You have a reason to celebrate, but you have a pending deadline of just a few weeks. Don’t fear. With a few simple steps, you’ll be planning events that’ll be a smashing success! Below are six tips to get there.
1. Secure a venue
- Determine the area of town
Think about venue locations and where your guests will be coming from. If most work downtown, maybe a venue in that locale would work best for folks to drop in directly after work before heading home. Or perhaps you have professionals coming in from all over the county, so you’ll want a more central venue between suburbs. Make it convenient for your guests to get to.
- Narrow your choices
Now that you have the area of town that works best for you and your guests, go ahead and pick three or four venues in the area that can accommodate your party size and fit your budget. Is it important to have a private, quiet room? Is your event better suited for mix and mingling or a seated occasion? Do you have a large budget, or are you on a shoe-string budget seeking to get a space for free? These questions will help you narrow your choices and find a venue that’s perfect for your guests.
- Contact the event managers
Whether it is filling out an online form, emailing, or calling the venue make sure to ask for the event manager that accommodates and books parties. Nothing is final until she or he says so, has your event in their book or database system, and you have some confirmation or contract in hand.I’m planning a mix-and-mingle event for about 50 people right now and wasn’t able to reach the event manager after calling the front desk and them saying they would pass my message along. Because time was of the essence and I had under three weeks before we wanted the event to happen, I made sure to connect with the event manager by having lunch at the venue and asking my server for the right person. Our server got the event manager and she joined us for lunch and plugged in our event details into her database right then and there, and even sent me the contract via email to review and make sure everything was good to go.Sometimes you have to get creative to pinpoint the correct person in authority, and hey. . . it never hurts for the event manager to not only know your name, but your face too! Of course if you can delight her with a joke or some value-add information (I told her about my favorite CRM/marketing platform), she’ll not just remember you, but love you!
- Confirm with the venue
A week out, contact the event manager and make sure they have your group down for the correct time and location in their system. You don’t want any surprises. This is also a good time to review your food order, program, and other wishes for how you want the event to run.
2. Develop a complete guest list
- Start an Excel spreadsheet
Include the names, emails, and addresses of all the people that need an invite to your event. I also like Google Sheets, which allows multiple people to simultaneously edit the same document. This is especially needed when the event date is imminent.
- Review your list
Ask your colleagues and others familiar with the event and guests to double-check that everyone made it on. There’s nothing worse than sending out an invite and then finding out that a VIP missed the first wave of invites. People talk, and then non-invited folks get their feelings hurt. Do yourself a favor and take a day or two to review the guest list and have others look it over too.
3. Invite your guests
- Create a sharp-looking invite
There’s lots of free or very reasonably priced event invite services. My go-to sources for digital invites are Evite, Eventbrite, and Facebook Events. For hard-copy mailed invites, I like Vistaprint.
- Send out the initial invite
Whether it is by email or mail, get it out as soon as possible. Proper manners are to give at least 2 weeks notice before an event. Of course, if you have the luxury of having months or even a year of advance notice, the earlier you can invite guests, the better. People’s schedules fill up quickly, and my go-to favorite lead time is 5-7 weeks for professional events.
- Send follow-up reminders
In personal and professional events, I typically send out at least two reminders after the initial invite is sent out. People are overloaded with many emails and junk mail, so it’s best to follow up to make sure they received your invite and to remind them to RSVP, if they haven’t already.
- Open up the guest list
If you have more room (and budget!) to accommodate others outside of your invite list, then by all means invite wave two of folks to join you. Extra publicity isn’t a bad thing! Just be sure to invite people that are mission-critical to your brand and align with your cause or product so win-win relationships can happen at your event!
4. Plan the program
- Create a timeline
Even the small, informal events should have a timeline of what to expect at what time. What time will you and others arrive to set up? What time will guests start pouring in? When will your mix-and-mingling time wrap up, and the program start? Be sure to detail out exactly when and who will be speaking or entertaining, and then once you firm up the timeline with individual players, send out the final timeline to everyone. This way everyone is on the same page.
- Decide who will be speaking
Ask a person or two to speak to your crowd. Give them a time limit of no more than X minutes. Nothing is more annoying to guests than to hear a person (even someone interesting) drag on for too long. Our attention spans are too short. Ask anyone speaking to practice their remarks and keep it tight and succinct.
- Set a end time and stick to it
People can usually only endure sitting for 2 or 3 hours max, and people (even the most outgoing) get tired of more than three hours of networking and moving around the same room with the same people. They’ll leave before the event ends or show up late. Instead, narrow your event time so that all guests congregate together at the same time. Maximize the time and make it effective for all that come. Never exceed three hours, unless you have an extenuating circumstances.
5. Make arrival details clear
- Place signs around your venue directing guests
Make it clear where to go in and where your party is located. Signs inside and outside that include a logo or simple text of your event is fine. Be sure to introduce yourself to the venue’s front office staff so they can help your guests find the right spot when they show up.
- Send out parking details ahead of time
In your final notice to guests or even in the invite itself, include where to park and how to enter the venue and find your event from the parking areas.
- Registration desk/welcoming table
Have at least one for small events or upwards of 15 smiling faces for larger events to welcome your guests. Their job is to smile, set the mood, sign folks in, give them their namebadge, program, and any other materials necessary for the productivity of the event. Make sure your front desk workers show up at least 30 minutes before the start time of the event, and ideally even before that so you can explain the check-in process before early arrivers start to show up.
6. Thank guests for coming
- Send out thank-you emails
Ideally within two days after your event, send out a quick thank-you email. If possible include links to the PPT presentation, photos and videos from the event, and other articles and links that would prove helpful (or that were promised to guests).
- Handwrite thank-you notes
Make sure your speakers and VIPs get a handwritten note from you for their time. Thank them specifically for what they contributed, said, or how they inspired you. Don’t be too generic; afterall, you are spending at least $1 plus your time to send them this card.
6.5. Collect feedback
- Create a survey to collect feedback
There are great digital free tools to create surveys. My personal favorites are Survey Monkey and Google Forms. Ask questions that are both multiple choice or ranking questions as well as long-answer where they can expound and share genuinely. Include questions on the programmatic nature of the event as well as what could have been better.This feedback will help you put on better events and increase the delight among your guests. And if possible, have the survey mostly ready before your event, so you can effortlessly include it with your thank-you emails.
Happy event planning!
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