A Step by Step Checklist for Planning Your Next Event or Party
When it comes to throwing an event, or a really great party, there are a few things that happen almost instantaneously: One – the inspired idea to host an event hits you; Two – you go into a state of trance because you know this is going to be the greatest event experience anyone has ever had, or those of you who aren’y event planners, you fall into a state of panic! Well, I am here to save you from this huge, daunting task of planning the most epic event, ever! Why? For one thing, I live and breathe for the world of events, and quite frankly, I’ve seen a thing or two; so it would be my pleasure to walk you through planning this experience that you and your guests will not soon forget. In this first of a two-part series, I walk you through the starting points because, well, sometimes things are nice in smaller doses.
Let’s get to it. There is so much more involved with planning an event other than your guest list, invitations, food, and music. These of course are important elements in any given event, but in order to get to those categories, we need to map out a few hundred details first. Ha! Ok, maybe not that many, but you get the idea.
Determine Your Goal and Set your Objectives
Ask yourself what the purpose of your event is. This will be the biggest question to have answered, as it will help you navigate the upcoming tasks with conviction, and keep you on track. After-all, you’re not just throwing a simple party. You’re probably looking to promote your new product or space, perhaps bring on a bigger client base, celebrate achievements, or just say thank you to your supporters? Regardless of the reason, narrowing down your objective will provide you direction.
Be open-minded and give yourself a few date options. Keep in mind who your demographic is, the nature of event you are hosting, as well as your anticipated budget. Your date may in fact help keep some costs at bay. For example, Sunday through Thursday offer the largest cost savings; whether or not you’re planning a conference, or a product launch. The months of November through January are quite busy due to holiday celebrations, and If you’re planning a wedding, Sundays see the biggest savings, as well as Fridays. However, Fridays are climbing the ladder in popularity. The peak wedding months in Toronto are May through to October and will provide you with minimal savings, at best. Saturday – overall for almost any event is the most expensive day to host. When narrowing down your dates, also do a search of what events may be happening in and around the city during your desired event days. This quick search can determine whether or not sold out hotels, increased traffic and road closures, or direct competitive events may play a pivotal role in your guest attendance.
Here’s the subject that is at the forefront of our minds, always – the bottom line. I discuss this regularly, and highly recommend keeping this number realistic. Ask yourself, truly, are you in the market for a Mercedes-type of an experience? If so, a Kia budget will find you in a bit of a pickle. Being honest (seriously) about how much you’re willing to spend, will make your planning process more fluid.
There are outlets to help in providing a buffer for the budget in ways of sponsorship, ticket sales, etc., but should these not be options, out-of-pocket expenses should be a figure in which you can pay average industry rates. Keep in mind, Toronto is expensive, we have some incredibly talented individuals and let’s be frank, who doesn’t love being paid their worth. Have I drilled the reality of your budget enough yet?? If you’ve never planned a party, knowing what to expect in costs would be silly. Don’t be shy to ask around, do your research and get ballpark rates so that you can avoid sticker shock once it comes down to securing and paying for event services.
Determining your rough guest count in advance during the preliminary planning stage will provide you with guidance in the type of venue you’ll require, and whether or not you need to re-visit your budget. Think about the type of guest list you’d like to maintain. Are you hoping for more of an exclusive event, or an ‘everyone is welcome‘ party, keeping in mind, based upon the style of event you’ll be hosting, more often than not, the invited number of guests will equal to only half of that number in actual attendees.
Create Your Event Concept and Theme
This may come across as the easiest task, however, I find it may take some time to really narrow it down in greater detail. In order to help my clients, I send them a basic questionnaire asking them to answer questions pertaining to their brand, their core values, then details about event elements they’ve disliked vs. loved from attended events in the past. To say your theme is simply a Venetian carnival can be a wonderful starting point, but dive deeper. How do you want your guests to feel? We are in an incredible generation of experiences. We want to truly feel something. Your event is the perfect way to get to the soul of your guest, leaving a lasting impression of your brand – your story.
Lock Down Your Venue
When it comes to planning your party and event, securing a venue is one of the first things you should do. However, if you do not have an obligation to a certain event space, I always recommend securing your space once you’ve narrowed down your event concept. A quick example would be that if you’re hoping for an opulent affair, then renting out a local pub may not be the best course of action.
Toronto is seeing so much growth in event venues, and many more unique spaces are popping up. Whether or not you’re choosing an outdoor venue, a raw, blank canvas indoor event venue, or a traditional ballroom; the venue not only plays a pivotal role in your event experience, but plays an even larger role in your budget. A great example of this is if you’re renting out an empty space in which you will be required to build from the ground up, you can expect to have to rent and bring in everything yourself. Additional expenses can include:
Tables and chairs
Satellite bars and glassware
Audio and Visual
Staging and set builds
To touch upon my last point – tenting; I cannot tell you how often I hear ‘It’s not supposed to rain, we don’t need a tent.’ In Ontario, it sometimes feels as though we experience all four seasons in one week. It can be sunny one moment, and a thunderstorm the next, hot, then cold. If the nature of your event allows for it and is outdoors, have a tent. You will avoid some potentially costly disasters.
Staffing – Create Your Dream Team
The earlier on that you can determine who will be responsible for what, the easier your life will be. I promise! If all of the above points haven’t already driven you to call an Event Planner immediately, then kudos to you because you are one determined, tough cookie! Having said that, let’s get on with helping you plan your incredible experience! Make a list of who will be responsible for what tasks. Build your team, and make sure everyone is always on the same page with the same end goal in mind. Really. A few categories you may need assistance with will include:
Event Day staff -Volunteers, check-in staff, ticket sales, greeters
Depending on the size of your overall event, a designated committee and team of volunteers, or sub-committees can help tremendously!
Food and Beverage
When it comes to an event experience, there are few things your guests will remember; food and beverage are one of them. Think about it, remember that last event you went to where it took you over an hour to get one drink? How about every time you turned around, there was something new and delicious to try? Exactly. Now, remember this.
There are a few things to think about when deciding what route you’d like to take in the food and beverage department; plated dinner, interactive food stations, passed hors d’oeuvres. Always consult your caterer so that you have ample food for your guests, and creating a food experience suitable for your epic event, and demographic.
When it comes to drinks, there are many ways to do this as well. Will you be having an open host bar, cash bar, or a bit of both – a couple of drink tickets, then cash bar? Perhaps you’re interested in having just a wine and champagne bar, or craft beer station. Maybe you’re going down the route of my favourite experience – the open bar, premium shelf, endless cocktails experience. Seriously, a great cocktail is a beautiful thing! You have many options and your budget and nature of event will determine the style best suited in the end.
Having sponsors for events can be extremely beneficial. For one, they may be showcasing a new and upcoming service that provides a unique element for your event. Secondly, they may provide you with a lumpsum payment. In either scenario, sponsorship helps in maximizing your budget.
Before approaching possible sponsors, always ask yourself, ‘what’s in it for them?‘ Having a thorough response to that question will assist you in locking down key players, and substantial sponsorships. You’ll need to provide value for your dedicated sponsors. Gone are the days where a simple logo on a step-and-repeat will suffice. Get creative, get them in front of potential clients, create an opportunity to showcase your sponsor. If you’re having difficulty finding true value, don’t be in shy in having a conversation with potential sponsors, or even local businesses about what they feel they would gain the most value from. Whatever route you choose to take, keep in mind that a happy sponsor is a returning sponsor.
Once you’ve decided on how many guests you can accommodate, determine whether or not you’re interested in an exclusive, or come one, come all affair. If you’re leaning towards that of exclusivity, ensure that you account for any possible plus ones, or be sure to outline that it is an invitation-only event.
Your invitation will be the first thing your guests lay eyes on. This will set your guests’ expectation of what the event may be like, as well as set the tone. I would recommend keeping your invitation wording as simple as possible, and only provide the key details. There are a few things that every single invitation should have, regardless of style of invitation or event:
RSVP contact information
Map or Directions
Ticket price (if applicable)
Sponsor logos or names (if applicable)
Dress code (if applicable)
When it comes to the style of invitation, it can be tailored to match your event theme, demographic, and nature of event. It can be anything from an e-vite to a mail-out, or hand-delivered. There are so many incredibly creative ways to send out invitations, and a great invitation really gets your guests excited for what’s to come!
Decor (Floral, staging, builds)
The possibilities when it comes to decor and design are truly endless! Get creative with your decor and have fun! I find that lighting is extremely underrated. There is a psychology behind the impact colours have on our moods; now imagine using that knowledge when setting the tone for your event. Think transitioning lighting throughout various parts of your event, or using gobo (stencil) lighting to transform a wall or building structure. I love florals, and these alongside candlelight are at pretty much every single event, and with good reason! These are wonderful elements you’ll need to consider while planning your event.
Audio and Visual can be the most overlooked event element, yet one of the most important moving parts of any given event. You may encounter some venues have their in-house technicians, or preferred event partners. If not, you will need to hire someone that is well versed in all technical elements, and can provide you with extensive insight into what requirements you should be aware of. This will range anywhere from technological capabilities for your live-feed, to voltage requirements, to image and screen specs. I am nowhere near an audio/visual expert, as we can tell. So do as I do. Hire the professionals.
This brings me back to guest experience. Ask the questions – what time of year is it? What time of day? How many people are you expecting? How can we ensure a smooth guest entrance? Ensure you have ample staffing to manage guest check-in, all of which are well-versed in your check-in procedure. No one loves waiting in line.
Always map out what may or may not cause delays while getting guests checked-in and plan accordingly – especially if your check-in is outdoors. I can tell you first-hand that if a guest is left standing outdoors – freezing cold – to just enter the building; you’ve already missed the mark. I always ask myself how I would feel in any given situation. If you’re outdoors during colder months, have heating lamps. If you’re outdoors and It’s blistering hot, perhaps providing guests with paper fans, or mist machines will keep them cool.
Parking can be one of those things we dread. At times, there is concern about insufficient parking availability, whether it’s because you’re in the heart of the city, or the on-site parking lot is a bit small. Whatever the case may be, guests love being advised in advance. I would suggest providing parking details with your invitation of where the closest parking lot might be with directions. Another alternative, if budget allows, is to provide valet service. It not only saves your guests time, but makes them feel they’re being taken care of. Who doesn’t love feeling that way?
It’s such a magical thing – the power music can have over us. The way a certain song can transform our mood almost instantaneously or inspire us in countless ways. Now, picture creating that energy at your event. I find that more-often-than-not, entertainment and music can be left as an afterthought when – in reality, can be one of the most important elements of your event. Dependent upon your event type, of course. Keeping your demographic in mind, hiring professionals that are experienced in working your style, and magnitude of event, is just as important as the style of entertainment you choose. There are some live bands that are on point every time when it comes to filling up the dancefloor, and some DJs who perform flawlessly with live instrumentalists. Professionals know how to read a crowd. I can never stress the importance of that enough. Be it a DJ, live band, dancers, magicians, or aerialists, I love offering variety in event entertainment because it only adds to the guest experience. For me, watching guest reactions is what it’s all about.
Licensing and permits
Nothing is ever black and white when it comes to the joyous topic of permits, licensing and the mounds of paperwork that accompany an event. Ask questions about every possible requirement. If you think the question is silly or unreasonable, it most likely isn’t, and be sure there will be a form that needs to be filled out for it. I kid you not. Think about the music you’d like to have playing at your event. In Canada, specifically, you need a license for this. If your venue doesn’t already provide you with a SOCAN license, you’ll need to either arrange for one yourself, or determine who of your music suppliers will. Another basic one is your liquor license; often times your catering staff, or venue provide you with one. Other times, you may be responsible to obtain it. My favourite of all is the city permit that you require for anything and everything. It ranges from being able to take photos in public, on the streets, or closing down a sidewalk, alley, road, selling items at your event, etc. Always ask questions, because you likely need a permit for something and if you forget one, a hefty fine, or immediate event closure could be the outcome.
The Event Experience
We are living in a generation of experiences. Everything we do, create, or invest time in is because we’re looking to feel something. Creating an unparalleled event experience is and has always been my main priority. Everything I’ve discussed above is a part of an overall event experience. It touches our senses, plays with our emotions, and should always have a positive lasting impact on an individual and how they’ve been made to feel.
This last point should go without saying, but you’d be astonished by how many learn the true meaning behind the saying, “if you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.” Seek out professionals that have firsthand experience in the job you’re hiring them to do. If you’ve done your research, read great reviews, or trust the referral, then be confident and trust your professional is going to blow you away with their service and end-result.
You’re now all set to plan your ultimate event. Happy Planning!