Event planning checklist: How to plan an event 

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Planning your first ever successful event can be a hugely rewarding experience. But when you’re just starting out, trying to envision how that success will ever come into fruition can be overwhelming at best; totally panic-inducing at worst. Lifting yourself out of the ‘how am I ever going to manage this?’ haze is easier than you might think, though. And it all starts with breaking down the event planning process into smaller, more manageable tasks.

In this article, we’ve compiled a thorough checklist to help you on your way to setting up the perfect event. 

Top tip: We’d recommend reading through the below in full first, and then going through it again to jot down which sections definitely apply to you. As no two events are the same, you may want to shift the order of the points depending on the nature of your event. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have your own unique checklist to follow. 

How to plan an event – essential steps to follow

With so many things to consider when planning an event, keeping an eye on your checklist throughout the process is the best way to keep things on track. Here goes:

Define your event objectives 

So you want to plan an event – you know that much. It follows, then, that you already have at least one broad objective in mind. If you’ve got the itch to host your own charity event, you might be driven by a want to make some money for a good cause, or the need to build up your event planning portfolio. Or if you’ve heard events can be a good marketing tool and want to try it out for your business, it’s safe to say your goal is promotional.

Starting with that one broad vision, the first point in the event planning process will be to whittle it down into more specific objectives. These will be essential to both the planning process and the way you measure the success of your event once it’s over. Some example objectives include (you might have one or more of these as your own):

  • Networking opportunities – to meet potential new business partners

  • Lead generation for a specific audience

  • Raising awareness – to educate, inform and affect change

  • Passion project – to support a certain music scene, or arts scene, for example

  • To make money for another part of your business – selling tickets to fundraise for your business

  • To launch a new product – to promote a new product or offering ahead of its release 

Put your vision for the event on paper

No matter how rough your ideas are at this stage, now’s the time to start putting pen to paper to make them more tangible. Write a rough list of things you’d like your event to involve – which may include things like:

  • At least two keynote speakers

  • X band and XXX support band, or X DJ

  • Food and drink (a bar, a sit-down meal, food trucks)

  • A particular decor theme 

  • X amount of attendees (try googling the capacity at some events that are similar to the operation you have in mind)

  • A certain type of venue 

  • The ideal date and time 

Plan your budget

Now you’ve got an idea of why you’re hosting an event, and roughly what you want it to look like, it’s a good time to plan your budget. It’s better to get this out of the way now, as it’ll affect basically every other decision you make in the planning process. 

First you’ll need to define how much you have available to spend, for example – X% of your annual marketing budget, or X amount of money you can afford to put up front, or X amount of money you plan to get from sponsors. Then, you’ll need to carry out some research to find out how much each element of your event will cost.

Things to consider include:

  • Venue rental 

  • Food & drink 

  • Hiring main performers or speakers

  • Staff

  • Additional entertainment

  • Decor 

  • Marketing 

  • Software and technology (including hardware e.g. sound systems, and online e.g. ticket selling platform)

  • Contingency – it’s always wise to budget for unexpected costs or for if things going wrong

Set the date and book your venue

This is when things start to get really exciting – it’ll be the first time you feel you’ve got something solid to show for your event. First, firm up the date you want your event to take place, taking into account things that might impact this – like clashing events, weather and national holidays. You should also consider how long you’ll need to plan for your event in advance of it happening. For larger events, four to six months should be about right, but you could probably get away with less than this for more low-key affairs. 

Next, start to put out some feelers for a venue that’s available on or around your desired date. Things to consider include:

  • The venue’s proximity to transport (airports, trains etc.) and hotels (if relevant)

  • Catering – does the venue offer this, or have a relationship with a catering company?

  • Whether or not A/V equipment is included in the rental

  • The security policy and services offered by the venue

Once you’ve found the perfect match (don’t forget to make sure it fits your budget), get things booked up and look forward to finally having a solid date to work towards. 

Create your team

No matter how large or small your event, it’s highly likely you’ll need to bring others onboard to help make it a success. Here’s a list of potential professionals you might want to start reaching out to at this stage:

  • Marketers and promoters

  • Entertainers or key speakers 

  • Creatives like copywriters and graphic designers (to help you with promotional materials)

  • Venue managers

  • Logistics staff

  • General event managers

Create a brand for your event

Now it’s time to really get stuck into defining your event by giving it an official personality and brand. You’ll need to:

  • Give your event an official name

  • Consider visual branding – try creating a mood board of colours and images that inspire you

  • Create a logo for your event (this is where that graphic designer might come in useful, or you could try using a site like Canva to make one yourself).

  • Decide what your brand values are – what will the tone of your event be; what are the things you advocate and the things you won’t tolerate?

  • What will the tone of voice of your communications be? Look to competitors or similar events for inspiration, and consider who the main audience you’re trying to reach is and what will resonate with them.

Make the rest of your bookings – food, drinks and decor 

You might be going all-out DIY or you may be planning on hiring an impressive set for your event’s decor. Either way, now’s the time to start securing the things you need to bring your event to life. That also includes any additional food and drink vendors on top of what your venue may or may not already be offering. 

Get set up online

Next you’ll need to decide whether or not you want to set up an individual website for your event, or are happy using a ticket registration platform to showcase what it has to offer. Once you’ve made up your mind, now’s the time to set these up. 

One thing’s sure – you’ll need a means of selling your tickets. Check out our article on how to sell tickets online if you’re unsure about how to do this.

Secure sponsorship and partnerships

Now you’re even planning is well underway and you’ve got some online materials, a venue, performers and budget to show for it, it’s time to reach out to any potential sponsors or partners. This might include corporate sponsors to fund part of the event, or community partners who may be able to get involved in the hosting of it. 

There are some digital tools you can use to find event sponsors, including:

Plan and execute a marketing strategy for your event

Some key marketing channels to consider for the promotion of your event include:

  • Email marketing – do you have a list of contacts you can start pushing promos out to?

  • Social media marketing – check out our articles on Facebook and Instagram event promotion to get started (this article on Facebook Custom Audiences for events might be useful too).

  • Press and media – consider sending out a press release about your event to the local media, or setting up some interviews with local radio stations.

  • Printed materials – think about whether you want to create flyers or booklets in the run up to your event.

Finally, plan event check-in, and look forward to the big day

Finally, you’ll need to plan the logistics of checking people in at your event. We’d recommend using a ticketing platform that lets you do this via an app, as it significantly reduces your admin and keeps things nice and streamlined. 

For very small events, you may get away with doing this manually (say, if you want to sell tickets on the door). Just be sure to plan everything out carefully and to have the means to keep track of attendance. 

It’s true – the logistics of planning an event can get pretty complex. But by organising everything carefully in advance, allowing enough time for each step to take place, and keeping a cool head, you’ll soon realise you’re more than capable of making yours a success.