Just about to plan your very first event but don’t know where to start? Or are you looking for ways to improve your next event?
You’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about planning and hosting an event: the basics and beyond.
Event planning as an industry has dramatically evolved at an accelerated pace, especially due to the global COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020 and 2021. More events are now conducted online/virtual or hybrid, and on the other hand, attendees are also demanding more personalized experiences in their experiences.
Meaning, planning and hosting an event today is naturally more challenging, and in order to deliver a satisfying and unique experience for every attendee, you need a robust event management plan and strategy.
By the end of this guide to hosting an event, you’d have learned about:
- The basics of event planning
- Common challenges facing event planners, and their respective solutions
- Best practices of event planning you should know
- A comprehensive guide to planning an event
Without further ado, let us begin from the basics.
Event Planning: The Basics
What is event planning?
In a nutshell, event planning is an effort (a process) of planning and managing all the logistics of an event. Despite the name, event planning doesn’t stop at the planning phase of the event but rather encompasses all phases of the event cycle, including securing event sponsors, venue rental, marketing/promotion, building brand awareness, and post-event evaluation, among others.
This is why event planning can also be (and more appropriately) called event management.
Nowadays, there are a wide variety of events we can plan and host. Events can be in-person, virtual, or hybrid (a combination of in-person and virtual). Events can also vary greatly in size, and we can host a small webinar with only ten virtual attendees, while at the same time, we can also host concerts or football matches with tens of thousands of attendees.
With that being said, the event planning effort can also vary greatly depending on the type, size, and complexity of the event. This is why each event planning process has its own nuances and challenges, as we will discuss below.
Top Challenges In Event Planning and Their Solutions
Below we will review some of the most common event planning challenges and their respective solutions:
1. Keeping Track of Budget and Schedule Changes
Event planning naturally deals with many different variables and moving parts, and this is why event planners should always expect the unexpected.
Along the way of planning an event, it’s common for event planners to make changes in the event’s agenda and budget to maintain agility.
However, it’s crucial to keep track of these changes, communicate the changes to affected (directly and indirectly) stakeholders, and adjust the event master plan accordingly as needed.
Solution: To tackle this issue, it’s crucial to keep communications and collaborations in one centralized and accessible event management platform so everyone involved in the event can keep track of changes easily. Also, maintain a formal change tracking methodology throughout the event cycle.
2. Overspending and Underspending: Not Estimating Your Event Budget Correctly
Even if you are running a nonprofit event, you still wouldn’t want to overspend on your event and hurt your organization’s finances. Estimating and maintaining an event budget is often the most challenging aspect of event planning, and yet it’s very important to ensure your event is on the right track financially.
Do your homework when estimating your budget:
- If you’ve hosted previous events (even better if you’re planning an annual event), you can analyze and compare previous event budgets to evaluate what you can do better for this event.
- If this is your very first event, then although your job will be tougher, you can try to gather information from other event organizers who’ve planned events similar to yours.
- If you are an event planner working for a client, don’t hesitate to ask to see data from the client’s previous events (if any). This is so you can get a better picture of how much they might be comfortable spending for the next event.
Again, even after you’ve estimated the budget, there will be changes along the way, and you’ll need to update the budget periodically. Your objectives here are to make sure the budget stays on track as much as possible while updating the budget according to the inevitable changes. Double-check everything regularly.
3. Unable to Identify the Optimal Staffing Levels
Determining the optimum staffing levels can be difficult in practice, and yet understaffing is a very common and serious problem for events. On the other hand, you also wouldn’t want to hire too many people, which will increase your labor costs and may cause other problems at the venue.
Here are some tips you can use to determine optimal staffing levels:
- Estimate how many staff members and volunteers you would need in a worst-case scenario (i.e., if only 25% of desired attendees show up). Then, do the same calculation for if 75% of your attendees showed up. As a general rule of thumb, you should hire the median of these two numbers (but have a few on backup)
- Define roles and responsibilities as early as possible on the event cycle, and establish clear timelines for each role/department.
- Ask key stakeholders what they need help with before and during the D-day. You can determine how many people are needed for each department this way.
4. Establishing Engaging Networking Activities
Networking opportunities remain the top reason why people attend events. This is especially true for in-person (physical) events, but nowadays, there are various technologies that can also make virtual networking attractive and engaging in virtual and hybrid events.
Yet, planning fun and engaging networking activities on your event can be easier said than done: different attendees have different preferences on how they’d like to network with others, and obviously, you can’t please everyone.
A potential solution here is to diversify the networking opportunities (i.e., mingling, organized 1-on-1, speed networking, etc.) you offer at your event, so your attendees can choose between different networking sessions.
Again, the better you understand your target audience’s needs and preferences, the better.
5. Not Planning for Redundancies
In planning and hosting an event, we should always expect the unexpected. No event will go 100% according to plan, and that’s okay as long as you’re prepared.
This means preparing your plan Bs and plan Cs on all the critical aspects of the event, but in practice, it can be very challenging.
- What would you do if the venue suddenly becomes unavailable? Search for nearby venues that can be available on short notice for redundancy.
- Plan a backup agenda in case your keynote speaker can’t arrive on time.
- Plan for extreme weather. You may need to take the necessary measures to disaster-proof your venue. If necessary, purchase event insurance (or specific weather insurance) that will protect you in case the event gets canceled or postponed due to weather. The insurance can help you in refunding purchased tickets, among other potential issues.
Identify other critical aspects of your event, and plan your plan Bs and plan Cs. Of course, we would want the event to be smooth sailing, but having the backup plans ready can help you in the event of worst-case scenarios.
Event Planning and Management: Best Practices for Success
While considering the common challenges we’ve discussed above (and more challenges you may face), here are some of the most important event planning and management best practices to help you achieve success.
Let’s start with number one.
1. Define Your Event’s Purpose and Goals
What is your purpose for hosting the event in the first place? What are your goals?
Many companies and event organizers made the same mistake of hosting an event for the sake of hosting an event. Without clear goals, you won’t be able to plan the right planning steps and measure your event’s performance. You won’t be able to accurately calculate your event ROI and prove its value to sponsors and competitors.
Planning an event without a clear purpose and objectives is literally setting you up for failure.
Evaluate your company’s overall business goals (or the client’s business goals if you are an event planner working for a client), and identify how the event can help you achieve these goals.
Use the SMART goal principle to define your event objectives:
- Specific: your goal should be as clear and specific as possible and easy to explain to team members and stakeholders to avoid confusion.
- Measurable: you should be able to measure your performance against this goal by monitoring certain metrics and assigning KPIs.
- Attainable: realistic and achievable. Setting too big of a goal can be counterproductive, as you may hurt your team’s morale.
- Relevant: relevant to your organization’s overall goal, as discussed above.
- Time-bound: for event planning, this shouldn’t be an issue. The D-day of the event will be your deadline.
Some examples of SMART event goals are:
- Gaining 1,000 more social media mentions before, during, and a week after the event
- Generating 100 more leads within a month after the event
- Gaining 100 social media followers on sponsor’s social media account
2. Knowing and Understanding Your Target Audience
Now that you’ve defined your event goals, the next step you should do is to identify the ideal audience in achieving these goals.
- If the event’s goal is to generate new leads or build brand awareness, then the logical step is to target those who are similar to your (or your client’s) existing customer profile but are not yet your customers.
- If the event goal is to improve customer retention and encourage engagement, then target your (or your client’s current customers)
- If this is a nonprofit event and you are supporting a cause. Target those who are also interested (or might be interested) to support the cause.
Once you’ve identified this target audience, then you should gather as much information as you can about them: their demographics data, their behaviors, online activities, and what attracts/motivates them.
The better you understand your target audience, the better you can design an event that truly caters to them, and also the better you can structure a marketing strategy to attract and motivate them to attend.
3. Establish Your Event Budget As Early as Possible
Now that you’ve identified your target audience and your event objective, you should be able to develop a high-level plan for the event:
- Will this be an in-person, virtual, or hybrid event?
- The type of the event (i.e., webinar, conference, concert, trade show/expo, keynote speaker, and so on)
- The date/time of the event (at least a rough timeline)
- Venue shortlist
- Number of attendees to expect
- Technology solutions you’ll need
- Staff/volunteers, you’ll need
And so on.
Based on these high-level details, you can also start estimating your budget.
The earlier you estimate an event budget, the more time you’ll have to choose the best possible vendors, secure your sponsors, and especially, to promote your event. So, as early as possible in the event cycle, you should estimate the cost of high-level items, including but not limited to:
- Venue rental: as well as other costs tied to the venue like additional insurance policies you’ll need to purchase.
- Catering: all costs related to food and beverages
- Decoration: establish how much you can spend on decor
- Staff and volunteers: all costs related to staffing
- Speaker/talent/presenter: including travel and accommodation costs
- A/V equipment: whether you’ll need to rent additional A/V equipment outside those available on the venue. If it’s a virtual/hybrid event, also consider costs for live streaming equipment and software.
- Technology solutions: event management platform, virtual event platform, marketing solutions, etc.
- Entertainment: band, DJ, performer, etc. Again, make sure to consider travel and accommodation costs.
- Redundancies: plan for the worst. Ideally, you should allocate 20% on top of your total budget for miscellaneous and redundancies.
You don’t really need to have your budget set in stone. Keep it as a draft and update the budget as you’ve identified vendor options and other details along the way.
4. Build Your Event Team
Unless you are planning to tackle everything by yourself, you should start establishing your team as soon as possible in the event cycle to ensure success.
Start by appointing an event manager (if you won’t assume the role yourself), and list the roles that need to be covered in your event team.
While the actual structure and roles may vary depending on your event’s size and complexity, most event teams will include the following roles:
- Venue manager: responsible for all kinds of details surrounding the venue, including being the go-to contact for donors, sponsors, and attendees on the venue during the D-day.
- Speaker/talent/entertainment manager: handling everything related to talents and rundown.
- Marketing: pretty self-explanatory, responsible for developing and executing a marketing plan for the event.
- Sponsors management: securing sponsorships and managing sponsors’ expectations.
- Volunteer management: leading volunteers and delegating roles to different volunteers.
Structure your event by considering transparency and accountability, and leverage an event management software solution to streamline collaboration and ensure your event stays within the desired budget and timeline.
5. Establish a Timeline
Event planning, as discussed, can be complex and involve many different moving parts. Keeping track of everything can be very challenging, and this is why it’s important to create a comprehensive event project timeline and delegate the tasks to different team members and volunteers accordingly.
- Start by listing all the tasks that will need to be accomplished to ensure success. There are many approaches you can use here, but we’d recommend going backward from what you’ll need to do on the D-day to the very first day of event planning. This is to ensure you don’t miss anything.
- Delegate the tasks accordingly to available team members (and volunteers). Again, aim to create a system of accountability.
- Establish a detailed timeline that is accessible to everyone to maintain transparency so that team members can monitor each other’s activities. You can create a timeline using the event management software of your choice.
Double-check your timeline to make sure it’s comprehensive, and gather feedback from your team members (at least, committee leaders) about the timeline.
Along the way, you may need to change the timeline here and there due to the volatile nature of event planning. Adjust your timeline regularly if needed.
6. Create a Marketing Plan and Be Aggressive With Your Marketing
No matter how well you’ve planned your event: the best venue, the best technology, the best speakers/talent, and so on, your event is doomed as a failure if you can’t attract enough attendees to register.
Don’t underestimate the importance of marketing your event, and also don’t underestimate the time you’ll need to effectively promote your event to prospective attendees.
With that being said, it’s important to create a marketing plan as early as possible in the event cycle and stick to it.
While there are many different marketing channels you can leverage when promoting your event, here are some of the most effective ones to consider:
- Branding: without a strong brand, your event will be unrecognizable by your prospective attendees, and they may not notice it amidst all the noise. Here are some important elements of a strong event brand:
- Theme: focus on a single theme and be consistent with it through all your marketing efforts, including decoration, speaker/talent selection, and other major choices.
- Name: choose a name that is relevant to your theme, and also easy to pronounce and remember.
- Logo: the logo should support the event’s name. It should be catchy and attractive, but make sure it fits the overall theme of the event.
- Colors, fonts, other elements: standardize these brand elements to maintain consistency throughout your marketing efforts.
- Social media: it’s fairly obvious to market your event on social media, where most of your target attendees are active nowadays. Post regularly and build your follower base, but you may also want to consider investing in paid social media marketing options and influencer marketing.
- Press release: create and publish a press release to relevant media so they can help spread the word about your event.
- Email marketing: especially effective if you’ve hosted other events in the past and already have an email list.
- Printed promotions: brochures, posters, and printed ads on relevant newspapers/magazines can still be effective for specific types of audience demographics.
- Ticketing: event ticket system can and should be a part of your marketing plan. Use presale and early-bird promotions to help generate buzz.
Also, don’t hesitate to ask your sponsors, speakers/talents, and partners to help promote your event.
7. Securing Sponsors by Providing Value
Getting sponsorships is one of the most viable ways to fund your event, but we all know securing sponsors can be easier said than done.
Here are a few tips:
- Target the right companies:
- Companies whose audience matched your event’s target audience. While it’s impossible to perfectly align with a brand, evaluate their audience’s demographics and interest.
- Target companies who already understand the value of sponsoring an event. Mainly those who have (successfully) sponsored an event in the past.
- Create a comprehensive proposal that can provide all the necessary information about your event’s value.
- Be specific about the funding you need, and break down what the fund will go toward. Most sponsors will appreciate honesty.
- Personalize your packages. Sponsors also want to maximize their value in sponsoring your event, so do your research: what does this prospective sponsor expect from sponsoring an event? How can you help them achieve their business goals?
- Offer different package tiers so they’ll get more flexibility.
- Build long-term relationships with your secured sponsors. This can provide you with an easier time securing sponsors for future events.
While planning and hosting an event can be challenging, planning your next event shouldn’t need to be stressful.
By following the best practices we’ve shared above, you’ll have an easier time planning the A to Z of your event while ensuring everything stays on track (and within budget).