The Ultimate Guide to Planning and Organising an Event (Like a Professional)
There’s no denying it: planning an event is a significant undertaking. It doesn’t matter whether you’re responsible for organising a small but crucial meeting, or putting on an international conference; getting all the disparate components aligned and in place is a mammoth challenge. So, why would anyone do it?
Every event is different, and every individual meeting, product launch and corporate Christmas party will have its own particular demands – a great event planner foresees, plans for and responds to these demands. We’ve collected our substantial industry experience (good and bad) and come up with an event managment and planning process.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Industry jargon
- Outline your key objectives, goals and measures for success
- Secure your budget
- Select a date and venue
- Work out an event agenda
- Secure the key suppliers
- Market the event
Firstly, let’s get familiar with the terms. Like any profession, the world of meetings and events has developed its own dictionary of shorthand. Here is our cheat sheet:
- DDR - day delegate rate. Typically includes 2 x refreshment breaks and lunch.
- 24-Hour rate - typically includes 2 x refreshment breaks, lunch, 3-course dinner and overnight accommodation.
- Preferred list of suppliers (PSL) - List of suppliers that can be used in the venue.
- Buy-out fee - The cost of hiring a supplier that is not on the preferred supplier list.
- Dry hire - A blank canvas venue which requires everything to be brought in. It's best practice to allow sufficient set-up and de-rig days to dress the space.
- Set-up/de-rig days - Days on either side of your event dates to set up and take down the elements of the event.
- Access times - The time your crew and team can access the building.
- Load-in bays - The area that you’re able to load in any elements of your event, typically this has space for a vehicle.
- Cabaret - Round tables with all chairs facing the stage/screen, taking up 2/3rds of the table.
- Theatre - Rows of chairs facing the stage/screen.
- Classroom - Rows of chairs and tables facing the stage/screen.
- Rounds - Round tables, typically used for large dining events. An optional extra is a dancefloor.
- Colosseum - Semi-circle of chairs facing the stage/screen (typically tiered seating).
- Standing - Have a guess.
- Boardroom - One table.
Goals and objectives
This is by far the most essential stage of the entire event planning process. There are lots of structural aspects to an event, but all of them find their roots in one crucial question:
Why are you putting on this event?
Think about your overall big-picture goal for the event. Are you looking to entice new investors, reward pre-existing shareholders or celebrate the launch of a new product? Understanding this first question will lead you towards more granular considerations, which will, in turn, begin to colour the specifics of your event.
Ensure all stakeholders are clearly aligned on your shared outcome. What are the objectives of your event?
Different stakeholders have competing priorities - is it revenue generation, gaining new customers, rewarding loyal customers, sharing new ideas or becoming thought leaders in the industry
Think about measurements that you want to define ‘success’ by. In other words, what does success look like to you? To your stakeholders? Try to identify tangible metrics that show real value, e.g. partnerships, and invitations to groups/networks, not just the number of views, LinkedIn connections or followers.
Securing your budget
With clear goals in mind for your event, it’s now time to allocate a sensible budget. It may seem obvious, but establishing a set expected cost from the outset will help you determine what your event is going to look like. It will also help you to avoid any unexpected costs down the line. From the offset you should incorporate a contingency percentage into your budget, this is a, say 10% allowance above your planned spending.
Begin by mapping out what you need. Understand the totality of the event - logistics, accommodation, venue, suppliers and on-site support. Research the cost of each of these and you’ll gradually begin to approach a number that seems reasonable.
It’s important to realise the true cost of the choices you’ll be making. Take your venue, for example. A venue with in-house catering and production facilities, like a hotel, will cost less than a venue which needs to outsource suppliers.
Know the timeline for budget approval and how this will impact event planning. Last-minute costs may be difficult to justify when you’re facing the penny counters in the finance department.
Key thing to remember: Though a budget is ideally a fixed thing, the chances are that you will have to revise it at some point. We’ve all watched a Grand Designs episode where Kevin McCloud comes midway through and the developers are trying to re-budget for their folding roof made of upcycled bamboo.
Select a date and venue
We’re getting to the particulars now. We’ve grouped both date and venue together because they are so interconnected. The date and location of your event are critical factors that will impact attendance and overall success.
Choose a date that is convenient for your target audience and avoid scheduling your event on holidays or other popular events. Knowing peak times for certain events is a crucial asset in your events arsenal.
Ryan Grieve, Senior Meetings & Events Manager, stresses the importance of understanding peak times, particularly when it comes to conferences:
“Seasonality is a major factor to consider,” says Ryan, “this can have a considerable effect on a venue's availability and price. For instance, a Thursday evening hire in May or December will likely be highly sought after and come with a higher price tag than a Thursday in July or August.”
Another thing to consider with location is what major events will be happening at the time in the area; are you booking against a Bank Holiday? Is there a major event in the city that could affect restaurant, hotel, or conference space availability?
The location should also be easily accessible, ideally situated near public transportation and with ample parking. If you’re organising an away day somewhere far from the office (think a corporate retreat in the countryside) you’re going to want to think about arranging group transport, especially for those who don’t drive.
Working out an event agenda
If you’re planning on an event, you’re going to need an agenda. This is how you will structure the particulars of your event and make sure everyone is experiencing the very best of what’s on offer: it’s why people are turning up, after all.
The key point you need to have at the forefront of your agenda is how you are going to engage the audience. Whether it’s a moderated Q&A panel discussion, a keynote speaker or interactive breakout sessions, there’s going to be a lot of information being conveyed.
It’s of utmost importance that the attendees are given enough time and space to digest all the excellent content of an event. This means planning break times (at least 3 for an all-day event, as well as lunch), and ensuring variety in how the audience is engaged . Of course, you'll also want enough coffee to fuel a small city.
Marketing your event
With your speakers secured, questions penned and venue picked, it’s time for the fun part. You want all the industry’s best and brightest to be excited about whatever you’re throwing. This means getting in front of them and building expectations.
Social media is an obvious route. Linkedin is great for reaching certain professionals, whilst Twitter and Facebook can also build a buzz. The key here is to create a sense of FOMO: get the big-name speakers front and centre of your event posters and make it seem like everyone is who is anyone will be attending.
If you’ve been lucky enough to secure a hefty marketing budget, you can start being creative. We’ve seen events advertised on buses, billboards and in the chaotic churn of Covent Garden.
For closed and ticketed events, having a robust invitation process is vital. E-tickets are increasingly popular, with virtual sign-up forms allowing you to customise the look of an invite without paying for printing. One thing we’ve found to be beneficial to organisers and attendees alike is building a bespoke event app. This takes care of invitation and registration, whilst also acting as a one-stop brochure during the event itself.
Securing the key suppliers
Whilst some people like to have total control over every aspect of their event, it is an inevitability that other parties will be contracted to handle areas of responsibility.
Suppliers, as they are known, can cover almost any aspect of the event; from catering and entertainment to video production, signage and branding, if it makes up an event, it’s highly likely that there is a professional supplier who will do it for you.
To give you an idea of the full scope of suppliers, we’ll highlight a few below.
Wise Productions - Experts in lighting, sound, video, staging, set design and furniture all delivered by their in-house teams, Wise bring a professional sheen to your events.
Garment Printing - The UK and European leaders for B2B custom printed clothing and branded merchandise. Organic, FAIR TRADE & eco-friendly printing means getting your event's name everywhere, responsibly.
OLIO - OLIO collects and redistributes surplus food. They allow you to make your events free of food waste by donating surplus food so it feeds bellies, not bins. OLIO provides safe and food-safety-legal food collections and a ‘certificate of zero food waste’ for your event.
The boring bit
An event of any size comes with a bewildering amount of paperwork. You'll want to have delegate management sheets, rooming lists, a room matrix, a budgeting sheet, an overall run of show sheet, a production schedule. There is even a list of all the other lists you’ll need to manage. Cue fingers in hair.
Though it’s the least sexy part, it’s one of the most important. Diligent paperwork means costs will stay under control, you’ll have full visibility and record of everything – from which speaker is due where to who’s using the loading bay.
As our Head of Events, Sheridan Roberts says: “The fact of the matter is: If it’s not written down, it’s not happening.”
With everything set up all that is left is the execution of your event. For this you’re going to want a team you trust implicitly. It’s inherent in events that if something can go wrong, it probably will. Having a reactive, competent group of people on site is the best way to mitigate these accidents.
“Build your team, eyes and ears everywhere. Knowing what’s happening, when it’s happening, who’s involved and what can go wrong and why.” - Sheridan Roberts
If this all sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. Planning and running an event is a big undertaking and it’s a small miracle every time one goes off without a hitch. Honestly, it’s why companies like HeadBox exist – we can help you realise your vision, taking care of all of the technicalities and details.