I never thought that I would be good at planning anything. I was a major procrastinator when I was in middle school. I hardly kept a calendar when I was in high school. And college? I honestly don’t remember much about college. But when I became more and more involved at my local church in my early 20’s, I was given numerous opportunities to plan events. In the last decade, I have probably planned and executed 100+ events ranging from a small 10 person gathering to 1,000+ people. I even coordinated a Francesca Battistelli concert once, but that is another story for another day. I’ve learned a few things by the successes of each but mostly by the failures of each. Whether you are planning a meeting, a baby shower, a wedding, or a concert, my general “How To Plan Any Event” framework will help you down the road.
1. The Foundation
Before we get into the fun aspects of event planning like flowers and food, we need to lay some groundwork that all of these details will be built on. The foundation contains the following and I recommend answering them in order:
- Set an objective: Why are you having this event? Is it to throw a fun baby shower for someone special? Then you’ll want to make sure there are games and times to really honor that person. It is to create an inspiring conference to help people start their business? Then you’ll want to have an inspiring speaker, resources, and opportunities for people. Setting the objective helps determine the what’s needed in the event to obtain that goal so it’s important to know what you’re going after first.
- Date & Time: It’s hard to pick a venue, or even send out invitations without knowing WHEN your event is. Nail this down first
- Who: Who is it for and who is coming? Finalize your guest list so that you can pick a venue, order food and set a budget accordingly
- Budget: Most people have one, some people don’t. I recommend setting a budget that works for your wallet. Setting a budget helps draw a line between the “must haves” and the “I’d like to have.” Because who can get EVERYTHING they possibly want? Well, maybe you can but I know I can’t.
- Venue: Once you know how many people and your budget, then you can start researching venues. Here are a few thoughts when choosing a venue:
- Consider where people are coming from. Is it easy to find?
- Consider who is coming. Will it need to be wheelchair accessible?
- Does it have adequate parking?
- Does it have a kitchen?
- How are the acoustics?
- Will people be able to hear each other or does the sound bounce all around making it difficult to hear.
- How is the lighting? Will it be good for pictures?
- Invitations: When you have the date, time, location and guest list ready, you can create the invitations! Will it be a physical invitation in the mail? Will it be online through an evite or a Facebook event? Determine the invitation by thinking what would be the most effective way to reach all of your guests.
2. Walk Through
Guys, THIS is the biggest key in planning an event for me. I literally sit down and walk through the day of the event in my head and write down every aspect from A-Z. This doesn’t have to be organized. I just create a huge long list of things and categorize them later. For example, if I were to plan a wedding, I would imagine myself as a guest driving to the place. I would then begin to write down what I would need to see or hear. If I’m trying to find the location, I may need to have some street signs. When I arrive, I may need to have a parking attendant help me find a place to park. What if I don’t know what entrance to go to? I would need balloons or a big sign by the entrance door. Am I walking on grass? Will my heels get stuck? As I walk in, should I be greeted by the front door? Once I go through the doors, do I need another sign to direct me where to go? So as you imagine yourself as the guest and experiencing your big day, you want to write down anything that comes to your mind that will need your attention as you go through the day and moment to moment, room to room. Your list may look something like this:
- Directional Sign at the road
- Parking Attendant needed
- Balloons by entrance
- A “Welcome To” Sign inside main doors
- A Directional Sign for Bathroom, Reception, Ceremony
- Where to place wedding gifts? Who will take them after the event?
- Background music
- Order Of Service
- Wedding Vows
- Special Elements in service (Videos? Guest Speakers? Announcements?)
- Event Programs & where to set them
- Ushers to help seat?
- Too hot? Too cold? Temp setting?
- Wedding Party & Order, Their Outfits
- Caterer? Menu?
- Name Cards and Guest Placement?
- Background Music?
- Activities for guests?
- Favors For Guests?
- Set Up/Tear Down
By no means is this a comprehensive list of all the needed items for a wedding. But the idea is that you put yourself in your guests’ shoes and think through every element from beginning to end for the day of the event. I usually will place myself in certain rooms and look around in my mind. What is needed? What is missing? If I were a guest, would I feel like all of my questions have been answered? If I were a guest, do I know what I should be doing right now or would I be a bit lost? You really want to answer questions for all of your senses. What am I seeing? Hearing? Smelling? Feeling? And when appropriate, tasting?
3. Categorize and Delegate
You can categorize your list according to what you feel would help you the most. The idea is that eventually, you would delegate these areas to someone to help oversee. Let’s go back to the wedding example. I would probably have 3 major categories. Outside. Ceremony. Reception. I would then divvy out the tasks or areas under each category and write in various details that I would want to see happen. It could look something like:
Balloons By Entrance
Order Of Service
Programs & Where To Place Them
Activities For Guests
4. Follow Up
After you’ve delegated the task (you may have just delegated yourself ALL of the tasks but I highly recommend you finding a few people to help you), be sure to have scheduled follow up meetings to make sure everyone is on track. This could even be a group text (Ok, I HATE group texts but if you like it…) or you could organize all of these through a program. I absolutely LOVE trello. It’s a great project management system that you can share with your friends so it keeps everyone on the same page. It’s also helpful to remember who was delegated what task. Am I ordering flowers? did we want red or yellow flowers? It helps as an eagle eye view of the project at all times. Oh, did I mention it’s free? Cheap is great. Free is better!
I learn something new every time I do an event. Ways to improve. Things to look out for. No event is going to be perfect but each event that you do will get better. I hope this general framework at least gets you going! I really believe this way of thinking can be used to plan any event! Comment below and let me know if this has helped you in any way!