Learn How to Plan Your First Big Event

Drafting Essential Details

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Congratulations! Your boss just nominated you to coordinate the company’s fall education conference. It is a great opportunity for you to show off your skills, and potentially earn a raise in the process. There is only one problem: You’ve never planned an event like this before! Not to worry. Plenty of others have found themselves in the same predicament, and you will succeed because you are organized and determined. Just like any business project, the first step is to organize all of the information you have and identify the most urgent matters.

Before you begin choosing a venue or hiring a speaker, you need to know the basic parameters of your event. It is almost impossible to talk details and costs with a third-party until you have more of the specifics ironed out. Here are the key details you should define before contacting outside vendors.


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.

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.

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, so don’t haphazardly guess about the number of people you think will attend.

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.


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.

Now all of this probably sounds like a lot of information to gather up front, and it is. But keep in mind that these are the details that affect everything else in the planning process. You might be initially attracted to the more “glamorous” tasks, like site visits and menu planning. Just remember that their time will come. For now, though, focus on the facts so that you can make the best decisions later.