Planning Your First Big Event 101

Drafting Essentials

Two female caterers with dishware
••• Tetra Images / Getty Images

There is an order of operations to event planning, so looking past the basics can cost you time and money. Marketing is the first one that comes to everyone's mind, but transportation to and from the event, as well as emergency contingencies, make it an intensive—but rewarding—process. But before you begin choosing a venue or hiring a speaker, you need to know the basic parameters of your event.

Date

Everything revolves around the date of your special event. Ideally, you want to have three potential dates in mind so that you can compare availability and prices across the board. Try to include different days of the week for maximum flexibility. Asking promotors or event rental managers if they offer discounts for certain days or weeks of the year can often lead to increased savings.

Time Frame

Even a single hour difference can make an impact on your planning, so you need to get specific about your anticipated time frames. For example, starting at 10 am instead of 8 am means you may not need to allocate a breakfast budget. Overnight stays might affect payments, and while travel might sound like a romantic idea, sometimes the logistics are just not there.

Attendance Numbers

It is one detail that is often too broadly estimated for productive negotiations. Get realistic with your attendance projections. Discuss in advance who you will invite and put your projections together on a spreadsheet. Attendance and budget are directly correlated, not approximated.

Breakout Sessions

You may only need one banquet room if you are hosting a dinner, but a full-scale conference will likely require additional breakout rooms and an exhibition space. Once again, you won’t be able to measure costs until you define how much space you need. For conferences, the best approach is to plan a mock itinerary in your very first meeting. Sharing ideas and piecing them together on paper will help steer you through the next planning decisions.

Budget vs. Costs

It might sound impractical to work on a budget before knowing the venue and catering costs, but working this way provides a benchmark for you to measure all of the vendor proposals. Begin with your revenue sources. How much should you charge for attendance? Will you call on sponsors to help offset costs? What will exhibitors pay to participate? Revenues will ultimately dictate your budget, so it only makes sense to protect them first.

Marketing

After you have identified your revenue sources, the next step is to outline your marketing plan. What is the best way to reach and engage your revenue generators? Perhaps you have a list of potential attendees as an employer or membership association. That would obviously be helpful, but what about sponsors and exhibitors? If you are planning to attract more than 20 exhibitors, then you must be able to reach them. Targeted marketing campaigns cost money, and that cuts into your revenues.

Transportation and Lodging

Running a local conference typically eliminates any concerns about transportation. However, you still need to address lodging for speakers, exhibitors, and special guests. Some hotels provide discounts on meeting space if you book enough room nights. The only way to capitalize on this is by knowing your lodging needs in advance. Go back through your attendance data and project how many guests are from outside your area.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, the bones of event planning are not all glamorous. Spending the necessary time to soldify the basics ensures that when you finally do add some gloss, you won't have to worry about blowing out your budget or other discretionary costs.