Planning an event can be overwhelming with all the different moving parts and challenges.
Yet, it’s actually pretty straightforward if you know how to approach it.
In this guide, we’ll share an event planning template you can use to easily plan your next event.
Event Planning Template: Checklist and Timeline
Planning an event can grow very complicated very fast, and this is why we will divide this checklist into a six-part timeline.
The actual timeline for each phase may vary depending on the type of event, size, and complexities.
For the sake of this checklist, we’ll assume that we are going to plan a multi-day conference, where the initial planning starts around six months before D-day. If you are planning a smaller event (or a simpler virtual-only event), you can have a shorter preparation time.
However, even for a very simple event (i.e., an internal meeting), try to have at least one month of preparation time.
With that being said, here are the six timeline phases we’ll use in this checklist:
- 1st phase: up to 6 months before the event
- 2nd phase: up to 3-4 months before the event
- 3rd phase: up to 1-2 months before the event
- 4th phase: a week before the D-day
- 5th phase: the day of the event (D-day)
- 6th phase: post-event phase
Let us begin this checklist from the 1st phase.
1st Phase: Up to 6 months before the event
Remember that you can adjust this checklist according to your event’s unique needs, but the earlier you start this 1st phase of event planning, the more options and flexibility you’ll have along the way.
This 1st phase of event planning is focused on the initial preparation of the event, and here are the tasks you should focus on:
- Identifying the event’s purpose and goals. What’s the initial purpose of hosting this event? What are the goals you’d like to achieve? (i.e., increasing brand awareness, generating more leads, etc.) Be as specific as possible, and make sure you can measure the event’s performance against these goals.
- Decide on the event date. If possible, decide on a set event date. But if you can’t, at least plan a rough timeline for the event. Avoid any national holidays and any big events in the area (especially if you are planning an In-person event.)
- (For in-person events) Select your venue. Shortlist potential venue selections. Determine your must-have needs from a venue before negotiating and committing to a venue.
- Develop an event master plan. Develop an outline of your event’s agenda. List high-level event details:
- Type of event
- Format of event. (In-person, virtual, or hybrid.)
- Target audience
- Unique Value Proposition (UVP)
- Marketing plan
- Event agenda (schedule)
- Revenue model
- Team roles and responsibilities
- Develop an event budget. Estimate your budget while considering high-level expense elements, including:
- Venue cost (for an in-person or hybrid event)
- Virtual event platform (for a virtual event)
- Staff and volunteers
- Talent fees (for speakers, presenters, etc.)
- Equipment rental and related costs
- Licences and permits
- Insurance costs
- Establish your event team. Distribute roles among the team members:
- Event/project manager
- Venue/show floor manager
- Creative design
- Marketing and communications
- Sponsorship manager
- Registration and check-ins
- Develop event branding.
- Decide on an event theme
- Develop an event name, logo, tagline, and hashtags
- Develop an event website (with an online registration function)
- Create social media profiles
- Develop a publicity plan.
- Develop an event press release
- Online social media campaign
- Email marketing plan
- Printed marketing materials (signage, posters, etc.)
- Launch event registration.
- Decide on a ticket pricing strategy (ignore this if it’s going to be a free event)
- Release early bird/presale tickets
- Set up functional and reliable online ticketing/registration functionality on the event website, and integrate it with social profiles
2nd Phase: Up to 3-4 months before the event
For an event with a 6-month preparation time, we can start this second phase around the 4-month mark.
This second phase is mostly about securing the necessary details planned in the first phase, establishing coordination between different departments, as well as continuing promoting the event to maximize registrations.
- Securing talents (keynote speakers, presenters, entertainers, etc.)
- Create a shortlist and negotiate with talents
- Create written contracts (make sure not to miss any details)
- Secure promotional details (bio, headshot, session draft, etc.)
- Take care of travel and accommodation details
- Ask secured talents to participate in promoting the event (i.e., sharing the event on their social networks)
- Finalize paperwork. Identify required documents, both those required by the event team (internal) and external stakeholders like sponsors, talents, and vendors. If a lot of paperwork is required, consider creating a separate checklist to keep track of it.
- Securing event sponsorships. Create a shortlist of prospective sponsors and then create well-written sponsorship proposals for each (keep them personalized if possible.) Take into account the different sponsorship packages and values.
- Finalize venue details:
- Catering logistics
- A/V equipment
- Parking arrangements
- Signage placements
- Security needs and logistics
- Special permits, insurances, licenses, etc.
- Accessibility requirements (i.e., wheelchair accessibility, closed captioning for live streaming, etc.)
- Finalize event agenda
- Create a finalized event script (i.e., opening, introducing speakers/talents, closing) for your presenter
- Event marketing:
- Request logos and other relevant information so you can include them in your marketing materials
- Develop marketing materials (ads, blog posts, radio spot scripts, videos, etc.)
- Develop marketing collateral (event invitations, posters, ticket designs, etc.)
- Develop media kit content (speaker bio information, photos, etc.)
- Create an event website (or an event page on your event planner website.)
- Create social profiles for your event
- Facebook Event Page
- Instagram profile
- LinkedIn profile
- Twitter account
- Register your event on event publication platforms and online event calendars
- Generate buzz on social media and forums
- Design and order event swag bag
- List VIPs in a separate document (i.e., a spreadsheet), create a personalized invitation
- Order items for the event swag bag
3rd Phase: Up to 1-2 months before the event
For an event with a 6-month preparation time like the above’s example, the third phase should begin around 1-2 months prior to D-Day.
This 3rd phase should focus on finalizing the remaining details and continuing promotional attempts to attract more attendees to register.
- Further marketing and promotions
- Send newsletters to past attendees
- Invest in advertising and publication spots
- Announce talents (keynote speakers, performers), celebrities attending, VIPs attending, etc.
- Post more information and promotions on social media profiles
- Finalize all printed materials. Proofread every detail.
- Finalizing talents’ needs
- Confirm travel and accommodation details
- Request a copy of the finalized presentation script, speech, etc.
- Remind talents to keep promoting your event on their networks
- Finalizing sponsorship details
- Get sponsors’ promotional materials and logos. If you haven’t already, in the previous phases.
- Underwriting. Every important detail of the sponsorship deal must be legalized in writing
- Confirm details. Re-confirm every detail carefully.
- Remind sponsors to continue promoting the event on their networks.
- Close early bird/presale ticket promotions
- Release standard ticket price
4th Phase: Up to 1 week before the event
D-Day almost arrives, and by this phase, you should’ve finalized most details surrounding the event.
This phase focuses on delivering the final touches:
- Internal meeting to evaluate and finalize details against the master plan
- Develop plan Bs and plan Cs for various scenarios
- Finalizing event script
- Plan practice sessions for everyone with speaking assignments throughout the event
- Close early-bird/presale ticket sales (if any.)
- Distribute copies (print or online) of any presentation, speech,
- Arrange interview opportunities with speakers, presenters, talents, V`I“Ps, etc.
- Ask whether they are willing to provide photo-op opportunities
- Confirm media attendance.
- Confirm media needs and logistics arrangements
- Briefing staff and volunteers
- Distribute responsibilities and roles
- Remind everyone about their respective duties
- Seating arrangements
- Finalizing seating plan
- Ensure clear paths through the venue to optimize traffic flow
- Double-check wheelchair-accessible areas.
- Finalize food and beverage needs
- Provide the final attendance number to the caterer
- Buffet arrangement and setup
- Catering logistic details and needs
- Final registration check
- Prepare copies (online and printed) for any presentations and speeches.
5th Phase: D-day
The big day has finally arrived!
By this time, you should’ve finished preparing most details related to the event, and this phase is about providing the final touches:
- Double-check decorations, make sure all details are in place
- Double-check all elements of a/V equipment. Make sure they’re properly set up and are working properly.n
- Double-check all software and technology solutions. Make sure they are in place and configured properly.
- Re-check signage placements
- Double-check registration tables
- Make sure all relevant marketing collaterals are on-site
- Double-check that gifts, trophies, plaques, etc., are ready at the venue.
- Follow-up with guest speakers, staff members, talents, and presenters to ensure everything is up and running.
- Breaks. Prepare food, drinks, entertainment content, etc., that will be presented during break sessions.
- Monitor participation. Manually observe and use technology solutions to monitor attendees’ level of participation and enthusiasm. Share this information with speakers and presenters so they can adjust the event content accordingly.
6th Phase: Post-Event Evaluation
Congratulations! You’ve hosted your event! Hopefully, after you’ve followed this checklist, it has been successful.
However, your job is not yet finished, and here are some post-event activities and evaluations you should do:
- Check-in with the venue.
- Gather lost-and-found
- Ensure nothing was left behind
- Set up a debrief meeting with the venue to avoid any misunderstanding
- Confirm final bill tallies with your caterer
- Financial evaluation:
- Update budget with actual spendings
- Gather all receipts and documentation
- Gather final registration data
- Send thank you’s:
- Donors (for charity events)
- Post-event marketing:
- Send out highlight reels from the event to your email database
- Share highlights on your social media and event page/website
- Update the event website/page accordingly so visitors can know immediately that the event has finished
- Send out emails to subscribers and past attendees with highlight reels from the event
- Post-event survey. Send out post-event surveys to attendees, staff members, volunteers, sponsors, and other relevant parties
- Team debrief: collect feedback from team members
- Post-event evaluation. Identify what went well and what you could do better next time
Bonus: Step-By-Step Guide to Creating an Effective Event Budget
To accompany the event planning template we’ve shared above; here we will share a step-by-step guide to developing an effective event budget.
An effective event planning template must be followed by considering the event budget in mind: it has to stay within budget and within the agreed timeline to be considered successful.
With that being said, let us begin with the first step:
Phase 1: Setting up the foundation
Determine your event strategy and estimate an overall budget
The appropriate budget for an event would vary greatly depending on the type (i.e., concerts, conferences, webinars), format (in-person, virtual, hybrid), size, and complexities of the event, among other factors.
However, it’s typically better to design the event based on the available resources (i.e., how much money and time are available) rather than the other way around (deciding on an event type first, then trying to fund it.)
So, determine what you have available to spend after considering realistic sources (including potential sponsorships and outside funding. ) You may want to ask your manager, the finance department, your CEO, or you probably have your own budget you manage as an event planner.
If, for example, you have a relatively small budget of under $5,000, then probably it’s not a good idea to plan a multi-day conference.
Evaluate similar and/or past events
Once you’ve figured out the overall resources you have available, you can evaluate your past events (if any) or similar events in your area (including your potential competitors.)
If you are evaluating past events, evaluate expense areas you’ve overspent or underspent on, and evaluate which vendors you’d like to keep and which you wouldn’t keep. In short, figure out how you can improve over these previous events.
If you are analyzing other events in your area, the principle remains the same: find out what they did right and what can be improved upon.
Identify the industry average
Do a little bit of research to identify the industry average of each expense element, at least important ones like venue, A/V, catering, talents, etc. For example, If a caterer offers you a package of $100 per person, and yet you find that the industry average is $50 per person, you might want to evaluate other vendors.
Estimate high-level expenses
After this initial research, by now, you should be able to create a rough budget estimate covering the high-level expenses.
For a standard in-person conference, here are the typical high-level expense categories:
- Venue cost (and related costs like insurance)
- Talents (speakers, presenters, entertainers, including travel and accommodation costs)
- Staffing (and volunteers)
- Marketing costs
- Signage, branding, and other printed materials
- Event technology (virtual event platform, event management platform, marketing tools, etc.)
- Catering (and other food & beverage costs)
- Furniture and equipment rental
- Transportation expenses
When estimating these high-level expenses, keep in mind that they shouldn’t be set in stone. You can always go back to it later and update the costs or even add new expense categories. These high-level estimates, however, can provide a solid foundation so you’ll have a clearer picture of the total budget.
Once you’ve established your high-level budget, share it with your stakeholders.
The earlier you communicate your high-level budget plan and secure buy-ins, the better, so you can avoid surprises down the line.
Make sure all important stakeholders (especially internal) are aware of the high-level budget and approve it so they can keep themselves accountable and committed to following the budget.
Phase 2: Fine-tuning cost estimation
Now that you’ve got your high-level budget in place and have secured important stakeholders’ buy-ins, you can start filling out the details.
Break down the budget
Start by taking a look at your high-level expense elements and breaking them down further, for example:
- Venue rental
- Internet connectivity (Wi-Fi)
- Additional equipment rental
- Furniture rental
- Required insurance
- Venue-specific staff
- Speaker fee
- Travel and accommodations
- Script print-outs
- Car rental
And so on.
The more detailed you can break down your expenses, the more accurate and comprehensive your budget will be. So, take some time to figure out how each expense can be broken down into smaller ones.
Negotiate and lock in vendors
As you break down expenses into more detailed items, you should also start reaching out to prospective vendors so you can get and compare quotes between different vendors.
We’d recommend doing the vendor outreach in parallel with detailing your budget rather than doing all your outreach at once after you’ve detailed the budget. This will end up giving you more time to work through the list of prospective vendors and potentially more time to negotiate with each.
Take this time to build relationships with prospective vendors. These relationships can help you in weighing whether you are working with the right vendors, and you may get benefits like discounts for your future events.
Once you’ve compared quotes and identified the best deals for each expense item, you can start locking-in vendors and signing formal written contracts.
At the end of this phase, you should have developed a complete list of all the expense items that should be included in your budget.
Phase 3: Actualize your budget
At this point, you should have signed many (if not most) of your vendor contracts and probably have paid some of your vendors.
Continue choosing potential vendors and service providers and finalizing your deals, and the focus of this phase is to actualize your budget and ensure your event is staying within the set budget.
Update your budget with actual costs
If you are using a spreadsheet for your budget, then you can add another column labeled “Actual Cost” or “Actual Spend” and update this column with the actual costs written on the signed contracts from each vendor.
Compare each actual cost with the projected spend. It’s only natural that not all of them will match perfectly with each other, but the idea is to keep track of whether they deviate too much from the projected budget. If too many of your actual costs stray outside the projected budget, then you might want to reconsider your approach. This is where the importance of the contingency fund comes in.
Prepare your contingency funds
It’s crucial to understand that no events will go 100% according to plan, and it’s perfectly normal for your event to exceed the projected budget (or sometimes, you spend way less than what’s projected.)
This is why it’s very important to set up a contingency fund, rather than having to ask for more funds from sponsors and investors every time the cost of an expense item goes above the projected number.
Depending on the type, size, and complexity of your event, the appropriate amount of contingency funds may vary, but setting aside around 15% to 20% on top of the finalized event budget is a safe bet.
Meaning, that if your finalized event budget ends up being $10,000, then you should prepare around $1,500 to $2,000 on top of it, just to be safe.
Make sure to also secure buy-ins (approvals) from your stakeholders regarding the amount of the contingency fund. Ideally, any time you use any amount from the contingency fund, you should update your stakeholders and your team, so they are aware of it.
Phase 4: Post-event evaluation
By now, you should’ve finished hosting the event. You should’ve updated the budget with the actual cost of all expense elements and reported the contingency fund usage to stakeholders.
If you have been diligently tracking your spending throughout the event planning and execution, then this phase should be relatively easy, and the main focus is to make sure every single cost is reflected in the finalized budget.
Make sure to also keep track of payments, so nothing’s left overdue.
Calculate total spend
Whether you are using a spreadsheet or budgeting software, it’s time to calculate the total amount of actual spending.
Share this final number with your stakeholders and collect their feedback when possible.
Analyze your budget
There are two main focuses when analyzing your final budget: identifying excess and savings.
If there were any expenses where you went over your budget, make a note of it and try to find out the reason. Probably you’ve under-budgeted this specific expense item, so you can learn from this mistake when planning your future events.
There are other possible reasons, for example, if there are unexpected hidden costs from the vendor. Identify these reasons so you can accurately measure outcomes from your event.
On the other hand, take notes if you have any major savings. This can help you when you plan future events, so you can allocate the otherwise excess budget elsewhere or simply to tighten up future budgets.
Identifying savings and overages can provide valuable insights for you and your stakeholders and, as you can see, will be especially helpful when planning future events.
In this article, we have shared a comprehensive template for an event planning checklist and timeline, as well as a step-by-step guide for developing an effective event budget.
While planning and hosting an event can be overwhelming, the template we’ve shared above can help you get ahead in ensuring your event stays within budget and within the agreed timeline.
We hope this guide is helpful in helping you plan your next successful event in 2023.