Event planning: tips & tricks I’ve learnt along the way

We’ve all been to events before where everything… just works. From the subtle mood lighting, to the flowering succulent centrepieces sitting on your beautifully styled tables. I believe the definition of a successful event is one which people remember and continue to talk about for years to come. Reminiscing about the core-shaking performance from the rock star band you hired, or delegates laughing at their wild images from the photo-booth you carefully placed in the corner of the room; you have the power to make memories for people. This wow-factor is what will keep your event at the top of the social and educational calendars for your target audience. But how do you create it? It’s a combination of thorough planning, putting together a knowledgeable and helpful events committee, innovative marketing and the execution of your plan. Sounds simple, right? Sometimes events can be somewhat simple, but more often than not, they take a lot of blood, sweat and tears. But that’s half the fun, isn’t it?!
In my years of organising seminars, product launches, awards nights and conferences for up to 500 people, here are my top tips for running a successful event. I hope you find them useful.

1. Planning

A wise person once said “failing to plan is planning to fail” and although that sounds like a lack-lustre way to live, with events it’s 100% true. A well executed event starts with a brainstorming session about the goals and objectives of the event. You need to know the who, what, when, where, why and how before you can begin. I like to start with the following:
  1. The purpose: What do you want to achieve from this event?
  2. The attendees: Who are your attendees and why are they attending this event?
  3. The style: What type of event is this? Corporate, celebration, end of year, social etc
  4. The past: Have you hosted this event before? If so, what was done then and how are you going to make this event different?
  5. The competition: What are your competitors doing with their events and how can you make your event better?
Once the above have been answered, a project plan in the form of a gantt chart is often useful (especially for detailed events that require over six months of planning). I have used Smartsheet, which is an online project management tool available for a low annual fee (with reduced rates if you work for a not-for-profit organisation like me!). I used this tool for my organisation’s annual convention with 500 guests. As you can imagine, this involved a lot of planning for the exhibitors, marketing, speaker organisation, registration and venue organisation.  By using software like Smartsheet I was able get a great visual representation of what needs to be done and stay on track. It’s also perfect if you need to report to a committee.

2. The invitation

Event styling isn’t just about the AV and theming of your event, it starts before this when your guests receive the first impression of your event, the invitation. 
Once you’ve figured out the details and timings of your event, it’s time to start your invitation. The aim of the invitation is to entice people to a) look at your invitation and b) attend your event. This is one of the most important (if not the most important) pieces of marketing for your event. It needs to set the tone for your event and create a level of excitement. If you’re having a 1920’s theme, consider a minimalist invitation featuring cut-out silhouettes of people from that era (think Mad Men). Or if you’re hosting a glamorous gala dinner, focus on high quality paper stock with decorative ribbon and ornate features. You’re only restricted by your imagination (and budget). I find collecting examples throughout the year and keeping a ‘design folder’ is really useful. 

3. Marketing Your Event

If people don’t know about your event, they won’t attend it. The promotion of your event ensures bums on seats and that profit margins are met. Creating a communications schedule will help you determine how you will effectively reach your target market/s i.e. through what mediums, how often and with what messages. Thinking about the purpose of each communication will help you stay on point. Trying to appeal to everyone often means you appeal to no one. Segment your markets by key demographics and create tailored communications targeting the specific groups. Think about their needs and wants and match that with why they should attend your event. This is often one of the most difficult aspects of event management. Try a few options and see what works. If you use a communications platform that allows A/B testing, give it a go!

4. Event Styling

The big day has finally arrived and all your hard work is coming together. Event styling is one of the core ingredients which ties everything together and creates atmosphere. If you’ve got budget to hire an event styling company, then great! But my advice is make sure you do your research and ask for images of events they have done in the past. It sounds obvious, but you have to be careful of offers that seem too good to be true. 
If you’re styling the event yourself, look at places like Pinterest for inspiration. There are thousands of beautifully styled tables and rooms for you to pick and choose what you like. Remember that sometimes simplicity is key. I heard a great piece of advice once “before leaving the house, take off one accessory.” I feel this rule often applies to table styling. Stand back and think objectively and critically. If you’re pondering over whether you have too much marketing collateral or styling items on your table, you probably do. 
Hopefully you’ve found this useful and can take one or two things out of it. Let me know what you think in the comments below. 
Best of luck with all your events to come. 


Guest post by Erin Gillin

Erin Gillin is the National Marketing Coordinator for an Australian industry body, along with the Managing Director for her own business, INTERIORspiration