First Steps to Plan Your Next Event

First Steps to Plan Your Next Event 2018-04-14T17:50:55+00:00

Project Description

You’ve got a brilliant idea for an event, but you have no idea where to start. As an event producer, I realized that after talking with many clients and prospects that there is a gap in knowledge and awareness when it comes to the creation and planning of events.

My goal as a successful event producer is to share my knowledge and experience to empower business owners to create better events.

Event planning is not sexy.

So many people think that it’s this exciting, sexy and glamorous thing, but really events are a ton of work and I spend more time on my laptop creating an event than I do onsite managing the event.

All successful events are built on the exact same thing.

A solid foundation.

In events there are 5 pillars that will help you build a solid foundation for your next event.

  1. Defining Your Purpose & Goals
  2. Identifying Your Target Audience
  3. Creating an Amazing Experience
  4. Budget Planning & Management
  5. Setting an Event Timeline

Your event will fall to pieces or really never get off the ground without these 5 foundational pillars.

I stress these with every client because if they are not clearly defined and determined, the rest of the event creation, planning and management becomes extremely difficult and just plain…not fun

Let’s start with your event purpose and goals.

Before you begin the actual planning of your event you need to figure out why you want to have the event and what do you want out of it.

Most events fall into 3 areas of purpose.


Brand Awareness

Lead Generation

Here are some questions to ask yourself.

  • Why are you holding this event?
  • What is the end result you want to achieve?
  • Are you doing an event to make money?
  • What is your ROI?
  • What is the perceived value? For you? For your attendees?
  • To grow your audience?
  • To increase brand awareness?
  • For a product launch?
  • To create a unique experience for your followers?
  • To help your audience learn something new?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Do you want to gain media coverage?
  • Do you want to increase visibility?
  • Do you want to contribute to your community?
  • Do you want to celebrate a milestone or success?
  • Do you want to build more connections/grow your tribe?
  • Do you have attendance goals?
  • How many butts in seats do you want?

Your purpose and goals need to be clearly defined because your event will be built on and around them.

Every time I do a discovery session with a client, I stump them with this first question…

What is the purpose of your event?

Before you decide to hire an event planner or bring your team into start planning this awesome event you just thought of, I want you to stop, breathe, take a step back, think and write down what your purpose is for creating this event.

Then I want you to lay out your goals for the event immediately following the purpose.

Your purpose and goals are the roadmap for the rest of your event. They will keep you on point if you keep them top of mind.

Do not ever plan an event without your purpose and goal clearly and succinctly identified.

Now that you have defined your purpose and goals for your event, you need to identify your target audience.

If you have been in business for any length of time you know who your target audience.

You need to have your target demographics nailed down and completely on point.

If you are unsure of who your target audience is for your event, I recommend that you get with a marketing professional to help you define that immediately or use a buyer persona like the one that Hubspot provides for free. Buyer Persona Template

It’s imperative that you have your demographics figured out because it impacts everything from your marketing and advertising down to location, entertainment, food and more.  

I’ve got a list of  things for you to think about when it comes to your target audience and your event.

  • Who do you want to attend this event?
  • Can your target audience afford to attend your event?
    • What are their hard costs?
      • What are their intangible costs? Time away from family, work, other events, etc
  • Will your audience travel to your event?
  • What is the draw for them?
  • What is the value and benefit? WIIFM (What’s in it for me (them)?)
    • Are they coming to see you? Your speakers?
    • Define what they gain for showing up.
    • What is their take away?
  • How many do you want in attendance?
    • Hundreds? Thousands?
  • What problems are you going to solve?
  • What issues are they concerned with?
  • What are their specific needs
  • Will your message attract them or isolate them?

Now think about what your audience likes to do:

  • Do they prefer tropical or winter environments?
  • Are they outdoorsy or techy?
  • What kind of entertainment are they into?
  • What kinds of foods do they eat?

Each of these questions will impact who attends your event.

I produced an event in Bali where the client struggled to get attendees because of timing, location and money. The majority of their audience was in North America and they opted to host an event in Bali, during Thanksgiving week. The price for the whole event with travel cost most attendees over $4,000 and they also had to leave their families during a major holiday. Needless to say, they did not have many Americans at that event.

Now, if you have a huge tribe that will follow you to the end of the earth and beyond, then some of this may not be as important to you.

Lastly, as we move into creating an experience, I want you to think about events that you have attended.

Why did you attend?

What was the draw for you?

Did you receive enough value for the price that you paid to travel and attend that event?

Did you enjoy the experience, the food, the hotel, the entertainment?

Your target audience is going to be similar to you. They may have similar likes and dislikes, so keep your previous experiences top of mind as you move through your target audience demographics.

Now that we have identified your target audience, we get to my personal FAVORITE piece, Creating an Amazing Experience.

We no longer create and plan events; we create unique, memorable experiences.

The event industry has changed and morphed over the years and you can’t just show up with good content and a badass keynote speaker.

We have become a society who wants to see, touch and feel and we want it now.

How do we create an experience for our attendees and exceed their expectations.

How do we create the wow factor?

How do we keep them coming back year after year?

This is something that so many clients and event creators struggle with.

I want to eliminate some of your struggle, but first let’s take a jog down memory lane really quick. I want you to close your eyes…c’mon do it.

Ok, now I want you to think about all of the events you have ever attended.

  • What memories or experiences stand out to you in this moment?
  • Are they good?
  • Are they bad?
  • Why did you like it?
  • Why did you dislike it?
  • Did that experience turn you off from attending that particular event in the future?
  • Would you go back to that event?

Let’s take it one step further. Think about the event that you want to create.

  • If you were attending your own event, what kind of experience do you want to have?
  • What does the event sales page add or take away from the experience?
  • How does your pre-event communication enhance the experience?
  • What are you feeling when you arrive in the host city or country?
  • What kind of feelings and emotions are you feeling as you arrive at your hotel for check in?
  • Was your hotel check in smooth and seamless?
  • Do you feel welcome?

Next, let’s walk through the event registration.

  • How do you feel?
  • Calm, cool, collected, nervous, excited, frustrated, angry, tired, ready to go home?

Now I want you to move yourself through the event.

  • What excites you?
  • What type of personality or energy are you and what do you need?
  • Do you need space to decompress or are you ready to party all day, every day?
  • Is the food amazing? Are you never leaving the buffet line? Or are you out looking for the nearest sushi restaurant?
  • Are you wow’d by the decor?
  • Does it impress you or are you completely blind to it?
  • How is the speaker line up?
  • Are you on the edge of your seat or are you trying to hide that yawn to not be rude?
  • Is the music too loud or not loud enough?
  • Are you enjoying the connections you are making?
  • Are there even opportunities to make connections?
  • What is keeping you at the event? Or are you ready to bail after the first day?
  • What’s the best thing you are feeling?
  • What makes you grumpy thinking about your event?

Ok, now that you’ve experienced your own event make note of the good that you experienced and the bad that you want to avoid.

Let’s take a look at the 7 areas that will help you create an AMAZING event experience.

  • The entire experience needs to be strategic

You need to determine the outcome and end result that you want to create when the event is complete.

The customer journey is through every element of your event will affect the outcome that you are aiming for.

The key is to create each element of the experience to help your attendee follow the path to your desired outcome.

  • Make sure that your experience aligns with the message of your event

What is your event message? What impact do you want to leave on your audience?

The answers to these questions help you determine the kind of experience you want to create.

If you are running a detox retreat, you may not want to have a dessert bar set up every night.

While your attendees may LOVE the sweet treats, is that in alignment with your message and will your attendees really love it in the long run? Probably not.

  • Will the experience entice your target audience?

Who is your target audience. If you haven’t clearly defined that yet, then you need to go back and do that first.

Based on your target audience, what kind of experience would attract them?

Do they like a fun, dance party, let loose kind of experience or are they more low key, earthy or are they more straight laced, suit and tie?

Based on this key piece, you can tailor and maximize the experience that you create for them.

  • Find ways to personalize the experience

One of the best ways to create a personal experience is through technology.

Use your event technology to send personalized messages and tweets to your followers.

I attended an event a couple of years ago and one of the sponsors set up fun, quirky, intelligent and sarcastic comments auto-responses on Twitter.

It made the social experience WAY more fun and what it did was made you WANT to engage even more.

Honestly, it was simply brilliant. If you are creating a smaller event, you can always do smaller, personal hands on touches.

One fun way to personalize the experience is to custom monogram swag gifts. This is brilliant idea especially if you have your branding on that particular piece of swag.

  • Create an interactive experience

Enhance the senses, create play and movement and humorous ice breakers are just a few things you can do.

One of my clients loves to incorporate some kind of movement or dance at intervals throughout their event.

It gets the blood flowing and snaps the audience attention back in place.

Everyone these days LOVES a good tasting.

Blind taste test some local wines or brews and create a fun, light hearted experience with your attendees.

Photo booths have been a rage for awhile.

You can set up one yourself (please don’t make it look half-assed) or you can bring in a vendor.

You can customize your experience to match the branding and experience of the event.

  • Collaborate with strategic partners that will enhance your experiences

There are a myriad of companies that will collaborate on events to get more exposure for their brand.

One of my clients owns a boutique and she creates private VIP events and partners with the local restaurants to provide all the food and drinks.

She also brings in a makeup artist and hairdresser for the women to get all dolled up with trying on new clothes.

Venues are great to collaborate with if you can find the right one.

You can create a solid foundation for an amazing experience if you can find unique and different venues.

  • Meet and exceed expectations

Attendees come with high expectations based on who you are, what your brand is, what they see online and what bill of goods you sold to them.

If there is anything in your event that is not genuinely in alignment they are going to pick up on that vibe so fast.

The old adage ‘under promise and over deliver’ applies to events too. Yes, make the event sound amazing, but realistic.

Create a level of excitement, but make sure that can be maintained throughout the event.

Satisfaction and experience is an intangible metric, so a good way to find out if you met or exceeded expectations is to send out a survey to your attendees and speakers.

Now on to most everyone’s LEAST favorite topic. Budget!

Your event will cost you money; as if that was not obvious already. Even if you are a non profit organization and receive donated items, there will still be costs, so budget is actually one of the first things that you need to finalize.

  • How much money do you have to spend for this event?
  • Are you receiving donations from vendors?
  • Will you be looking for sponsors?
  • Do you plan on having exhibitors?

Sponsorship is a GREAT way to cover the cost of your event and I know that topic is covered in this summit, so I hope you paid attention.

Do you plan on generating a profit from your event?

If so, make sure you calculate that into your numbers, so that you’re not fighting to save your profit at the end.

Do you have a contingency in place?

With everything you do in your event you will need to have a contingency or backup in place, just in case something (inevitably) goes wrong or costs more money than you had originally planned.

Always budget at least 15-20% contingency

Did I mention that things inevitably go wrong? If you don’t have room in your budget, then you could be costing yourself more than just money. Think stress, overwhelm, fear, anxiety…yes…you will create a huge burden of stress. So, let’s just eliminate that right from the beginning. Plan to have a contingency (or buffer) in your budget for the unexpected.

Let’s look at what you need to budget for….

  • Venue
  • Decor
  • Design
  • Event Tech
  • Group Activities
  • Entertainment
  • Furniture Rentals
  • Licensing
  • Insurance
  • Wifi
  • Electrical
  • A/V Equipment & Setup
  • Staging/Lighting Rental/Vendor
  • Food/Catering Services
  • Hotel Accommodations for:
    • Team
    • Guests
    • Speakers
    • Attendees
  • Stipend for:
    • Volunteers
    • Staff
    • Speakers
  • Ground Transportation for:
    • Team
    • Guests
    • Speakers
    • Attendees
  • Speaker Honorarium
  • Advertising/Marketing
  • Print Services
  • Staffing
  • Shipping
  • Storage
  • Taxes
  • Fees
  • Clean up
  • Union Fees
  • Deposits
  • Cancellation Fees

My team and I use a comprehensive budget template that I created. It’s 8 spreadsheets that covers every single element of an event and also tracks income and profit as well.

When you’re putting together your budget, you need to forecast your expenses & profit and of course, build in your contingency.

Go back to your purpose and goal to determine your financial goal needs to play into your budget.

Don’t undercut yourself, but also be realistic.

While working for large agencies, we were happy to make a 20% profit off of events.

However, if we could get 30-40% we were thrilled. In the back of our minds, we were focused on attaining that 30-40% profit and that meant we kept our expenses TOP of mind to make sure we didn’t waste money.

With all of that being said, I know events that cost $500,000 to put together, but they make $7 million in profit.

You can make as much money as you want to with your event if you plan, earn and spend properly.

Set 2 financial goals: a realistic one and a dream goal.

The more events you plan, you will improve your financial forecasting and will be able to predict more accurate profits and even expenses.

When you go into an event with a clearly defined budget, it actually makes it easier to negotiate with vendors.

Vendors actually appreciate it when you know exactly what you are looking for and what you are willing to spend.

They would rather work knowing what their budget limits are.

If you have Ritz Carlton dreams and a Motel 6 budget, no one will want to work with you.

Make sure your dreams and your budgets are a tad bit closer than my example above.

Last area in your building your event foundation is your timeline.

When planning an event, meeting, retreat, workshop or conference you will want to build out a timeline for your event. Certain elements of your event need to be reserved, contracted, ordered and paid for by a specific time frames prior to the event. If you have a member of your team managing this part of your event, you will want to ensure that they have the proper information and authority to complete tasks and sign contracts on your behalf.

Most large events are planned 12-18 months in advance, but here is a good guideline to follow depending on how often you are running your event.

  • Annual Events – Start 12-18 months out
  • Semi Annual Events – Start 9-12 months out
  • Quarterly Events – Start 6 months out
  • Monthly Events – 3 months out

If the event is an annual event, you will start planning your next event almost as soon as your current event is completed.

The shorter the lead time on an event, the tighter the deadlines and potentially the higher stress.

Lofty dreams and goals for events don’t work to create a successful event.

I had a client come to me wanting to create a 300 person event in 60 days from scratch.

The event idea was amazing, but they had no idea how they were going to put it all together, pay for it and get butts in seats in that time frame.

Doing a smaller event in a short time frame is definitely doable, but you need to be super realistic when it comes to deadlines, money and attendance goals.

The greater the lead time to plan an event, the higher the success rate.

Let me just say from experience, when you have these 5 areas clearly outlined and defined for you, your team and your event planner a world class event is within reach.

Everything in your event comes back and is directly impacted by these 5 areas.

It’s important to me that business owners have a clear understanding of the core foundational elements of their event planning process which is why I created affordable resources to help you get started.

Get your Event Starter Pack now and build your event foundation.

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