How to launch a successful event in 9 easy steps
There’s nothing like a well-planned event to get a group of people excited and mobilized toward a shared goal. But whether you’re planning a small get-together, an important business meeting, or a large-scale trade show, event planning involves a lot of moving parts. To deliver your event without a hitch, you'll need a rock solid plan.
In this piece, you’ll find mission-critical steps to help plan your next successful event, no matter your event budget, objective, or audience. Feel free to jump ahead using the table of contents, or read on for the full walkthrough:
Define goals and timeline
Set a budget
Create a team
Develop a plan
Find a venue
Vet and book vendors
Make a branding and marketing plan
Determine which tech tools you might need
Have a day-of plan
What’s the overall goal of the event? And when do you want it to happen?
These questions might seem obvious, but all too many events take place simply because “We’ve have one every year” or “Our CEO suggested it.” Everyone on your team should have a clear, succinct, and—most importantly—aligned understanding of your event’s goals.
For example, do you want to use your event to build relationships with your target audience, recruit students or professionals for your program, or otherwise build your brand or business? Maybe it’s all of the above—in which case, how would you rank these goals, and which are most important? You’ll need to be clear on your goals before you can create specific and measurable objectives for the event. (And without specific and measurable goals you won’t know whether your event was successful.)
For example, suppose your event’s main goal is to market your products or services. Note that we said market, not sell—in that case, a suitable objective might be to collect a specific number of email addresses of potential customers/leads.
Once you’ve got your goals and objectives set, it’s time to pick a date and create a work-back plan. What tasks will you need to complete to accomplish each of your objectives, who on your team will drive those tasks, and how much time will they need? Note that it’s not time to start promoting your event date yet—you have an initial timeline at this point, but you may still need to adapt it as your plan evolves.
Next, you'll need to work on setting your budget.
Mapping out your costs is fun when you have an unlimited budget—but even if your organization has deep pockets, they’ll want to see a return on their spend. That’s why setting a budget should come early in your event planning. The size of your budget will determine your options for the event location, entertainment, staffing, marketing, and more.
Here’s how to approach setting an event budget:
Depending on your goals, project the value your event will drive. If you’re looking to drum up new business, how much new business will be considered a success, and in what timeframe? You may decide (with your stakeholders) that your event will directly drive thousands of dollars in revenue, or none at all. That should help inform your next step.
Break down the event into broad categories (venue, food/drink, staff, printed materials, speakers, marketing, etc.). Then, list out individual line items in each category that you would need to pay for or purchase for each broad category. Make sure you consider “hidden” factors, like tax rates in the location you're hosting, or travel costs for you and your team. If you have old budget details from previous events, this is a good time to break them out.
Start researching your options for the line items you've identified, and gather quotes from partners, vendors, speakers, etc. Even if you have an existing relationship, it’s still a best practice to get multiple quotes to compare.
Determine the amount you’re willing to spend on your event. Factors should include the returns you expect to see, as outlined in the previous bullet, your total marketing budget, your total events budget, and, of course, your projected spend.
Once you've completed these steps, you might find that the event you envisioned isn't possible with the budget you have available—and that’s okay. Maybe you pick a slightly smaller or simpler venue, or reduce the number of speakers. Or maybe you stick to your guns and ask for additional budget, take on a sponsor to offset costs, or propose a way to increase the event’s ROI. The important thing is to get square on budget before you’ve spent a single dime.
Event pros are famously scrappy, known for doing more with less—but the size and complexity of your event will still change the way you staff your team. A bigger, more complex event might require multiple people in each of the roles outlined below; for a very small event, a single person might perform all of these functions.
Event planner: This person is the primary lead for the event, holding responsibility for the event’s execution, budgeting, strategy, and decision-making. And because they planned the event from the start, they’re the go-to person (internally and externally) for any questions about the event schedule, itinerary, contact information, etc.
Event manager: This person helps coordinate the event on the day-of, juggling tasks, people, and attendees to make sure the event is executed as intended. They usually work hand in hand with the event planner to make sure things go smoothly (and according to plan).
Venue point of contact: Many events occur at an event venue, which is a business in its own right. The venue’s point-of-contact helps with all venue-specific details like on-site staff, food/beverage, parking, restrooms, storage, and tech needs. Even with a lower-key venue, you’ll need someone to manage the space, ensure that it has adequate utilities (eg restrooms, outlets), and map out exit plans in case of an emergency.
Scheduling contact: For events with multiple speakers and sessions to organize, you need a person specifically in charge of the schedule. Their job is to ensure your event agenda is full of valuable activities and speakers and that all parties know where to be and when. This person should also help develop the agenda, communicate directly with speakers, and ensure that the schedule goes smoothly during the event.
Marketing contact or promoter: Marketing an event typically means weeks of preparation, content creation, and promotion, so it’s standard to have a designated person for event marketing and communications. It’s up to them to spread awareness about your event through various campaigns, communicate with attendees and media, and ensure your branding is on point in all event materials.
Once you’ve got your foundation down, including goals, budget, and event team, you need to develop an event plan that brings it all together.
Your event plan helps you track all the moving parts of the event, including:
A schedule of what needs to be completed before, during, and after the event
A place to manage all contact information for venue, partners, and any third parties you're working with
A detailed schedule for the event itself
If you haven’t already, this is a perfect time to start putting your event management software (or any other organizational tool) to work. We recommend starting with our event planning templates. These make your planning process so much more manageable, and ensure you don't lose track of your event details as time goes on.
Your venue sets the tone for your event. It also impacts other parts of your event plan, like promotion, travel logistics, speaker booking, and certainly your budget, just to name a few.
To find a physical venue for your event, think about your must-haves for the space, such as:
Minimum seating capacity
Space for booths
Stages for presentations and entertainment
Event catering options
From there, create a shortlist of cities and venues that make sense for your event, research venues that fit the essential criteria you have so far, and get detailed quotes.
If your goal is to hold a virtual event, you'll need to take a different approach. Instead of a physic venue, you'll need to find a digital event platform. As you weigh your options, consider the following:
Maximum virtual capacity
Ease of use for event host and attendees
Reliability and connectivity
Special features such as chat rooms, interactive components, moderation functionality, audio, and tech support
Unless your company offers and produces its own event services and materials, vendors are the key to making your event plan a reality.
From food and drink, volunteer management and staffing, on-site decor and materials, signs and printed collateral, entertainment, and more, the right partners will turn a standard event into an unforgettable one.
Some tips for vetting and booking them:
Conduct online researching, making sure you have a detailed list of specs to look for. For example, if you're looking for a caterer, you should know how many people you're expecting, how much you want to pay per person, and how many meals you want to provide.
Browse through reviews to see what real customers have experienced. If you're on the fence, it doesn't hurt to ask for references.
Request quotes and availability. Make sure you're clear about the size and scale of your event so they can check staffing options accordingly.
Interview their main point of contact directly (especially ones with a high ticket price!).
Review contracts and clarify any unclear payment terms before giving a final signoff.
Like we mentioned earlier, marketing for an event involves weeks of effort and coordination that start well before your guests arrive. That’s why it’s critical to work together with your marketing team to develop an event marketing plan that you and all of your event's stakeholders are proud of.
A branding and marketing plan for an event could include any combination of the following:
Social media posts
Social media banners
Digital and out-of-home ads
Event webpage or website
Flyers, brochures, and print materials
Almost every event requires some level of tech support. That could include audio and video equipment equipment for speakers and entertainment, onsite wi-fi, badge scanners, or live video for sharing content from the event in real time.
Here are some questions to help you figure out how technology plays a role at your event:
Do we need special equipment for registration, badges, and attendee communication?
Do we need audio and visual equipment for our speakers and session?
Do we need to set up a dedicated wi-fi network for ourselves and our guests?
Do we need to set up a live-streaming video for any aspect of the event?
Determine if your organization already has access to any of these tools. If not, look at sites that offer event vendor comparisons and try to narrow down what might work for you.
After some time and hard work, you eventually arrive at the day(s) of your event. Congrats!
While you can pat yourself on the back for making it to your event’s kick-off, there's still a lot to do during the event that you can't afford to overlook. That’s what a day-of-event plan is for.
For your day-of plan, map out all of the tasks and items that have to happen at, or during the event. This includes things like:
Team check-ins and status updates
Prep and setup
Meeting partners to guide them to where they need to be
Double-checking presentation materials and tech setups
Welcoming and checking in attendees
Closing the event and teardown
In addition, before the event, be sure to:
Ask other event team members to review your day-of list of to-dos. Make sure you ask them to add anything else you might've missed—a second set of eyes never hurts!
Comb through your event plan and pull out the items that need to occur on the days right after the event. It's easy to lose steam after the event itself concludes. A list of fast follow tasks can help keep you accountable.
Confirm with your partners to make sure they don't have any outstanding questions or needs for you to address.
Event planners have the difficult task of juggling people, partners, and details to bring their vision to life. The most valuable event planning tools help you organize, streamline, and even automate parts of your planning process.
Airtable makes all of those things possible. It offers a wide variety of ready-made planning templates for all of your event management, event marketing, and event planning needs. Browse our template and get started for free today.
Browse all in Event Management