A Successful Event Planning Guide: A Checklist for Large-Scale Events
There’s no hard-and-fast definition of what constitutes a “large-scale” event versus a “normal event.” Still, most event organizers agree large events attract hundreds or tens of thousands of attendees. Large-scale events are inherently more complex and can involve multiple days, non-adjacent venues, virtual venues, and dozens or hundreds of exhibitor organizations. Some examples of large-scale events might include:
- New product launches with a large media presence
- Industry conferences
- Trade shows
- Multi-track professional seminars
For large-scale events, you’ll want an event planning guide template that accounts for all event components and helps you accomplish virtually all event-related production tasks for which you’re responsible. This event planning template should be a fundamental resource for you, your event director and/or event manager, and all event planning team members. In detail, the event planning guide template should help you:
1. Define Your Event Objectives and Goals
Objectives and goals should be at the foundation of any event planning process. It’s often easy to confuse the two. Objectives are what you want to achieve by hosting an event, whereas goals are what you want to achieve for your business, regardless of whether you host an event.
Successful event management requires a clear vision of what you want to accomplish, a detailed plan, good communication, and the right equipment. The more time you take to organize your vision, strategy, and communication and select event technology to help manage your event, the smoother your journey will be.
To help define your objectives and goals, here are some key questions to answer:
- What’s the purpose of this event?
- What do you want to achieve as a result of this event?
- How many event participants/attendees do you want to attract?
- What do you want the event participants to do or learn?
The more quantifiable and specific the answers to these questions are, the better you’ll be able to measure your success.
2. Determine Individual Responsibilities and Roles
Ideally, you want to have one event director or event manager overseeing your large-scale event and then assign high-level managers for:
- Venue management
- Volunteer coordination
- Partnerships and sponsorships
By assigning responsibilities to individuals, you create accountability. Remember to allot time to meet with your event team. Remember also that high-quality, large-scale events usually require buy-in from all levels of hierarchy within an organization, including those at the very top.
3. Recruit and Train Staff and Volunteers
Have a sufficient number of paid staff to ensure event tasks will be accomplished. However, in addition to paid workers, many events can benefit from volunteers covering ad hoc or additional responsibilities. It’s important to keep in mind physically setting up the event space, working as ushers, checking coats, handling parking (and/or valet parking), vending refreshments, managing registration and ticket sales, and covering for paid sick or absent staff, and other duties. It’s important to consider that virtual events will require fewer staff and volunteers to administer and operate, potentially decreasing your overhead expenses. Do your research and look into virtual event products to see if you can cut costs tied to paying staff and searching for volunteers.
You can create a team of volunteers by reaching out to your existing contacts first and then supplementing this outreach with listings and/or ads on volunteer websites, job boards, and social media platforms. Allocate enough time for this recruitment, including in-person or virtual training sessions if and when necessary (create training materials where advisable). Also, identify who among your staff and/or volunteer team can work in leadership positions.
4. Determine Your Event Budget
One of the most critical aspects of planning a large-scale event is settling on a realistic budget. The budget should be sufficient to allow some creativity in terms of what you can include and deliver to attendees. Try to prioritize what’s most important for your event and identify “givebacks” or items you can cut if necessary. While everyone’s budget will look different, most budgets need to include at least the following:
Venue: How much will the venue cost to rent? How much is the deposit? Will you need to buy insurance? These are likely some of your most considerable costs, and you must define them well. Pro tip: consider which percentage of your venue costs are refundable if you need to cancel the event. Keep in mind a virtual event platform in case your event needs to turn digital.
Food and Drink: You should determine how much food and drink you will provide as complimentary (if any) and how much will be sold. Pro tip: working with a vendor to provide food and drinks will minimize your responsibilities. Still, you want to ensure you’re working with a high-quality vendor to give the attendees good foodstuffs at a reasonable price.
Entertainment: Entertainment can include guest speakers, musical acts, or even DJs. Pro tip: ensure you have compensation and travel and accommodation costs covered where necessary.
Décor: How will your event look? Will you rely on what the event venue provides (typically minimal), or will you incorporate banners, wall coverings, curtains, dividers, custom lighting, etc.? Will there be an event theme or aesthetic? Pro tip: try to get an idea of how your event will look by seeing items in person versus in a catalog or web page.
Staff: It’s critical to account for transportation and lodging costs, especially if members of your event team will be present at the event itself.
Marketing: Although you can exclusively use email and social media for marketing your event, this isn’t recommended. For large-scale events, you’ll likely want to take advantage of additional marketing channels, including print and digital ads, press, and possibly radio and/or TV commercials, all of which have associated costs.
Software: Did you know there’s software explicitly made for hosting and managing events? These applications can streamline event management processes, save time, and allow your event team to accomplish more tasks with fewer resources. Of course, these packages aren’t free; some may have a monthly or yearly subscription cost.
A/V: Most large-scale events require a hefty complement of A/V equipment, including video projectors, public address speakers, wireless microphones, presentation computers, WiFi routers, and laser printers.
Miscellaneous: Sometimes, the most costly expenses cannot be accounted for in advance. Unforeseen and last-minute expenses can take a significant bite out of your wallet. Pro tip: try to pad your budget to accommodate any surprises.
5. Set a Date for Your Event
Setting a date for your event is one of your most important decisions. If your dates conflict with those of other major industry events, seasonal slowdowns, and/or holidays (including religious, bank, and school holidays), this can enormously impact attendance.
That said, some argue that scheduling your event on the same or overlapping days as complementary events occurring in the same city or region can work to your advantage and be a “win-win” for you. Other events (in some cases, you may even be able to arrange co-marketing or partnerships with these events’ organizers). The better you know your industry, your customers, and your prospects, the better you should be able to plan your event dates.
While most event planners agree that more than lead time is needed, a minimum of four to six months for planning and coordination is recommended. Remember, it isn’t just your team that requires enough time to reserve your venue, hire staff, coordinate exhibitors, etc.; you also need to account for the schedules and preferences of your presenters, speakers, VIPs, and attendees.
And although you can never predict the weather too far in advance, know that certain seasons and locales (such as hurricane season in Florida) may be more prone to inclement or undesirable weather than others. Take advantage of some virtual event solutions and set up a virtual venue to make it a hybrid event in emergencies. I think it pays to plan ahead on this.
6. Lock in Your Event Location and Venue
In addition to the event dates, the event location and venue have the potential to make or break your event. It’s essential to research well to ensure the location and venue can deliver a quality experience, given the number of attendees you expect. Some questions to ask before you commit to a location and a venue includes:
- Is the location attractive to potential attendees? Is it in a place that’s familiar or would otherwise appeal to them? Consider the attractions the area has to offer. Are there other things to do or see beyond your event that entice people to travel to the location?
- Is the event venue convenient? Is it downtown or in another readily accessible area? Is there ample transportation to support the number of attendees, and will the amount of walking be minimal?
- Is the venue accessible? Are there enough elevators, and are they all functional? Are there all-gender bathrooms? Is signage accessible?
- Is the venue size appropriate? Is the venue large enough to handle your event (including multiple speaking, function, breakout, and green or VIP rooms), or is it so large that your event could look diminutive? Will other events occur concurrently that could conflict with your event or offend or confuse your attendees? Is the venue so large or laid out so poorly that it might be difficult for your attendees to navigate?
- Will the venue supply any A/V equipment? Does it have a public address system, and can you make announcements over it? Does the venue have enough electrical outlets, video, and audio distribution jacks, WiFi routers, hubs, or networks? Is cellular service reliable inside and outside the venue?
- Does the venue have ample parking? Is parking close enough to the venue itself? Can you include free parking in your event’s registration or ticket price?
- Does the venue have a reputation for being well-maintained and managed? Have other events had problems with the venue? Have there been issues with cleaning, climate control, lighting, pests, venue workers, etc.? Has the venue been renovated, or will it undergo any repairs before or during your event?
- Will you need to purchase insurance to use the venue? Do you need to show proof of insurance by a specific date?
- Does your venue support sustainability? With sustainable events on the rise, it’s important to do some research and see where you can go green to help save the planet.
For in-person events, you should take an in-person tour of the venue to get the answers to these questions rather than rely on photos, videos, or website information. Once you’ve answered these questions satisfactorily, you should book the venue as soon as possible. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t promote your event until you’ve paid a deposit on the venue.
7. Make a Large Scale Event Planning Checklist
Once you’ve squared away your costs, timeline, and location, you can start the real event planning. By creating a large-scale event planning checklist, you can nail down the details of every remaining aspect of your event to make sure it goes off as smoothly as possible. Your checklist should account for the following:
- Management of all tasks related to your venue, logistics (such as load-in and load-out), and catering — including permits, contracts, insurance, etc.
- Identifying, reserving, confirming, and arranging for the travel and accommodation of your event speakers and presenters
- Scheduling all event-related activities and Entertainment
- Handling both online and offline publicity and promotions, including website development, social media management, printing of event programs, flyers, and calendars, creation of venue signage, media relations, and press coordination
- All registration processes, both online and offline, including payment, tracking, check-ins/ticketing, and refunds
- Management of sponsorships and partnerships
- Management and payment of staff and/or volunteers
Your checklist should include detailed timelines for important dates, such as when permits or insurance policies need to be obtained, registration deadlines, cutoff dates for cancellations, etc. There should also be a clear timeline for each day of your event, including the days immediately preceding and following it.
Although it may be tempting for people to “keep everything in their head,” this is not smart business-wise and will create problems accountability-wise. It will also make it challenging to repeat everything when it’s time to host the event again. Be sure to document as much as possible and make this information accessible to all relevant team members.
8. Use Event Management Software
As mentioned above, event management software can make your large-scale event planning tasks easier and more automated. Eventory by 6Connex offers an all-in-one event platform to help streamline your event management to finish. Use our mobile event apps to manage events, check in your guests, engage your attendees, and track real-time data.
When choosing an event management platform, make sure it includes features and functionality for:
- Event websites
- Lead tracking
- Attendee engagement
- Virtual and hybrid events
- Attendee management
- Streaming Capabilities
- Pre and post-event campaigns
Specifically, the event management software you choose should be able to:
- Create online event registration forms
- Add a calendar of keynote addresses, speaker sessions, seminars, and other activities to your event and/or other websites
- Automatically update these sites when changes and additions are made
- Manage payments (including refunds) and deposit them into your event account
- Send invoices and event reminders automatically
- Export event attendee data to your company or event database
9. Develop Event Branding
A creative, compelling, and/or timely event brand can set your event apart from others. Choose a brand and apply it to all event elements where possible. Pro tip: make sure your brand highlights those components of your event that are unique selling points and differentiate it from other industry events. Other strategies you can use for event branding:
Event name: When brainstorming names for your event, consider what differentiates it from similar events inside and outside your industry. What overall idea or message are you hoping to convey with your event? Don’t be afraid to get creative! You can also use abbreviations if appropriate.
Event tagline: Once you have a name for your event, try to create a catchy tagline that is short, memorable, and descriptive.
Event logo: Logos can be tremendously effective branding tools. Reinforce event recognition by placing your logo on all promotional and publicity items (think posters, t-shirts, bags, water bottles, smartphone cases, and more).
Visual identity: By creating a cohesive visual identity for your event, you can combine all event elements in a unified aesthetic. Hire a graphic designer and ask them to create a distinctive typeface, color palette, and graphics for the event.
Event hashtag: Create a hashtag for social media that includes your event name to increase your event’s digital footprint.
By using your event’s name, tagline, logo, visual identity, and hashtag together, you can familiarize your prospective audience with your event.
10. Reserve Speakers and Special Guests
In addition to your event location and dates, a strong draw can be the speakers, special guests, and VIPs who will be present. Industry luminaries, leading influencers, and subject matter experts are all excellent examples of people who can draw crowds and sponsorships to your event. However, finding and booking speakers and special guests may not be easy, as they’re often in high demand. Here are some tips for securing quality speakers for your event:
Do research on professional speaker websites: You may not have to go to great lengths to find or book quality speakers. Many experts, luminaries, and influencers are already on speaker “circuits” and can be booked through agencies specifically for this purpose. Websites like SpeakHub and the National Speakers Association list hundreds of speakers across numerous categories, along with their speaking fees and availability.
Read industry publications: Magazines, newspapers, websites, and newsletters can often give you ideas about who the movers and shakers are in an industry. You may see their names mentioned in articles, or they may author the articles themselves.
Use social media: Very often, good speaker candidates will be prominent on social media (a great resource to use is LinkedIn). They may have a large following and be connected to many influential people.
Use your industry network of contacts: People in your industry may be the best source of information about who and what is “hot” at the moment. Consult with them and compile a list of potential speakers.
Reach out to a local Chamber of Commerce: Chambers of Commerce can be great resources for locating speakers and/or other knowledgeable people or experts in an industry.
Ask your organization: Use surveys to learn who people in your organization would like to see on the agenda at your event.
11. Arrange Partnerships and Sponsorships
Partnerships and sponsorships enable you to share your event costs and leverage synergies to attract more people to your event. Ideally, a partnership or sponsorship will produce a “1+1 = 3” effect, whereby the result of your organization’s combined marketing efforts will be greater than the sum of the parts.
A corporate sponsor could be a national organization that funds a portion of your event in exchange for prominent placement of its name and logo on your marketing and promotional materials. Or, it could be a local business that supplies attendees goods, services, or food and drinks. Local partners could also be community organizations providing a venue and/or staffing assistance.
12. Make Advertising, Promotional, Marketing, and Publicity Plans
It’s not enough to have a great venue, compelling speakers, and engagement tools and activities for your event; you also need advertising, promotional, and marketing plans to get people to attend.
Event marketing should align with the event’s primary objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) such as registration, attendance, and attendee engagement. Messaging in marketing campaigns, including social media and email, should therefore convey how your event will meet attendees’ needs.
Regarding advertising, you should identify which media channels attendees are most likely to tune into and buy ads accordingly. Even (and especially) on the days of the event itself, advertising can play a crucial role in attendee turnout. Pro tip: hiring an event photographer can be a great way to get professional photos of your event and its speakers, audiences, and attendees into the press.
Keep in mind not all publicity costs money. Getting your event mentioned on television, radio, and in news articles can sometimes be as easy as sending out a press release or mentioning your event to the right people. Your event’s speakers, special guests, and VIPs should also have no problem promoting your event, as it will increase their own visibility in the process.
Remember to thank all your media, press, sponsor, and partner contacts for their help when your event is over. As you may ask many of these people for their assistance again.
13. Prepare Day-of Processes
As the day of your event approaches, you should pull together a complete schedule. Create a time for each activity and the name of the person responsible. Every detail should be noticed.
A schedule might look like this:
5:00: Drop off auction items at the venue (Susan)
6:15: Setup A/V equipment (Paul, Susan)
7:00: Hold volunteer coordination meeting (Paul + volunteers)
7:30: Open venue doors (venue staff)
8:00: Exhibit hall opens (Chris)
8:30: Speaker 1 goes onstage (Mike)
9:30: Speaker 2 goes onstage (Terry)
10:00: Industry awards presentation (Susan)
11:00: Set up lunch buffet (catering)
11:30: Lunch buffet opens (catering)
Before the day of your event (preferably at least 48 hours in advance), you should:
- Send an email to attendees reminding them the event is taking place
- Communicate with your media contacts
- Do a walk-through of the venue and double-check the setup
- Reserve an area or office that can serve as your headquarters for the duration of the event
- Check weather forecasts and adjust your checklist and day-of plans accordingly
- Touch base with everyone on your event team to iron out any last-minute issues
- Check-in with your vendors and double-check delivery times and drop-off commitments
- Confirm speaker and guest attendance and activate contingency plans for last-minute cancellations
- Review your event planning guide and day-of schedules to make sure everything is up-to-date and ready
- Make sure all necessary equipment (including A/V equipment) is prepared and has a backup in case of failure
- Ensure you have extra supplies on hand, including whiteboards, markers, paper, pens, power cords, chargers, cables, USB drives, etc.
- Have an emergency collateral kit with PR information, people’s itineraries, and other relevant documents
- Pack extra clothes, toiletries, etc., in case your speakers need them
- Take time to pause and center yourself before the whirlwind of your event begins!
14. Keep Track of Vendor Details
The hardest part of an event will often be what’s unexpected; be prepared for emergencies and failures. Remember Murphy’s Law and ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” The more prepared you are, the less ruffled you’ll be when things happen (and with large-scale events, you can be assured they will).
An excellent item to have on hand is a list with vendor information, including names, cell phone numbers, emails, and other details in case of emergencies. Knowing where people are and how far away they can be critical in case of the unexpected.
After your event, it will be tempting to take a well-deserved rest. However, it’s essential to evaluate your event. There are many ways to measure success. Some questions to ask include:
- How did your event perform against your objectives and goals? Did you achieve the attendance numbers you predicted? Did you go over or under your budget? What could be done better next time to achieve KPIs?
- What was the attendees’ feedback? Were there any consistent themes in the comments? What was positive? What was negative? Try to incorporate this feedback into the planning process for your next event.
- How did your team perform? Who was a standout contributor? Who fell short? Whom would you use again, and which people would you omit? Remember, some volunteers may be eager to work for you again, mainly if they had a good experience.
- How did your event marketing perform? Which marketing channels yielded the highest ROI? Which promotional activities were particularly successful?
The answers to these questions can help you plan future events — whether they’re in-person, virtual, hybrid, or webinars. While lightning doesn’t necessarily strike in the same place twice, success can often breed success, and you should therefore be able to take what you’ve learned and apply it in the future. Request a virtual event platform demo to see how 6Connex can help you achieve your event goals.