Event Planning Basics

Event Planning Quick Links

Event Planning Basics

Everyone has probably planned some kind of event at some point – even if it was just a small group birthday dinner. However, when you start getting into larger events like business retreats, big weddings, and booths at conventions there’s definitely some basic things you should consider.

Here’s is a (growing) list of some of the ways I approach an event and other “Event Planning 101” resources:

What Type Of Event Is It?

Before you jump headfirst into planning make sure you have a concrete understanding of what the event is suppposed to be. Are you trying to plan an onsite event or one that’s offsite at a hotel? Are you just responsible for setting up the booth at a conference, planning your company’s entire presence at the conference, or even the whole conference itself? You need to have a definitive scope for the event before you can truly go about things the right way.

Goals And Vision

What are your goals for the event? There’s a big difference in how you would go about planning a four-hour workshop for 50 attendees versus a two-day conference for 200 attendees. If you go into the event planning process with the wrong goal in mind you’ll waste a lot of time (and potentially money and resources) creating an event that’s completely wrong for you.

What does a successful outcome look like? When the convention is over are you hoping you sold a ton of merchandise? Are you looking to attract new employees or new investors? Do you want everyone to leave your wedding feeling inspired and relaxed or exhausted from all the partying? What are you hoping to accomplish at the employee retreat and what does that mean for your company?  By having the vision for your event decided from the start it will help you make the decisions necessary to ensure a successful outcome.

What Details Do You Already Know?

It’s not going to do you any good to plan your travel, pre-event purchases, booth design, food tastings, etc. if you get the time, dates, or place wrong – e.g. the San Francisco Airport Marriott provides free shuttle service from the airport but the San Francisco Marriott Marquis or Union Square locations do not. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the details you should pull together before you get too far into the planning process:

  • The dates and times of the event including any pre- or post-event activities – including the days before or after the official event

    IMPORTANT! Make sure you get fairly specific on any times as it affects when you can make meetings, setup your booth or event, schedule staff/volunteers, etc.

  • The location of the event and, especially for things like conventions and conferences, where the majority of related events (mixers, meetings, etc.) will take place

  • What physical items do you already own that you may need for the event – how many business cards do you still have and are they current? Do you already have a pop-up booth or brochure stands? Do you have the wedding themed tablecloths, napkins, etc. from the last bridal shower you threw?

  • What items (physical or digital) you own that need to be updated – flyers with old logos, website with out of date information, laptops that need software updated, poster board family tree that doesn’t have the new grandchildren on it for the reunion, etc.

  • The names and contact info for anyone involved with your part of the event (e.g. booth staff, caterer, bridal party, etc.) or that you want to make sure you interact with for the event/invite to the event

  • Any restrictions that may affect the planning of your event – your company may require you to go through a travel agency or ensure certain levels of employees don’t travel on the same flights, your attendees may have allergy issues, your venue has limited hours for setup and tear down, you’re traveling internationally or by plane and certain items won’t be allowed to travel with you

  • What major events or items are occurring before, during, or after the event? Will a secular or religious holiday happen during your event (try providing a Kosher certified meal on a limited food and beverage budget!)? Do you have other conferences you’re attending around the same time that would make it better to do one-way trips (e.g. fly to conference A, from A fly to convention B, then fly from B back to home)? Are you trying to launch your product, game, or website around the time of the event that may initially need 24/7 attention?

  • Are there important in-person meetings you need to schedule with press, partners, investors, etc.? For example, really big conventions or conferences mean everyone – especially press! – are filling up their schedules early and quickly. The sooner you know your needs and can reach out to schedule stuff the greater chance you have at getting times that work for you and it makes you look good for not trying to ask for 10 minutes last minute!

  • Can you ship anything ahead of time to the venue, hotel, or local friend/family member/colleague? For big booth setups you may have to go through shipping to the convention center (and often deal with unions!) but if you just have a couple boxes of t-shirts you can often make arrangements to send them to your hotel ahead of time and pay just a small per item fee.

  • Your goals, vision, and other ‘big picture’ plans as mentioned above. If you’re trying to create a long, fun filled wedding you’ll want to find a venue that’ll let you stay late. If you are hoping to display your game at your booth it’ll make sure you put monitors and devices (consoles, tablets, PCs) on your ‘To Pack‘ list.

Creating A Checklist

Once you’ve gotten down a list of all your goals, on-hand materials, event details, etc. you can use that to start creating your event plan and checklist. Treat your event like a regular project and figure out what you need to do, when it needs to be done by, and who is going to do it.

Also, start creating a checklist of answers and information you need and items you need to acquire. Whenever possible put down the deadline dates that’ll help make it most economical or logistically feasible for your plan. For example, you’ll want to book the venue, hotel, or flight as soon as possible, but you can’t ship items to the convention or confirm your banquet headcount with the hotel too much in advance of the event.

Additional Items

The above is just a small piece of the basics that go into event planning. As I can I’ll add more to this and the other pages but for now here’s a few other “Event Planning 101” things to think about:

  • Learn the lingo! Do you know what a BEO is? I always tell people who say they are expert full event planners they aren’t really experts if they don’t know what that means. [It stands for Banquet Event Order.]

    Confused by what the “++” means in “Continental Breakfast: $19.95++ per person” means? Look it up before you finalize the budget. In that case, it means that breakfast is $19.95 per person BUT does not include the taxes, fees, or service charge (gratuity).

    Starting around 28% or higher (I’ve seen this as high as 45%) in the US this can be a big budget buster as it means a 50-person breakfast – at 28% total – costs $1,277.00 not $997.50 (an almost $300 difference!). Make sure to do your homework and ask others if you’re confused by something you read.

  • Look at “CMP”s or Complete Meeting Packages. This is a new trend for venues who offer flat price per attendee options for half and full day meetings including (or not) meals or add-ons. This can be a great way to make budgeting easier from both a project management side and an accounting/management approval side.Those packages also helps prevent surprises in your final bill like the $75 dollar fee the hotel may charge you for the HDMI cable they provided you to hook up your laptop to the conference room projector! (Yes, that was $75.00, not $7.50. No, I’m not kidding.)

  • Assume everything costs money. Just like with the above tip always assume nothing is included in the estimate for the event unless you have it in writing. From whiteboards and AV cables to electricity, internet, and furniture for your booth many venues have additional fees for each request you have (which is why CMPs are so attractive) so ask before you say yes!

  • READ EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU SIGN! Maybe you think you’ve got a really simple event or you hate reading fine print, but, sometimes not reading an agreement before you sign can mean the difference between a refundable or non-refundable deposit, the white chairs or the black chairs, or serving your attendees $30 grilled steak versus $15 grilled steak salad. Although it’s geared more towards employees my Read Before You Sign blog post is still a good reminder of what to do and why when preparing to sign any document.

IMPORTANT! Don’t forget the ‘super’ basic items that need to be reviewed. You can’t go to another country without a current passport, you can’t rent a car without a current drivers license, etc.

Also, make sure you have your credit/debit card companies put travel alerts on your account. Last thing you want is to have the server come back saying your card was declined in the middle of that important business dinner…awkward!


Indie Game Devs: Also check out http://indieboothcraft.com/ for more info to help you plan your booth!