When I worked for a SF-based technology company, I planned an employee event that was the talk of the company for many months. Not only was it loads of fun, it was well executed. Picture eight teams of people all dressed in various colored headbands, waiting to hurl balls at one another. The event, one of our many company chill outs, was a dodgeball tournament. It was held at the UCSF campus gym, and the excitement level was high. Employees laughed, competed, and razzed each other for two hours. Following this invigorating competition, we all shared food and drink in the local college café. This business event probably goes down in history as my most successful and memorable event I’ve planned.
Over the years, I have attended tons of business events. Some were successful. Most were just another business event; they didn’t leave an impact or lasting impression. What made the dodge ball event so successful? Below I share the steps you need to take to plan and execute the perfect business event.
Step 1 – Plan in Advance
This step may seem obvious, but often times, not enough planning and time goes into preparing and pulling off a great business event. Depending on the size of the event, and whether or not it is an internal or external event, start the planning process months in advance.
I once attended a company holiday party that was thrown together at the last minute. Invitations went out, leaving employees less than two weeks to make travel arrangements to attend the event. As a result of the poor planning, attendance was low, and many aspects of the event fell apart.
Step 2 – Form a Planning Committee
Two heads are always better than one – three or four is even better. The more ideas you have circulating, the greater your chances of executing an event that will please the masses. A successful business event happens when the planning party attends to all the tiny details. Select planning committee members that are different from one another. While one person may be super organized, another person might have great creativity. You might have a big picture kind of guy, while someone else thinks about the little things that need to get done.
Always assign a lead person to head up the planning committee – a person who will drive the entire event and make sure everything is executed flawlessly. When I planned the dodge ball event, although I was the main point person, I had helpers who completed some of the tasks I needed help with. These chill out committee members also took care of some behind the scenes work while I oversaw the main event.
Step 3 – Set a Budget
It is impossible to plan a business event without a specific budget amount. Knowing you have $1000 to spend vs. $2500 can make a huge difference when you are planning. You can select a flat fee for the budget, or budget so many dollars per person.
When you have a budget to work with, it makes it a lot easier to select the right vendors, negotiate lower costs, and make decisions about what should or should not be included at your event. Divide your total budget amount into pieces. Your food and venue is almost always your biggest expense, but a certain amount should be held aside for other aspects of the event such as decorations, invitations, marketing, event favors, etc. Think about every expense that needs to be covered and make a detailed list of those expenses, each assigned a specific budget amount.
Step 4– Consider your Event Attendees
It is super important to know your audience or the attendees of your event. What is their typical personality? What are their interests? What are their food preferences? The last thing you want to do is plan a wine-tasting event for a bunch of non-drinkers, or a sporting event for non-sports lovers. Even though your event attendees are going to be different from one another, the rule of thumb is to appeal to the majority.
What if you know nothing about the people who will attend your event? Consider demographics. What is the average age of your attendees? Where do a lot of them live? What might be a common interest they share? For instance, small business owners who attend a networking event normally have one thing in common – they all want to meet new people and grow their business. The more you can take the focus off what you think is a perfect business event, and instead think about what your audience wants, the more successful your event will be.
Step 5 – Pick a Theme
An event theme is the perfect touch to help you get your attendees engaged, and provide a means to pull together all the many details of your event. Without a theme, your event may feel disjointed and lacking creativity. Your event theme has the ability to draw people in, or disinterest people. I recently planned a personal event called “Burgers, Bourbon and Badminton”. Our attendees knew exactly what to expect when they came to our event. They were going to get a good burger, taste some excellent bourbon, and participate in a game of badminton. People who did not like those elements wouldn’t sign up for our event, and that’s okay.
Once you have your event theme, make sure all the details of your event follow that theme. If you are having a Roaring 20s theme, serve food that represents those times. Ask your event attendees to dress like they lived in the 1920s. Decorate your venue so it feels like your event is based in the twenties, not the 21st century. Themes give your event flavor, pizzazz, and add an element of fun and variety.
Step 6– Decide on your Venue and Food
These two elements of your event planning are the most crucial and often require the most lead time. Although you may have to estimate the number of people who will attend your event, getting the venue booked and the caterer selected will help you relax so you can focus on the rest of the event details.
Your venue and food will also be the most significant portion of your budget so making this decision will let you know how much money you have left to work with. Make sure to pick a venue and caterer that can carry out your event theme. If you have a Cinco de Mayo theme, picking an Italian restaurant is probably not the best choice. The right caterer can make or break your event so do a tasting if possible. Ask for references, or get recommendations from other businesses you know.
Step 7 – Invite Guests and Begin Marketing your Event
Whether you design a paper or digital invitation, this is the piece that gets people engaged. Make your invitation and marketing campaign exciting. Match your invitation to your event theme, and give it energy with excellent copywriting and creative graphics. I have attended events based solely on the theme and invitation. The event just sounded fun, so I signed up.
Marketing your event, especially to the public, requires multiple efforts. People are busy and although they might see your invitation and tell themselves they want to go, something will distract them and they won’t sign up. Unless you send out your invitation or marketing campaign multiple times, your list of attendees will be quite small.
Have some type of system to help you keep track of your attendees. At a minimum, you will want a name and email address so you can send reminders. It would be wonderful if everyone marked their calendar for events they sign up for, unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen. Be prepared with a final count so you can notify the venue and caterer.
Step 8 – Start Preparing all the Event Details
Planning your event from beginning to end is always a great idea. What will guests do when they first arrive? Will you have any types of games or activities that bring your guests together? How about prizes or favors, and when will you give those out? Will you have a speaker, and when will he or she talk? How about someone to take photos? A successful event is one where all the activities are well organized and executed.
Put your committee members in charge of each element of the event. Have someone oversee the food area to make sure it’s not running out. Put another person in charge of the speaker and introductions. Have a front door hostess to handle check-ins and guest questions. Think about everything that could go wrong, and plan for those mishaps. When I plan events, I write up an itinerary, complete with times. This ensures that I keep the event moving and on schedule.
Step 9 – Game Time
Several days before the event, make all your confirmation phone calls. Even though you’ve already discussed the details with your venue, caterer and committee members, it never hurts to review everything again. On the day of the event, you will feel more relaxed and ready to execute and tackle whatever problems might arise.
Once guests start arriving, keep the energy high and welcoming. Make sure your lead event planner has her game face on and is ready to pull off the perfect business event. Greet your guests with smiles. Mingle with your guests and ask them if everything is going good. Do they need anything? A good event host stays focused on the guests’ needs and does her best to make them happy and comfortable.
Pay attention to the clock. Have your itinerary in hand and make sure all the event activities are staying on schedule. While there may be some people who just go with the flow of the event, there will be others who are sticklers for time and will be micromanaging the clock. Begin and end your event on time. Keep the food and drink well stocked, and keep the event moving at a comfortable and organized pace. Your guests may not notice every detail, but they will sense that your event is very well planned and executed.
Step 10 – Follow Up and Connect with Guests After the Event
The true measure of a successful event is whether or not your guests are talking about it once it’s over. If you have the ability to invite guests to take a short survey, do that. This can give you valuable information for planning your next event.
If you took pictures during the event, share those pictures with guests. Thank them for coming to your event. Engage with your guest list in any way you can. Encourage conversation and feedback. You will learn a lot from not only the people who were happy but also from those who were disgruntled (but hopefully there won’t be many of those).
The whole purpose of a business event is to bring a community of people together to share an experience. A memorable experience can only happen when you properly plan and pay attention to your guests’ likes and dislikes. By administering to all the many details that are required in event planning, you increase your chances of creating hype and executing a business event that leaves people with that warm and inspired feeling when they walk away.
10 Steps to Planning the Perfect Business Event
October 6, 2016