Trade shows, seminars, conferences, and other events are valuable ways to connect with potential customers and vendors, but they also throw a wrench into daily operations. If you haven’t carefully planned every aspect of the event, you won’t be able to enjoy yourself. Instead, you’ll be running around the venue, taking care of last-minute tasks that could have been covered beforehand given sufficient preparation.
Whether you’re planning a booth at a trade show or an entire conference for 10,000 attendees, the planning stage should start as far in advance of the event date as possible. Dedicate a notebook exclusively to event planning, preferably one with ring tabs so you can add documents as you go along. Keeping everything in one place will help organization tremendously.
Invitations. The most important aspect of event planning is making sure you have a decent turnout. If you send invitations early, more people will be able to rearrange their schedules or block off the dates of your event.
Deadlines. If you don’t give invitees a date by which they must register, most attendees will register as late as possible. This makes every other part of the event planning process more difficult, so set firm deadlines.
Confirmations. At any given point in time, you should know how many people have registered for your event. Make sure you have different categories of registration in your records if applicable. For example, when planning a trade show, keep a list of booth reservations as well as a separate list of people who are attending without a booth rental.
Payments. If your event requires some type of registration fee, keep a log showing who has paid and who hasn’t.
Capacity. Even if you don’t think your event will sell out, it is still a good idea to know how many people your chosen venue can accommodate. Keep in touch with the event coordinator at the venue so he or she knows how many attendees to expect.
Floor Plan. Most venues, such as conference centers and hotels, can provide event planners with the layout of the space they will be using. Use this to decide where everything will go, from signage to booths, to furniture.
Electrical Outlets. Where are they, and are there any requirements for their use? Let the venue representatives know what type of electronic equipment you will bring, such as projectors, speakers, or computers.
Parking. It is a good idea to include parking information on invitations. Event planners will also need to know where they can park to load and unload equipment, especially if large trucks or trailers are used.
Check-In. If your event will require attendees to check in prior to entering, find out where the best space for this is. Make sure there is enough room for tables with merchandise, pamphlets, educational materials, or other items you might want on display.
Concessions. Many events, such as trade shows and conferences, run all day for several days in a row. Attendees (as well as event organizers) will want to purchase food and drink to sustain them over the course of the event. Find out if the venue has a concession area.
Credit Cards. If you intend to accept payment from attendees at the event, you might want to sign up for a merchant account so you can process credit card payments. You will also need a POS terminal or other equipment.
Cash. Someone should be in charge of all cash payments during the event. Appoint a treasurer and make sure he or she is informed about accounts receivable policies.
Inventory. When selling merchandise at an event, you will want to keep careful record of inventory. Not only will this make it easier to wrap up afterward, but it will help you determine the success of the event.
Speakers. If your event will feature speakers, it is important to provide them with a time slot so attendees know where and when to go to hear those speeches. Find out how long the speaker will need (or set a time limit for all speakers), and add fifteen minutes or so to each one. It isn’t uncommon for these things to run behind.
Breaks. Back-to-back activities are a nightmare in event planning. Make sure to schedule breaks between activities so attendees and organizers can catch their breath and get to know one another.
Concurrent Activities. Sometimes it isn’t possible, but event planning is all about strategy. Try to avoid scheduling concurrent activities where attendees might have difficulty choosing between them.
Web Site. Build a web site that provides interested parties with all relevant information about the event. Speaker bios, past event photos, online registration, and maps to the venue are all important. A simple one-page web site is often sufficient and easier to manage.
Word of Mouth. Encourage people to tell their friends by offering discounts for referrals.
Flyers. Post flyers in public places around your town, such as at the post office and supermarket. Direct mail flyers are sometimes effective if you are able to target a relevant demographic.
Keeping It Together
Event planning is an acquired skill, one that will develop as you get used to the rhythm of organizing them. The most important thing is to write everything down and to double-check data before you rely on it.
Remember that employees and volunteers are worth their weight in gold. As the event draws nearer, delegate some of your own duties so you can concentrate on pulling off the event.
Event Planning Tips