Sep 17

Event Planning for Beginners

Planning an event for the first time can be overwhelming. Between the venue, food, entertainment or speakers, there are a lot of moving parts – and each one has the possibility to go horribly wrong.

I started helping plan events for my sorority during my sophomore year of college. We had a skeleton plan from our advisors, and we helped fill in the missing parts. This is when I realized how much truly goes into creating a successful event.

I continued to plan events for my sorority and then for a non-profit on campus, which all led up to the biggest event I’ve planned: the 2018 Legacy Trust Award Collection art show. This is a competition that gives adult artists with disabilities a pathway to ArtPrize. This year, we had a record 141 artists from around the state and stepped up to play a bigger role in hosting the show – first at the Grand Rapids Art Museum and now in a private venue that allows us to offer increased exposure for our artists.

As I start to broaden my event-planning skills and work with other clients at Sabo PR, I have found a few things that help me keep on track as I begin planning.

5 Ws

Why, what, when, where, who are not just for journalists. They comprise the most basic step you can take to start planning your event. Determining the goals of each of these sections can get things moving faster than you think.

  • Why? – Why do you want to organize this event? What are your objectives? What will success look like for you? Why will people want to attend? Answering these questions and shaping your goals at the very beginning will help you decide how you should proceed and develop a successful event.
  • What? – What are you going to do at your event? Is this a fundraising event or a celebration? Will people be asked to participate? Dress up? Write a check? The answers will help determine additional steps you will need to tackle.
  • When? – When do you want to plan this event? Will it be during the day or after work has ended? What else is going on that will compete with you? Be sure to check your date well in advance to ensure it doesn’t conflict with other important community or nonprofit events.
  • Where? – Venue is important depending on the purpose of the event – does it have all of the amenities you want? Can it host the number of people you want? Is it in keeping with the spirit of the event you are hosting?
  • Who? – Make a list of who you want to help you organize, plan and execute. Don’t potential sponsors, clients and the media. For the guest list, be sure to have a number of people check and re-check so you don’t forget anyone crucial. 

Building a team

You can’t plan a successful event without the help of others. Whether you are seeking the help of volunteers, colleagues or vendors – you will always need more people than you think you do.

It’s wonderful to rely on volunteers, but the most challenging aspect of working with them is commitment – or lack thereof. Having good volunteers can be extremely helpful but having volunteers who are non-committal can hurt you.

I have always established expectations at the very beginning if I’m working with volunteers to make sure everyone is on the same page. Assigning duties to each volunteer is the best way to make sure they know what to do and you know what is supposed to be done. Regular touch bases are also helpful. Be plentiful with the praise – make sure volunteers feel appreciated and valued for the role they are playing.

Things will go wrong

Between vendors backing out to something small such as forgetting name tags, realize something will go wrong. Expecting that something go wrong is the best preparation.

Making sure that you have a team to rely on and back-up plans will make those bumps seem smaller. I always work myself up and expect food to not arrive, a venue to cancel or to have a technology glitch. This always makes the small things that go wrong even smaller.

Starting big picture with the 5 Ws and ending with tiny details such as centerpieces and décor will help your event be successful. Brainstorming your way through the different segments will often lead to new ideas or finding ways to prevent hiccups.


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