I love events. It is no secret and has been a passion of mine since I was a wee child. My favorite part of my birthday as a kid was planning my party’s itinerary. I loved a good theme. And you can bet your bottom dollar that there were party favors.
Flash forward to my twenties, and I’m always the one planning the parties, signing up for the corporate fun teams, and I would have ruled the Party Planning Committee. I even joined the Emory Continuing Education program to get a certificate in Event Planning.
Around 2015, I learned I had to go gluten-free. This gave me a whole new appreciation for the dietary restriction aspect of event planning. It also meant I was plowing through the recipes on Pinterest. I read my fair share of recipe blogs.
As I was sitting in attendance at a local book festival listening to panels of talented authors, it occurred to me that events have a standard process to them, almost like a recipe. So let’s look at how you can plan your next business-related event as though it were a recipe.
Selecting Your Recipe (Choosing a Theme)
Decide on the purpose of the event. What you want to get out of it.
Select a theme that captures the essence of the event in a fun and unique way.
First, let’s go over the different tools you will use to execute your perfect event. This is something you will use to promote the event or make it possible.
And you’re not just going to be using a mailing list, but actually three different ones. If you already have a mailing list – great! If you don’t have one, you will need to start building that out ASAP. A mailing list is a great way to keep in touch with your audience, communicate big changes, and it acts as an excellent resource for research. You can learn more about how to build your mailing list here.
Back to how you will use your mailing list – cull it down to those interested in your event. Then, split the list up into 3 different lists: your Must Haves, your Like To Haves, and your Pinch Hitters. Essentially, an A, B, and C list setup. You will then also send out the invitations on these lists at staggered times. The reason for this is simple – you may have to adjust your listing for B and C based on the response for your A list.
You’ve got your lists of invitees. Now you need to make sure you have a way to capture their RSVP. It does not have to be anything elaborate; in fact, it can be as simple as collecting a Yes or No on attendance. Ideally, you need to know how many in their party are coming and any dietary restrictions (if food is being served).
Another element of your RSVP system to consider is if it will send out any automated messaging after receiving an RSVP. If the system automatically sends out template emails based on a Yes or No, that would save your team time and improve the guest experience.
YES RSVP: If a guest indicates they will be joining the festivities, include information such as directions, parking, dress code (if necessary), and how to enter the event! Some events provide tickets, others require receipts to be shown, and then there are events where simply providing your name at the door works. Take the guesswork out for your guests and provide that information.
NO RSVP: Even if someone cannot attend, you can still send them a response. Tailor the template to further the event’s purpose as a closing bow. If you are hosting a fundraising event, include a discreet donation link so they can still support the cause without attending it. If the event is for networking, providing an opt-in to a post-event email listing would allow them to still gain contacts. Convention? Let them know where they can go on social media to watch live streams or event photos.
You can provide your contacts with a positive pre-event experience, even if they do not attend the event itself.
Marketing of the Event
Local news, sponsors, online periodicals, social media, giveaway tickets
Marketing is a tool. And just like any tool, if you know how to use it correctly, then you can do just about anything. But fail to read the directions and “wing it,” and the outcome is unpredictable.
First up, make a list of all the places you want to advertise the event. Reviewing your A, B, and C invitee lists is one way to get your mind going. Where do they typically go? What media do they use?
Second, create a contact list. Create a Google Sheet of all the contacts for each type of marketing. Local news reporters. Event sponsors. Online periodicals. Social media accounts. Billboard companies. Advertisers. Giveaway connections. Let the list be the ultimate contact list specifically for marketing purposes. Not only will it be helpful for this event, but it could also be one that you reference again. And include information such as name, email, phone number, contact form link, when contacted, when followed up, yes/no, etc.
Including location of ticketing compared to ticketing and other tables
Seating arrangements are obviously for sit-down events, which might not apply to you but is still important to review. I’ve attended several events and have noticed a frequently missed opportunity. Be sure to intentionally place volunteers, Board Members, or anybody passionate about the event at each table. These are considered your table ambassadors and can answer guests’ questions throughout the event. They can share their experiences with the event subject or some meaningful stories. If you host a networking event, they can help make introductions and ease any uncomfortable nerves.
If you are not having an event with a seated portion, I still recommend having these event ambassadors join your team and engage with guests similarly.
Not much to say about an AV system as it is reasonably straightforward, but a good AV system is worth its weight when it comes to throwing an event. Quality speakers, solid microphones, and accountable lighting. Just make sure that there are no tables/booths/chairs set up directly in front of the speakers because all your guests will walk away with ringing ears.
An event is only as good as its preparation. And that includes a detailed timetable. Preferably, down to 15-minute increments. You’re probably rolling your eyes at this, but trust me! When I first heard this rule of thumb, I thought it was absurd. Until I had to throw an event and realized how vital it is, especially for setup and speaker times.
Include when vendors are arriving, unloading, and setting up. When food needs to go out. When the team needs to change from dingy setup clothes to clean branded attire. When does everything have to be complete, and when is the first guest expected to arrive.
Then when the program starts, you need to know when the speaker needs to be located amongst the guests. When the microphone is located and passed to the speaker. How long the greeting takes. Length of promotional videos or any performances. Speeches. Food.
When you consider that people have to be located and lined up for their turn at the mic, having the timeline broken down into such small digestible pieces makes everything run a lot more smoothly as opposed to trying to find Jack Johnny at the exact moment he is supposed to be on stage speaking.
Sourcing Your Ingredients
Now that we’ve covered the tools you will use for your perfect event let’s look at sourcing your ingredients. This is what makes your event an event!
You can find the full recipe at the end of this blog 😉
It’s hard to have an event without a speaker. And before you say, “But my event doesn’t need a speaker,” I’m just going to tell you that you’re wrong. Even if it is just a person saying at the start of the event, “I’d just like to thank everyone who has made it out to the event. Thank you and have fun!” that is still a speaker. Because they are speaking. With their mouths. To the audience.
When you are seeking out your speakers, there are a few aspects you will want to consider when making your selection.
- Ensure they have experience speaking to crowds or some form of public speaking.
- Listen to how they speak when reading. Sometimes the most engaging speakers are incredibly dull readers.
- Do they represent the brand, theme, company, purpose, etc? If you’re hosting an environmental fundraising event, don’t have the CEO of BP be your headliner.
Venue, Food & Drink, Tables/Chairs/Tablecloths
Another big-time ingredient for the perfect event is investing in good vendors (food, drink, tables, chairs, tablecloths, lighting, AV, etc.). Finally, take the time to find the right venue, not just the cheapest. Some venues have staff in-house that are to be utilized, and others you can bring in.
Some forget to consider the opportunity that the venue and other vendors bring to an event. Taking your client, brand, theme, and purpose of the event, you have a chance to elevate the immersive experience. If the client wants to solidify themselves as a community member, ensure every vendor used is local. From the food all the way down to the linens. Environmentally friendly? Use biodegradable and ethically sourced goods, and have recycle bins available. Is the client into board gaming? Consider board game centerpieces instead of flowers. Every aspect of an event can be leveraged as a client branding opportunity.
Building Your Team
Building your team. Like finding your speakers, you will want to surround yourself with a team that is passionate about the client and project. You will want the table ambassadors we discussed earlier to keep the conversation on the event’s purpose. If it is a fundraising event, try having a board member who can speak to the mission at each table. If you are hosting an event that does not have tables, then have enough educated volunteers to engage with the guests genuinely and be friendly. Make helpful suggestions to attendees.
Design your invitations. An invitation can tell a lot about an event. From digital to physical, paper weight and gloss, to the font and colors. Some of the most upscale events have the most minimal invitations.
Follow Up Communications
Communication is the key to success. Pretty much in everything. So why not apply it to events as well? For example, I recently attended an event and realized that I didn’t know what I was supposed to bring with me. Did I need to bring my receipt? Did I miss an email with the tickets? Do I just give my name at the door?
The invitations set the initial expectations of the event style, so the follow-up communications must continue that attendee experience. Whether it is a funky receipt email or highly stylized tickets, have the follow-up communication continue to tie in with the event theme.
You will use follow-up communications to give the other information that might be too complex or distracting to include on the invitation. So information about directions, parking, dietary restriction forms, maps, check-in details, etc. This also provides an opportunity to give your attendees a perceived “free gift” of things to do in town, where to stay, where to eat, etc. It will not cost your team anything beyond curating the lists, but to your guests, it will elevate their experience.
Signs and Marketing
You could throw the party to end all parties, but if you don’t tell anybody and you don’t market it – then no one will know about it. Think about celebrities’ parties that we don’t know about until afterward. It’s because they don’t market it (and are sneaky).
For marketing, you have multiple mediums. Digital, Print, and TV/Radio. Not all will be suitable mediums for your event, but they are all necessary tools to consider and use. A significant deciding factor on which marketing medium to use is considering what technology your guest list uses. Gen Z to Millennial – social media will be your best bet (TikTok and Instagram, to be exact). Boomers will use local news, printed media, and Facebook. Older generations may wish to be contacted by printed media, radio, and local news outlets.
For signs, think about signs for both leading up to the event and the event itself. Signs leading up to the event will count as marketing but place those signs in places your guests frequent. And don’t think so basic as “Grocery Store” but rather “what type” of grocery store. Gen Z will be more apt to shop at Whole Foods, Aldi, or Trader Joe’s. Organic on a budget. Whereas your Boomers will shop at the long-established grocery stores that have been there forever.
Signage at the event will include information on:
- Where to park
- The path to the entrance
- Sign-in tables
- Coat check
- Location of other event activities
We live in a digital world, but there are some items that people will still always want in physical form. And that includes programs. Sure, a QR code to the program is cheaper, and most people own smartphones. But also ask yourself if all your guests know how to use the QR code. Or consider the level of the event – do you really want guests at a black-tie event to be whipping out their phones? A program physically tethers your guests’ attention to the event.
What also does your program need to be? You guessed it. Tied to your event’s theme. It doesn’t have to be super detailed either, but it needs to include the speakers, any breaks, the company logo, and the website.
- Venue, tables, chairs, tablecloths
- Speakers, even if you think you don’t need one
- Volunteers for sign-in, moderators if necessary, and people to help with introductions and engagement
- Vendors for food, drink, cutlery, etc.
- Invitations, decorated in a way that includes the brand but also the intent of the event
- Follow up communications for directions, next steps, etc.
- Programs – can be physical, though digital alternatives are becoming more common
- Merch that is useful and on-brand
If you have done everything up until now, the event should run itself. Follow the detailed timeline. Keep an eye on your volunteers and table/event ambassadors. Stay in communication with your vendor leads. If your event is monstrous, utilize earpieces and keep a rotating check-in with each section lead.
Now, while I did say that the event will run itself, it is also a truth universally acknowledged that every perfect plan is in want of a problem. As in, no matter how perfectly planning something is, there will always be *something* that pops up.
My wedding was painstakingly planned for 3 years. I had a 15-minute video of how to bustle my wedding dress made by the seamstress herself. But guess what – that video was not passed to the person who actually did the bustle, and it was coming undone the entire night.
Things will happen. That’s the nature of events. But as long as you have a great team and stellar communication, you will swiftly work through any kinks in the plan, and there is none the wiser.
Oh, and another thing? Enjoy yourself. Just because you’re holding the clipboard doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to look at what you have created and smile.
Do I Refrigerate the Leftovers? (Post Event)
Congratulations! You have made it through the pre-event and the event with flying colors. Everyone had a great time, the speaker didn’t drop the mic (accidentally or on purpose), and you met whatever the event’s purpose. Now all that is left are the “leftovers.”
Of course, you’ll need to clean the event space. This is, fortunately, all laid out in your handy dandy timeline. Specific crews have been assigned their cleaning tasks, and you’ll be out of the venue in no time.
As a post-event action, I recommend following up with your speakers and guests one more time post-event. Then, a few days to a week later (depending on the time of year, event date, etc.), it would be nice for your speakers to send them a handwritten thank you note and a small gift, thanking them for their work. It will be a happy surprise to them and help you leave a lasting impression in their minds should you need to reach out again.
For your guests, a post-event missive is a great way to play off the momentum of a successful event. So whether it is disclosing the fundraiser numbers and impact or sharing event photos, you can use this last contact however you need. You can even send a few tailored emails to groups of people depending on their role within your professional atmosphere or set up a small follow-up gathering. So don’t snooze on the post-event communication – it can be the perfect way to close a deal.
Baker’s Tips (Conclusion)
When in doubt, go back to the purpose. Each aspect of the event should, in some way, be able to be directly drawn back to the purpose and theme of the event. This isn’t meant to stress you out but rather to reduce stress. Even if the event’s goal is to have fun and thank your peers, you ensure each aspect of the event is fun! Maybe go for funky glasses and a playlist of beloved songs. As long as your event is put together and hosted with intention, your guests will appreciate the attention to detail.
As Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would say: