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How to plan an event

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There’s nothing more satisfying than delivering a successful event — whether it’s a board meeting, product launch or a three day conference. It’s the satisfaction of seeing all the components come together and run like clockwork, knowing you have played a major part in making it happen.

Successful Event

So — what are the components that make up an event?

There are three main components to planning an event:

  • Content: Everything the audience sees, hears, touches, consumes and takes away.
  • Promotion: Getting the right message to the right target audience so they will attend the event.
  • Logistics: Organising everything you need to make the event happen.

Content is King

The promotion and logistics only exist to get the audience in front of the content. If the event is to achieve its purpose, the content has to be right. This can appear daunting in some cases — and obvious in others — but content is everything.

The big question is: what is the right content?

To get to that answer you need to complete a business case for your event — and that’s where the event planning process starts.


Step 1: write the business case for your event

Many events go ahead without a business case — some very successfully! But miss this step and you risk wasting a lot of time down the track and missing opportunities to maximise your return on investment. A good business case will give the planning process direction and clarity as well as help you make decisions on content, promotion and logistics.

Business Case Questions

1. What is the business objective?

Keep your answer high level: increase sales, improve morale etc. — you can go into more detail when you define your event objectives.

2. What is the business environment?

Consider the economic environment: is your target audience doing well or is business tough? What is the political environment like — is it stable or uncertain? Consider what your competitors are doing.

Answering this will give you a sense of whether it is the right time to hold the events.

3. What are the learnings from previous events?

What worked? What failed? What was the return on investment?

Again — valuable information in deciding not only whether to hold your event but also what content you should have and how to promote it.

4. Who are the audience?

Who are they? Consider rating from 1-10: how hard will it be to get them to attend the event? What will be their motivation to attend?

5. What are the event objectives?

Or to put it another way: what do we want the audience to do as a result of attending the event?

Defining objectives can be hard and a bit confusing. Answer the question “what do I want the audience to do” and the process becomes much clearer. This is where you get granular — things like agree to a meeting, take part in focus groups or post positive comments online. It’s worth brainstorming and thinking outside the box because this will have a massive influence on content.

6. What is the return on investment (ROI)?

If the business objective is to sell then the ROI is the amount you will sell. If the objective is to build a strong company culture, then the ROI could be measure in staff retention. This question is a whole lot easier to answer if you’ve established detailed event objectives. Try to apply a value to what the audience will do and you can work out your return.

7. What is the budget?

This question is relative to your ROI. At this stage it’s not a case of working out how much the event will cost — it’s more a case of stating how much you can afford to spend to get the ROI. If you think you’ll make $50,000.00 in sales and you want a 100% ROI then your budget will be $25,000.00 to deliver the event.

8. Who are the stakeholders and will we have their support?

Your stakeholders may be the executive team — if it’s a marketing event, the stakeholders could be the sales team. Ask yourself: do you have their full support and commitment?

9. Should we have sponsors and/or exhibitors?

This may be a given with some events, but is also worth considering on small events — it can be a way to get a bigger budget for the event (as long as it doesn’t conflict with your objectives).

10. Should we hold the event?

Assess your ROI vs. business environment and likelihood of getting the audience — then you can decide if it will be worth holding the event or not.

Download our Event Business Case template

Make your next event a quantitative success by using our template to develop your business case.

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Event Business Case template

Step 2: get the lead team together

Who should be in your lead team? You need someone to be clearly responsible for each of the main components: Content, Promotion and Logistics. You will also need an overall Event Lead.

The Content Lead

Being the content lead is more than just putting the program together — it’s leading the process in deciding on the flow of the event, the vibe, the branding, the messaging, even the catering and the take-aways . It is the how of “how will I get the audience to do what I want them to do?”.

The Promotion Lead

This is the person responsible for getting the audience to the event. They need to work hand in glove with the content lead to make sure the messaging and program meet the audience motivation to attend. They also have to do the detailed work of getting the invitation lists together and deciding on the registration and check in process.

Sponsors and Exhibitors

Your promotion lead may also take on responsibility for securing sponsors and exhibitors — though this job may be big enough to warrant it’s own lead.

The Logistics Lead

The person responsible for making it all happen. This is the person that keeps everyone on deadline, that manages the budget, that contracts all the suppliers, that makes sure everyone knows what they need to do on the day.

The Event Lead

Sure — on some events one person does all of these roles and by default they are the event lead. When you have more than two in the team you need to make someone the overall Event Lead. Their role is to make sure everyone works effectively together and be the final decision maker when there is more than one path forward.

It’s a team effort

Often the difference between good and great events are how well the leads and teams work together: The closer you work together, bounce ideas off each other and help each other to succeed the better the outcome will be.


Step 3: start the detailed budget

Managing the budget is one of the key skills of a great logistics lead. You should know at all times what your revenue and costs are — to the dollar. This means working alongside the content and promotion teams to know exactly what they are trying to achieve and coming up with solutions that are in budget by working closely — and often creatively — with your suppliers.

Budget Reviews

Your budget may change — you may even cancel the event — during the planning process if things don’t go to plan, so you need to set review dates.

If you are relying on revenue from ticket sales, sponsors or exhibitors you should set budget review dates to see if revenue expectations are being met.

If your event is free to attend you may have targets for the number of RSVPs. Again you need to set review dates to make sure expectations are being met.


Step 4: agree on the critical path

Yes it sounds dramatic — but the “critical path” is simply the process of identifying key dates in the planning process, eg. the date you need to have the branding ready, finalise the program, start marketing the event etc. The first thing to do when planning is to agree on these key dates (AKA the critical path) with the team. All the other hundreds of tasks that are associated with delivering an event will be scheduled according to these dates. The responsibility for the critical path normally falls to the event lead but it is a team effort to pull it together.

Tips on developing a critical path

  • Set the desired event date and then the promotional dates first — the promotional dates drive the deadlines for developing content. Once you know the content you can finalise your logistics and, in turn, finalise your budget.
  • Don’t forget to include the post-event activities.

Tips on timing when booking a venue

In your critical path it may be logical to finalise much of your content before you start the venue search. But this can often be too late — venues play a critical role in setting the tone of an event. The location and the day of the week will have a big impact on attendance. You therefore do not want to compromise on your ideal venue. If you want to secure the day, location and venue you want you will need to book as early as possible. Once you know your desired date, place a hold on the venues you like. It will not cost anything (in most cases) but will guarantee you getting the venue you want.


Step 5: get into the detail, set and manage the tasks

Based off the critical path, your team can now work out their own specific tasks for their components and then check with each other it is all happening in the right order. Get the order wrong and you can waste a lot of time and money. There are literally hundreds of tasks involved in delivering an event but the list below shows a few more “headline” items and how they need to be done in the right sequence.

Pre event:

  • Complete business case
  • Set a provisional date for the event, set the target number of attendees, set a budget Logistics
  • Agree on the critical path and key review dates
  • Work out format, theme, event branding and messaging Content
  • Place suitable venues on hold
  • Start the detailed budget
  • Provide a detailed promotional schedule and comms plan, including post-event activity Promotion
  • Make the final venue selection Logistics
  • Design promotional material Content
  • Start securing sponsors and exhibitors Promotion
  • Start the detailed program, identify speakers and or performers Content
  • Finalise invitation list Promotion
  • Confirm venue Logistics
  • Start build on marketing website Content
  • Start promotion to target audience Promotion
  • Identify suppliers required and get quotes Logistics
  • Confirm budget viability Logistics
  • Confirm program elements Content
  • Ramp up promotions Promotion
  • Confirm suppliers against program elements, make sure everything is covered and in budget Logistics
  • Brief and rehearse speakers and performers Content
  • Script MC/facilitators Content
  • Work on on-site schedules for all elements Logistics
  • Send confirmations, get everyone excited Promotion
  • Production meeting for all parties Logistics

Event day:

  • Assess effectiveness of program elements against objectives Content
  • Survey sponsors, exhibitors and particularly the audience to check if their expectations are being met  Promotion
  • Make sure everything runs smoothly Logistics

Post event:

  • Collate all assets created for the event Content
  • Survey audience, sponsors and exhibitors Promotion
  • Provide final budget reconciliation Logistics
  • Report on ROI and event learnings Content

Step 6: manage the workflow

You have all agreed what needs to be done, now you need to make sure it is done on time and on budget.

  • Get work-in-progress meetings into everyone’s calendars as soon as possible — initially these may be once a month but as you get closer to the event you may need to increase them to weekly or daily.
  • Make sure the meetings are efficient — only involve the people you need to involve, have a clear agenda, take minutes and allocate resulting tasks.
  • Keep stakeholders informed and on side.
  • Make sure you are sticking to the business case — this means making sure the event objectives are not forgotten. Everything you do should be focused on achieving those objectives.
  • Create on-site schedules for all parties involved so they know exactly what they need to do, when they need to do it and where.

The week before

  • Run a final briefing call with all parties — run through schedules and remind everyone of the event objectives
  • Make sure you have everyone’s contact details in an easily accessible place and share with the team

On the day

It is easy to get so involved in the logistics that you forget to really monitor the content.

  • The logistics lead should be managing the schedules and making sure all activities are completed on time. If you are the logistics lead remember you are a manager and not a doer. You need to make sure you have the time to deal with any unforeseen problems.
  • The content lead needs to make sure two things are covered. First they need to make sure speakers and performers are managed well, their confidence pumped up and they are ready to be their best. Secondly they need to monitor and assess the audience experience. This means critiquing the presentations and every other audience touch point. This is vital if you want to improve your event ROI over time.
  • The promotions lead should be getting audience feedback on why they came to the event and if the event met their expectation, again for future learning and improvement.

Post event

  • Arrange the post event debrief and review all event components against the business case.
  • Leverage the opportunity you have created — all too often the event team misses a big opportunity post event. The tendency is to take a well-deserved rest and take your time collating feedback and acting on opportunities. However, the week post an event it a critical time for achieving your event objectives. Remember that your objectives are to get the audience to ‘do’ something, and they are more likely to ‘do’ what you want them to do at or immediately after the event. The reason for this is the audience sense of obligation — they are more likely to accept a call or meeting immediately after an event because they feel obliged to. Every day that passes after the event that sense of obligation diminishes.
  • Assess ROI (return on investment). This may be possible straight away or you may have to set a date two or three months after the event, once the audience have had a chance to do what you wanted them to do.

Conclusion

Planning events is very rewarding but can be very time consuming — it’s always more time consuming than you think it will be. There are tools that can help, some generic productivity tools are useful but don’t fully serve the unique requirements of events. That's why we made Joi.

Joi is a productivity tool specifically designed for events. By automating workflows and mundane tasks, Joi can make you up to five times more productive. If you are interested in learning more about Joi go to www.joi.events or book a demo.

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