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The Ultimate Event Planning Checklist

A cup of coffee and a pair of hands writing in a notebook

Whether preparing for an enormous conference of thousands, or an intimate team building dinner for 20, the most important responsibility of any planner is the same: make an event planning checklist of what needs to be done and stick to it. Plain and simple. The layers of detail that go into any event, big or small, must be kept in check. While there is no-size-fits-all event planning worksheet, there are event planning guides and ways to customize your to-dos to keep your important goals on target. 

Below are suggestions to kickstart your next successful event with a detailed planning checklist. 

The Ultimate Event Planning Checklist: First, The Basics!

As with anything in life, timing is everything. When it comes to event planning, give yourself and your team plenty of time to put everything together. Some big events or multifaceted virtual events might take up to a year to plan in advance, while smaller gatherings might take a few months. No matter the time frame or scale, here are the principal questions that need to be asked during that very first sit-down.

The Goal of the Event. The intent of your event, broad or narrow, must be established. Hone in on your event’s general goals so everyone is clear on what you are trying to accomplish.

  • What is the purpose of the event?
  • What is the title/name/brand of the event?
  • What is the date or dates?
  • What city or region will this event take place?
  • What venue should you consider?
  • What does a successful event look like?
A brunette woman standing over a desk and computer

The Target Audience for the Event. What attendees’ expectations will be is one of the most important items on which to place focus. What will you and your team do to meet them? If your guests’ needs aren’t met, it is less likely your desired action will happen. Hand-in-hand with answering those questions, you will need to narrow down the amount of people at your event, also affecting outcomes and budget.

  • What do we want the audience to get out of the event? Is it product knowledge? A networking opportunity? Team building?
  • How many people are expected to attend?
  • Will you sell tickets to the event? 
  • Will your crowd size determine venue?

The Timeline of the Event. While naturally this includes day-of activities, be sure to hammer out your timeline from your initial meeting with your team. 

  • How long will your event last? A few hours? Several days?
  • How do you make the most of the target audience’s time once you have them?
  • Should the event be broken up into sessions? Is overloading the audience possible? Or is there enough to keep them engaged?

The Format of the Event. You’ve outlined the purpose of your event, now it’s time to consider how to structure it to achieve that goal. 

  • Will the event be in-person? Completely remote? A hybrid event?
  • Does the space you are looking at allow for all you want to accomplish in your format?
  • Will there be speakers? Celebrity guests?
  • Will there be product demonstrations?
  • Will transportation need to be coordinated?

The Budget for the Event. While it makes sense to start with the date, crowd size, and desired venue, none of these goals will come to fruition without a preliminary budget. Understanding what is in the coffers will determine nearly every angle of your event. 

  • What has been put aside for this event?
  • Do you need to source additional funds?
  • If you’ve hosted this event in the past, how much did you need last time?
  • Can you look into sponsors to help absorb some costs?
  • If you are selling tickets, what is the anticipated ticket price? Conference booth price?
  • What are the estimates for your larger ticket items? What of these are considered a “must have”?

The Health and Safety of the Event. This portion of event planning has always been important, especially with large crowds, but your guests’ comfortable level and assuredness that you’ve taken all the proper precautions is more important than ever. Carefully measuring out risk is an important component of an event planner’s job. The best way to handle an emergency is to do everything in your power to avoid one, while having a plan of action should one occur. You will want to know your venue and vendors' health and safety requirements as well.

  • Do you need any permits or licenses for your event?
  • Do you need to set up sanitizing stations? How will you make sure guests are properly distanced?
  • What insurance will be needed for the event?
  • Do you need security on site?
  • Who on your team will carefully review risk assessments like trip hazards or crowd control measures?
  • Do local authorities need to be notified of your event so they are aware of the large crowd?

Now that the basics are answered, move on to the other pre-event checklist items. To keep your event on the straight and narrow, these next questions will need to be answered.

The Team

The core of who will help put on this event is just about as crucial as the event itself. There isn’t a single conference, team building meeting, or product launch that happens within a vacuum, so good old-fashioned delegating is the only way for items to be checked off your list. The establishment of roles and responsibilities clearly defines who does what, and likely takes the stress off of what is already a high-pressure situation.

  • Management – Who is the lead? Who else is able to make decisions and final calls on important questions? What is the best way for each team member to report to the decision makers? What does the organizational chart look like leading up to the event? Who is the point person on the day-of? 
  • Promotional Team – How will this team approach all aspects of marketing your event? How will the word get out on this event? Will you use internal promotion? Or hire an outside firm? Or a mixture of both? What about social media influencers?
  • Sales – Who will line up sponsors? Sell tickets? Promote booths? 
  • Volunteer Coordinator – For a large-scale, not-for-profit event with volunteers, who will be their point person?
  • Internal Communication – Who will play the role of coordinating all the moving parts? Who will schedule team meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page? Who will put together and distribute the schedule of events? Who writes up the “handbook” to plan for an emergency, or communicate if the team has to shift to “plan B”?
Three people looking out to a large yard with a tent

The Venue

Where you hold your event will likely be the biggest single expense of your endeavor. But it’s important not to skimp on this one. List every venue that could work for you, with pros and cons for each amenity. Never take “sticker price” at any venue. Always ask what is included in the final price. With the venue as important as it is, there are lots of questions to ask of your chosen event space

  • The Ideal Location – Is the space big enough to hold your crowd? Is it too big that it makes your smaller event look poorly attended? Who is your key contact? How big is the support staff at the venue?  
  • The Accessibility – Is your venue easy to find? Can you partner with a local hotel? Once your guests are there, what will the flow of people look like? Are there arrangements for those who have special needs? Where can your caterer, floral, or other vendors load in/load out the goods for the event?
  • The Transportation – Is your venue easy to get to? Do you need to explain to guests any unusual directions? Is there easy public transportation?
  • The Suitability with the Theme – Does your location encapsulate your event’s atmosphere and vibe? What does lighting, sound, audio/visual, and conference room size look like? How will each room or space be used?
  • Deals and Discounts – Is the venue open to negotiation for the value you are bringing to them? Are they okay with outside vendors?

Just starting the planning process?

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Live streaming, social media, and event apps are reshaping how your guests attend events. Once you’ve established the event’s format (in-person, hybrid, etc.), addressing your top-to-bottom tech needs is crucial. But its more than just day-of requirements. Add these points to your checklist.

  • Website – Will event information be available here? Tickets sold here? Will final details or event changes be communicated through your website?
  • Landing Page – Will your event need its own page, separate from your website? Will tickets or booth sign up be here?
  • Registration Platform – Will this be on your website or landing page? Will you include a pre-event survey? Even if you aren’t charging for tickets, how do you want your guests to RSVP? If you are selling tickets, will they be available at the door? When do ticket sales end?
  • Payment Gateway – What platform will you use for guests to buy tickets? How will guests get tickets, confirm payment, or have a barcode for access? Will you provide a discount for early ticket sales?
  • Event App – Will you need an app for your event? Will you need an operating system app that can work without Wi-Fi, or is web interface crucial? Do you need instant communication, real-time event evaluation, or event engagement for your event? Will your event need a live or silent auction app?
  • Wi-Fi – If your event is live-streaming, how is connectivity at your chosen venue? Are there any dead spots? How is the bandwidth in every room?

Suppliers and Vendors

Events are many things, including powerful economic engines. Just think about when a several thousand-person conference or seminar comes to town. Hotels, restaurants, and shops all benefit. Remember to keep this in mind when negotiating with local vendors. 

  • Food and Beverage – How long are guests with you? Do you need to accommodate every meal? When will you have a final count to give the restaurant or caterer? Can you use food carts or trucks? What rentals do you need, like plates, glasses, or silverware? What dietary requirements are there? Will your event serve alcohol?
  • Entertainment – What activities will you need to line up for your attendees or guests? If you’ve partnered with a hotel, does it offer in-house entertainment choices? 
  • Merchandise – Are you providing swag from your event? How long will the swag take to produce?
  • Outsourcing – Will you need valet service? Waitstaff? Event set-up/clean-up? What about event signage? Signage? Do you need florals? Tablecloths or coverings?

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Guest Speaker Acquisition

If you are looking to add a draw or validity to your event, consider adding a guest speaker. People want to hear from leaders in their industry, and even celebrities who might have a great story to tell. It ups the ante of your event. Also keep in mind that virtual events can benefit from guests speakers as well. Here’s what to do when it comes to guest speakers before and during your event.

  • Speaker Wish List – Who would best suit your event’s needs? Who would your attendees be interested in hearing from? Who would make for the biggest draw?
  • Approaching the Prospect – How do you get in touch with your desired speaker? Do you have to go through their “people” or source them directly? 
  • Stand-In Speakers – What if there is an emergency and you need another speaker to fill in?
  • Speaker Comfort Level – What does your speaker or guest need to feel comfortable? Do they have a rider list? What travel accommodation do they need? What type of A/V or equipment makes them at ease? When can they rehearse?

The Promotion

Finally, the team needs to land on how to get the word out about your event. Small events by nature will be easier to promote, where larger conferences will need a bigger marketing plan. Either way, goals will need to be outlined, so make sure to review the following. 

  • Promotional Materials – Does your event need a logo? Does your team need to come up with a tagline or slogan? What needs to be printed? What logos need to be collected from sponsors, partners, or stakeholders?
  • Electronic Promotion – What promotional emails need to be sent to attendees? Do you need to create an event hashtag? What social media influencers can be of use to your event? What content needs to be shared leading up to the event? Does a promotional video need to be shot, produced, and uploaded?
  • Advertising – Do you need to pay to have your event in print, on television, on a podcast, or on a billboard? Where should advertising be to raise the most awareness?
  • Public Relations – Do you need a press release? Is there local or national media that could run a story on your event to drum up interest?

Things are lined up and you are ready to go. Here’s what to do before, during, and after your event’s big day.

Before the Event

  • Confirm, confirm, then confirm again. Make sure everything you’ve booked is in place.
  • Do a final walkthrough of your venue with key players. Rehearse with your guest speaker.
  • Test all equipment. Make certain your connectivity is strong if you are live streaming.
  • Do a dry-run with staff.
  • Run a final check of set-up.
  • Check in with staff. Be certain they are clear with the schedule, as well as what to do in case something doesn’t go to plan. 
  • Do a final check-in with sponsors, vendors, and speakers.
  • Send, tweet, or post any final communication about the event.

During the Event

  • Smile and portray confidence.
  • Be ready to troubleshoot.
  • Engage with guests, facilitate a networking environment, and be excited about your product or service.
  • Share live updates.

After the Event

  • Show your gratitude to your attendees, sponsors, guest speakers, and vendors. 
  • Send out a post-event survey while it’s still fresh in attendees minds. 
  • Go over the event with your team and possibly set next year’s budget. 

Preparedness. It’s the one virtue that all seasoned event professionals share. Being ready for anything, anywhere, at any time is what sets successful event planners apart, and the event checklist is the reason why.

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