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Event Tips

How To Plan An Event

A2Z Team March 18, 2024
Table of Contents
10 min read

Even simple events can have multiple moving parts, making event planning an intense exercise in logistics. More than throwing parties, event planning considers all stages of the event cycle. From conception to post-event marketing, the planner has to be ready for nearly anything. Here, we look at how you can coordinate and manage the elements of how to plan an event.

Key Components of Event Planning 

While every event has its own unique flavor, the crux of planning typically comes down to the following components. Get ready to fold in the following:

  • Budget: Whether it’s lavish or economical, event planners need to be conscientious of every penny they spend. 
  • Schedule: Events need to be broken down into manageable chunks. Planners need to map out how much time (before, during, and after) they’ll need to pull off the event.  
  • Site selection: The venue and location must fit the budget and the basic requirements for the event. 
  • Permits: Every neighborhood has restrictions on what’s permissible and what isn’t. You may need to clear certain aspects of the event with the city before you can move forward. 
  • Transportation: Transportation can include anything from shuttles to parking. Attendees, vendors, and employees alike should know how to navigate the site. 
  • Security: Event planners need to determine how to keep guests safe from start to finish. 
  • Emergency planning: If there’s a disaster during the event (e.g., tornado, hurricane, etc.), there needs to be a clear evacuation route to reduce confusion during a chaotic time. 
  • Talent: If your event features keynote speakers, entertainment, or conference leaders, you’ll need to negotiate the terms long before the event. 
  • Decor: The decor of the event sets the proverbial stage for how people interact with the organization and one another. 
  • Catering: Stocking up on high-quality food and drinks is a great way to give attendees a better impression of the event. 

Keep in mind that these are just some of the basic components that event planners need to keep in mind. You’ll tack onto this list based on the scale of the event, the attendees, and your overall mission.  

How to Plan an Event: A Step-By-Step Guide

An event can be small and intimate or large and wild. To successfully break it down, you’ll need to answer some general questions with very specific details. 

Understand the Reason for the Event

An event planner has to know exactly why they’re throwing the event before they can start picking decor, inviting speakers, or choosing caterers. Common reasons for events include celebrating, fundraising, socializing, or educating. 

Of course, in many cases, you’ll have overlap. For instance, you might be holding a fundraising event that both educates people about a rare type of cancer, raises money for medical research, and celebrates the progress of the organization to help the families who are fighting it. 

Once the event planner understands the main cause, it will be easier to structure the event so it serves the needs of the event throwers. So if you were throwing a 50th birthday party for a woman who wanted to celebrate the milestone with a statement event, you might arrange fireworks, dancers, and a surprise singer to pop out of the cake. 

However, if you were throwing a birthday party for a woman who wanted to socialize, you might arrange for low music, plenty of conversational seating, and a tasteful buffet spread. While the core reason is the same in both scenarios (a birthday), the reasons for the event will determine the details. 

Identify Your Target Audience

You have to know who the guests are and what they value if you’re going to throw a successful event. This will help you choose the theme, venue, content, and timing of the event. 

This step can be particularly prone to error, simply because it’s all too easy to make assumptions about the guests. For instance, let’s say that you’re throwing a charity event that costs several thousand dollars to attend. You might assume that because the cost of the ticket is so high, you’ll need to provide a lavish meal and over-the-top decor. However, if your attendees are giving to this charitable event because they have a personal connection to the cause, they may not appreciate what could appear to be frivolous spending. 

Event planners will need to walk a fine line here, as every audience member will have different expectations about what they’re looking for. The best that you can do is identify unifying threads between the audience members, and then branch out from there. For instance, if all audience members are professionals and the event is thrown on a weekday, you may need to end the event by 9:00 p.m. to give people time to get ready for work the next day. 

Set a Budget

Budgets for event planners should ideally be a range, and this is because it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact costs of each line item. The venue, food/drink, entertainment, marketing, security, permits, and schedule will all impact the bottom line.

Most event planners will forget about at least a few expenses that crop up along the way. For instance, let’s say that your event was a smashing success, and one of the speaker clips went viral. You might want to capitalize on the interest by posting the clip on more platforms. This could mean additional marketing spend that you likely didn’t build into the original budget. Or if your event is somewhat last-minute, you’ll end up spending more to secure vendors at the last minute.

The good news is that there are usually ways to cut back on the budget, as you don’t need to have endless funds to throw a successful event. For instance, maybe the food and wine comes from a budget store, the decorations are minimal, all set up by the planner, and the venue is an affordable community center. The best event planners will have strong relationships with key vendors, so it’s easier to negotiate pricing and contract terms. 

Choose a Date and Venue

The date and venue can impact who attends, how much you spend, and how accessible the event is. Choosing a date too far ahead may make some people hesitant to commit that far in advance. They may wait to respond, and in the meantime, forget about the event entirely. Of course, if you choose a date that’s too soon in the future, you run the risk that everyone has other plans. 

It’s also important to consider how the venue and date affects the guest experience. Not everyone will want to drive 30 minutes or sit in rush-hour traffic to get to the venue. If you select a huge venue and you only fill it halfway, it may make some guests uneasy. 

Consider the concerns of the average attendee, before selecting these two critical components. How will they park? Do they need to take shuttles to reach their car or the venue? Will they be asked to give up their Saturday night for the event? Will there be any seating available by the time they reach the event? The answer to these questions should affect your selections as well as the marketing of the event. 

Create a Project Timeline

A timeline is a key way to give your project some dimension and parameters. Instead of listing 15 bullet points that all need to be done by the time the event starts, you can set expectations about what needs to be done first and when it needs to be completed. So a sample timeline might look like this:

TimelineLine Items
Week 1Identify audience, goals, and target date.
Week 2 Create budget based on event goals/audience. Design marketing campaign to promote event. 
Week 3 Research permitting requirements for event. 
Week 4 Select appropriate venue and final event date. 
Week 5 Arrange and confirm talent for the event.  
Week 6 Distribute invitations and/or marketing materials. 
Week 7 Evaluate safety/security of venue and arrange for additional staffing if necessary.  
Week 8Finalize decor and strategize on event setup. 
Week 9 Hold event 
Post-eventDesign marketing campaign to increase engagement (e.g., social media posts, photo pages, etc.).

Choose Your Vendors and Suppliers

If you’re just getting started in event planning, it’s going to take some time to find the right vendors and suppliers. To a certain extent, this will be trial and error, though you can cut down on unpleasant surprises by thoroughly vetting different companies before choosing them. 

Remember that even people on a budget can’t afford to skimp on quality service and reliability. Consider that you can end up spending more if you try to cut corners. For instance, if you hire a rental company to supply folding chairs, and a folding chair collapses during a key moment of the event because the chairs are shoddy, it can both ruin the affair and open the event up to liability claims. 

The good news is that as you build up your network, you’re far less likely to run into issues. Focus on creating solid relationships based on trust and respect. Over time, you should be able to expand your services without compromising the results (even when things change last minute). 

Market Your Event

Social media, email newsletters, flyers, landing pages, and SMS are just a few ways to get the word out about your event. You should also consider how word of mouth can impact your event, particularly if you have a keynote speaker or entertainer that’s in high demand.

As you market the event, consider who exactly the target audience is. For instance, if you’re mainly trying to attract younger people, you might put the bulk of your efforts into social media. If you’re hoping to capitalize on a small but growing audience, consider sending text messages to give them the details.

Marketing starts with understanding the main draw of the event, and what the audience is ultimately hoping to gain from going.  Some people will want to feel like they’re on an exclusive guest list, while others would prefer a more casual atmosphere where everyone is welcome.

These distinctions shouldn’t just affect the language you’re using, it should affect everything from photos to your content schedule. After all, you wouldn’t want to market the event to the general public if the price tag to attend is $500. 

Prepare for the Event

The last-minute stages are typically the most hectic. If a vendor drops out six months in advance, you have plenty of time to make other arrangements. If they drop out six minutes in advance, you have to be ready to think on the fly. 

Final prep for your event should include the following:

  • Vendor confirmation: Not only should you have all of your vendors and suppliers stationed where they need to be, you should also confirm that they understand all of their responsibilities to both the guests and to you. 
  • Briefing event staff: Even if the event staff work at the venue you chose, they’ll still need to adapt their service based on the event. Whether you want them to mix and mingle, wear a costume, or help seat guests as they walk in, they’ll need to know what’s expected of them. 
  • To-do list: Food, head counts, alcohol inventory, seating charts, decorations, security, and transportation should all be included as you prep for the event. Ensure that all of these elements are covered, and your event is likely to go that much smoother. 

Keep in mind that you may not be able to prep for everything. As an event planner, there will always be some element of creativity and spontaneity in your job. These tips simply help you avoid the predictable hiccups and emergencies. 

Things to Keep in Mind on the Day of Your Event

From last-minute changes to safety measures, you have to be ready on the day of the event. To reduce your stress, consider contingency plans for a few worst-case scenarios. These kinds of exercises put you into problem-solving mode, which is a necessary skill for anyone learning how to plan an event.

A planning events checklist is important, but professional event planners might tell you that the winning ingredient has everything to do with maintaining a positive attitude. So, if the speakers fail in the middle of a keynote speech or the whole city is hit with an unexpected snowstorm, you’re more likely to cope with the challenges as they arise.

One way to nail the many event planning steps is to talk to an expert. People with plenty of experience in event planning have handled it all, and they can tell you both what they did to solve problems and what their thought process was when they were under the gun.

Post-Event Analysis

Once the event wraps up, you’re ready to evaluate what went right and what could be improved. This is where feedback is critical to the planner, because it can be used to tweak your event planning process. Keep in mind that all comments can be valuable. From the color of the tablecloths to the quality of the wine, the guests’ impressions have everything to do with how the event is perceived.

To a certain extent, a planner should be able to gauge the audience’s reactions during different parts of the event. For instance, maybe the pre-dinner cocktails were a hit, but people seemed to lose energy once the dinner was served. Maybe only one speaker of five seemed to really hit their mark. From there, you can use official (e.g., comment cards, surveys, etc.) and unofficial (general impressions or informal conversations) feedback to start shaping the changes you’ll make in the future.

Finally, you should consider how to use the momentum of the event as a way to drive the next one. For instance, you might post photos on social media with a caption about how you can’t wait to do it all over next year. Or you might ask guests to share their funniest photo or anecdote as a way to relive the good times.

Wrapping It Up

Event planning may be hard work, but the rewards are written all over the faces of your guests. From small dinners to multi-street block parties, successful event planning starts in getting all the details right.  If you’re ready to put on one of your own, use this guide to help straighten out the path ahead.