Event planning is a sexy career filled with all the glamour of fancy dresses, cocktail parties, and worldwide travel, right? Not quite. Those exciting perks are just a few of many common misconceptions in the event planning industry.
The truth is that not everything event planners do is glamorous, or even fun for that matter. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that event professionals do, such as contract negotiation and dealing with crises, that make up months of nitty gritty work before an event.
The entire process begins with three unsexy, but essential, steps including setting goals and objectives, and writing out a clear timeline. These three steps not usually considered fun, but they are some of the most important tasks in the entire event planning process.
3 Crucial Steps to Start Your Event Plan
Whether you’re the sole planner of an event, part of a larger team, or brand new to planning events for your organization, these steps are the perfect place to start planning.
Step #1) Decide on Your Goals
A goal is the big picture. Every event needs a clear goal (or several) that explains why the event is being held. This vision can then be used to build the rest of your event. The clearer your goals are, the better, as that will make it easier for yourself and your team (if you have one) to work off of them.
Here are a few questions to ask as you develop your goals:
- What’s the event’s purpose? Is it recognition, education, networking, training, reward, entertainment, business, teambuilding, or product launch?
- Will the emphasis be on the organization, the attendee, or both?
- Is the purpose to reinforce the organization’s mission, or to train staff or attendees?
- How important is financial success?
I always tell my staff, event chairs, and planning teams to picture themselves on the last day of the event. How do you want to feel? What do you want to have accomplished? Use your answers to pinpoint your event’s most important goals.
Step #2) Set Your Objectives
An objective is a measurable, attainable target that helps you accomplish your goals. Objectives are the little picture, and what you’ll measure your return on investment against.
Since you’ll be measuring your return on investment against these, stay away from general phrases that can’t be measured. “Increasing engagement,” for example, is a general objective. How do you define engagement? How do you measure it?
When writing out my objectives, I prefer the SMART technique, which helps eliminate general statements.
- Are the objectives Specific?
- Are they written in such a way that they’re Measurable?
- Can they be Attained within the time constraints of your meeting or event?
- Are they Relevant to the information presented?
- Can they be achieved in a realistic Timeframe?
A SMART objective might be “to increase the number of first-time event attendees by 5%.” This objective fulfills all the requirements above, and allows you to determine how effective your event was. If you achieve this goal, then the investment you put into encouraging first-time attendees to register was successful.
Step #3) Develop Your Timeline
Once you’ve accomplished the often difficult tasks of setting goals and objectives, you should create a timeline for the planning process. This gives you a framework to refer back to, and helps you know when you should start and finish each step in the event planning process. It can also be used as a guideline for responsibilities so that each contributor knows the tasks they need to accomplish.
Consider these questions to create the most useful timeline:
- Who is the timeline for?
- Who will be the keeper/modifier of the timeline?
- How frequently will the timeline be looked at?
- Do you need due dates for your tasks?
- Do you need completion dates for your tasks?
- Do you need to assign responsibilities for your tasks?
Once you’ve answered these questions, use simple, easy-to-manage software to create your timeline. The question I’m asked the most by other planners is, "What software do you use to do this?” My answer is Word or Excel. Excel and Word are easy file formats to share both with colleagues inside your office as well as with outside consultants and other participants who do not have access to your AMS or event management software.
The most important thing is to find the timeline that works best for you and can act as a roadmap to keep you grounded and on track throughout the entire process.
For simple events, create a Word document listing all your planning steps in a table with “Due Date” and “Completed” columns. You can categorize these sections under headers like Site Selection, Marketing, and Logistics, then order them by their due dates. For more complex events with a planning team, use an Excel spreadsheet that can be easily searched and sorted based on Activity, Owner, and Category to quickly find tasks that belong to specific people.
An Excel timeline is also a good choice for annual events because you’ll only need to set it up once. Use a formula to automatically calculate due dates based on the event’s start date and number of weeks required to complete a task. Then, for the next year’s event, simply adjust the dates as needed.
Event Planning Takeaway
These first three steps are the foundation for your entire event plan. They will help you not only get started, but stay true to your organization and its members’ needs as well.
They’ll also ensure that you have something with which to measure your event’s success. Did you increase attendance? Did you increase membership upgrades or product purchases? Whatever your goals and measurable objectives were, you will be able to determine if you met them at the end of the event.
Find a system for getting through these essential first steps, and stick to it to ensure your event goes off without a hitch.