from the graduating year or inviting former teachers as guest speakers.
Additionally, the way you market the event may be different. Instead of a social media campaign, you may partner with the alumni association to deliver an email campaign to the appropriate audience.
The better you understand the audience, the better you can tailor the event to their needs and attract people who are most receptive to your client’s message.
After you’ve defined your audience, consult with your clients and stakeholders about the tangible objectives and intangible goals for the project.
Client communication is key at this stage. Any miscommunication can lead to last-minute changes that can hurt the bottom line. Take your time and ensure your client is happy with all the objectives and goals you’ve laid out before beginning work.
Example of event planning goals:
- ‘X’ attendees
- Raise ‘X’ dollar for charity
- Convert ‘X’ attendees into paying clients
- Recruit ‘X’ volunteers
- Drive ‘X’ organic traffic to the event website
- ‘X’ mentions on social media
- ‘X’ leads generated
- ‘X’ press mentions
- Stay on or below budget
Other event planning goals:
- Raise awareness
- Event goes flawlessly
- Networking efforts help establish connections
- The event is well received by attendees
- Strong integration and synergy with other marketing campaigns
Only after establishing goals and objectives should you proceed to the budgeting and planning stages.
2. Create a budget
According to Bizzabo’s 2019 Event Marketing: Benchmarks and Trends report, most businesses spend almost 25% of their total marketing budgets on events.
There’s a reason creating a budget and sticking to it is one of the key metrics to success in event planning, when you’re dealing with money, return on investment (ROI) matters.
Budgets help ensure your event can be profitable or can do as much good as possible for charitable objectives.
From fixed costs (i.e., venue, marketing budget) and variable costs ( i.e., staffing, food, and drink) to calculating your event’s breakeven point, budgets make event planning worthwhile for stakeholders.
Perhaps the most important part of any event planning budget is breaking down the expenses. An average event budget should include all of the following cost categories and maybe even more, depending on the event:
- Food and Drink
It’s a good idea to also have a contingency fund, typically 15% of your budget, to cover unexpected expenses. A contingency budget can prevent money from coming from your, or stakeholders, pockets.
Properly accounting for all your costs and determining your total ‘revenue’ can you calculate ROI. ROI isn’t just important for stakeholders and clients. If you’re the event planner, it’s a great statistic to show off on your website.
3. Choose a date and venue
Selecting the date and venue is the role of the event host, and not necessarily the event planner. Still, if you do have a role in selecting the date and venue, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:
- Give yourself sufficient time to plan. You aren’t a miracle worker; event planning takes time, make sure to set your date well in advance.
- Ensure there aren’t other industry or competitor events on the day.
- Check the dates with important potential guests or speakers.
- Ensure that the venue isn’t too large or too small, making guests feel claustrophobic can ruin an event.
- Think about demographics when choosing an event location. For example, stairs aren’t the best idea if it’s an event for seniors.
- Schedule a site visit. Pictures and videos can be deceiving.
- Think about where the venue is, geographical location is one of the most important factors in getting people to show up at your event.
Choosing a date and venue can make or break an event, so make sure to take your time and do your due diligence during this step of the event planning process.
4. Find a brand that fits
According to Eventmarketer, 84% of event attendees say they have a more positive opinion of a company, brand, product, or service being promoted after attending an event.
To increase attendance and make an impression on attendees, create an event brand that fits your audience.
Many factors make up an event brand. Here are the basics to get you started:
- Gift bags
A great event example that many people attend each year is South by Southwest (SXSW), an annual 10-day film, media, and music festival and conference.
The events recognizable logo, user-friendly hashtag (#sxsw), creative signage, and bold theme colors embody it’s artistic and innovative target audience of creators.
SXSW is a large-scale event that requires strategic planning; nevertheless, with the same tenacity, you can organize any event that meets your client’s goals and satisfies the needs of the target audience.
5. Create a master plan
After you’ve decided on goals and objectives, crafted a budget, chose a date and venue, and found a brand that fits, finally, it’s time to create a master plan for your event.
Your master plan will change throughout the event planning process, but it helps to have something to look back on, so you remember, budgetary constraints, goals, personnel details, and more.
Your master plan should be an online shared document that the event planning team can see. It will help you coordinate volunteers and staff, track marketing efforts, and collect data on event goals.
It should also contain an interactive event agenda for guests, with plenty of backup options.
Everything from insurance policies to networking ideas will be displayed in your master plan, but one of the most important elements of your plan is the event planning checklist.
An event planning checklist helps you visualize the most important features of the process to make sure everything goes smoothly.
6. Hire your event staff and lockdown suppliers
Hiring your event staff can be a frustrating experience. From hiring servers and audiovisual staff to marketing and communications personnel, event planners manage a plethora of staff. Finding ways to save time and still get quality people is vital.
What are your hiring options?
You can take your time writing a job description for servers, marketing consultants, and other vital staff. Then, go through job boards and interview a multitude of interview banquet server candidates, or you can hire a restaurant temp agency, but these days it makes more sense to use a modern service like ours, Qwick.
We’re an on-demand staffing as a service platform where you can get reliable Professionals for your events fast.
To ensure your staffing needs are met, Qwick is able to provide high-quality, pre-vetted staff for your event. We allow you to only pay for the staff you need and are able to fill your shifts Qwickly.
And, with a 98% shift fill rate, Qwick’s program is a low risk, cost-effective alternative to temp agencies.
Be proactive and think Qwick when you need staff on demand.
After you’ve locked down your staff, you can turn to suppliers. Whether you need to find food and beverage suppliers, or enough flowers to fill a gym, it’s all about being proactive and starting early.
The last thing you need is to be searching for wholesale plates because the ones you have don’t match the color scheme. The best event planners leverage all the relationships they have to find deals from suppliers and remain stocked with the best of the best when it comes to food, wine, decorations, and more.
7. Secure partnerships, sponsorships, and/or speakers
Most events, especially business events, don’t take place without sponsors. Securing corporate and community partnerships can increase your budget and bring a built-in audience to your event.
Community organizations and corporate sponsors. Partnerships are all about give and take. If you want community organization partners and corporate sponsorships, show how valuable your event can be to their organization.
If you’re planning a charity event, emphasize the value for their brand and the community as a whole. When it comes to for-profit events, you can offer special perks like a VIP section, activity sponsorship, event app sponsorship, or advertising.
Speakers. If the event calls for a speaker, they should be selected in advance. This will require you to ask for session submissions from industry experts, academics, policymakers, and the like to see what they can bring to your event. Once you’ve chosen a speaker, you’ll want to find multiple backup speakers. The last thing you want is to have a speaker pull out after a verbal agreement and leave your marketing efforts in the wind.
8. Get the word out
Getting the word out at the right time is just as important as how you market or how much you spend.
The Goldilocks Zone is a marketing term that refers to the ideal period within which the individual is most likely to convert, or, in this case, RSVP to the event. The attendee must have sufficient time to recognize the event’s importance, research other options, and RSVP.
This window of time can’t be too large as the audience may lose interest or find other events to fulfill their needs. Too little time and the audience may feel rushed to make a decision.
This zone depends on the event and audience.
For example, if the event is a four-day conference with an international target audience, you may want to market the event months ahead time to allow attendees to adjust their schedule and arrange travel plans.
Conversely, if the event is an hour-long speech on a Saturday afternoon, it’d be more acceptable to market the event weeks ahead of the event rather than months.
The Goldilocks Zone isn’t finite but is a useful guide to help you find the sweet spot, engage the audience, and persuade them to attend with different marketing techniques.
The two main pillars of any successful event marketing strategy are social media and email marketing campaigns. Email marketing engages your audience, and social media acts as a consistent reminder for attendees, so you’ll want to make sure you utilize both channels.
Creating an email marketing campaign is easier than it sounds—and it works. There’s a reason why 78% of event creators say email marketing is their most effective marketing tactic.
As long as your email campaign is on-brand for the event, the large reach will help draw in the attendees you’re looking for.
Social media is a necessity for any event marketing strategy. Social media is your best option if you want to engage the right audience and keep them engaged.
You’ll have to be savvy about your social media strategy—posting on a single platform won’t reach a wide audience. Instead, use custom hashtags on multiple platforms to boost your social media marketing push and allow you to track engagement.
Another great idea is to highlight statistics that illustrate the value of in-person events. For example, did you know 85% of people believe face-to-face meetings contribute to stronger, more meaningful business relationships?
Remember to ask your public speakers and any partners to promote the event on their social media, which will legitimize your event and create the big buzz you need.
9. Sweat the small stuff
If you’re an experienced event planner, you know the minute details are what makes the difference on event day—from the menus, music, parking, audiovisual equipment, the list is endless. Even the way the room is laid out is critical to success!
It’s like bestselling author and public speaker coach at Harvard Dr. Nick Morgan said in an interview with Forbes:
“It matters how the room’s arranged. Round tables (’rounds’ in industry parlance) are the most common kind of seating at conferences — and the worst for speaking audiences.”
The best way to keep track of all the details, and to keep speakers, like Dr. Morgan, happy, is to take notes—a lot of notes.
Sweat the small stuff, and remain detail-oriented, you’ll be on your way to pulling off the perfect event.
10. Analyze the event data
The last step on our event planning guide is to analyze the data.
After the event, the work isn’t over. Tracking and combing through event data is what separates the top event planners from the rest.
To get all that data, you’ll need to ask for feedback from guests. This can be done through email or in person at the event.
Also, everything from social media engagement and ticket sales to charity dollars raised and organic website traffic needs to be tracked and analyzed. That way, you can find out which event tactics worked and which didn’t.
Bonus: Event Planning Tips
Planning an event doesn’t stop there! There are several moving parts to event planning. To accompany this ultimate event planning guide, here are a few bonus event planning tips to help your next event go off without a hitch.
- Utilize event management software products. Did you know 71% of event professionals with a budget of over $5 million will spend more on event tech in 2020? Tech spending is growing as event management, and events themselves become increasingly based on cool tech features and gadgets. Still, the best use of technology for event planners is event management software. Tools like Eventbrite, Cvent, or Eventzilla can help you save time and organize your plans, notes, calendar, and more. When asked about tech in event planning Alicia Shiro of Aced It Events, an event planning company generating millions in revenue, said it’s “one of the best time-saving investments” around. Event software helps event planners find venues, manage bookings, and so much more.
- Delegate when necessary. Consider hiring a project manager to help manage tasks. We’ve already talked about hiring marketing personnel, assistants, and event staff, but sometimes you need a second in command. Don’t be afraid to hire a project manager and delegate tasks when necessary.
- Set up a waste management and recycling plan for the event. The green trend is here to stay. That means having a waste management and recycling plan is now a necessity in event planning. Giving one of your staff members the responsibility of waste management and recycling or even creating a waste management team is the best way to get this done. Don’t underestimate the power of going green at events; a lot of top companies are heading that direction. Take Oracle for example, as a part of their “green” initiative at their Code One event. They added a plant-conscious menu, carbon footprint reduction lessons, and a way for guests to donate food to charity.
- Try an event run-through. Having a run-through about two weeks before the actual event can be extremely helpful if you’re planning a high-stakes event. When the pressure is on, you want everything to be as smooth as possible, organizing your staff for a run-through of the event will prevent gaffes and help improve your timeline for the day.
Event planning is not an easy task, but if you use the right tools, hire qualified staff, and budget accordingly, you can pull off dream events that make your clients thrilled they invested.