Spring is just around the corner. Before you know it, it will be time for christenings, weddings, garden parties, BBQ’s and birthdays abound.
This year, I’ll be ringing in the big 3-0 and I’m planning on going big. I’ll be inviting all my friends and family to celebrate with me from around the world as I ring in the next chapter of my life. I want the day to special and I want it to be perfect. How in the world am I going to achieve that?
Easy. By sticking to a few basics.
I’m a firm believer in the fact that anyone can plan a beautiful event (be it a charity event, gala or wedding) just by cultivating a few basic habits. After five years working in event management, I know that you can create an event that your friends and family will never forget.
Organizing events can seem intimidating, but it all comes down to attention to detail. You’ll need to do some planning — and put in some hard work — but if you stick to these 10 basics, your event will be everything you wanted. And more.
The 10 Basics of Organizing Major Events for Friends and Family
1. Create a plan and turn that into an actionable set of tasks and goals.
All events start with an idea. A good one. Sit down and brainstorm what you want from your event.
There’s a few questions you need to ask yourself as you formulate your idea:
- What is the purpose of my event?
- Who will the audience of my event be?
- How will I make this happen? Can I make this happen.
If you can answer these questions, chances are you have a pretty solid idea to build your event or day around. It’s important to be honest, though, and make sure it is something that is well within your abilities to accomplish (remember: SMART goal setting).
If you need inspiration, reach out to your friends and family and start a conversation. You can also search for communities of event organizers and enthusiasts, who are eager to share ideas and inspiration. Great sites to check out for inspiration are: Pinterest, Quora.com and even Facebook.
You idea solidified, write it down. Take note of all the details you can think of — big and small. Create a mission statement or purpose for your event, and make sure not to lose sight of it. This will help keep you on track.
Next, put together your ideal guest list and a shortlist of venues you’d like to host your event at. With all that in mind sit down and put together a realistic budget, which includes all expenses related to your event. Expenses could include: catering, decoration, entertainment, equipment, marketing, insurance, transportation, venue, marketing or insurance.
When you’ve come up with an idea, made a guest list, a budget and a list of venues it’s time to turn those into actionable tasks and goals. Assemble a team and put together a step-by-step planning checklist. Map out every step you will need to make between now and the day of your event.
Again, attention to detail is key here. And remember, nothing goes according to plan, so leave yourself extra time to accomplish large tasks.
2. Get a project management tool.
This might be the last thing that you want to hear, but if you’re organizing a large event — invest in a project management tool. These are so helpful for planning large events like weddings and reunions.
Project management software allows you to communicate with multiple people and keep track of an array of tasks. Tasks, milestones and goals are accessibly and handily displayed, which can be a real life saver.
It can make your life easier by allowing you to keep track of tasks in progress, which is something hard to track in paper planners or on post-its. They don’t have to break the bank, either, as there are an array of fantastic tools that are free like Trello and Zoho.
3. Bag the venue.
Once you’ve got a plan and a way to manage your event organizing journey, it’s time to get “feet on the ground”.
Pick up that list of venues (starting with your top pick) and start making calls (or emails, or personal calls). You need to get a contract. The sooner the better.
You should have researched and addressed a lot of your venue questions in the first step of planning (brainstorming venues). Some of the things you should consider are location, capacity and cost. Clarify those details with a rep from the venue. Make sure they line up with what was advertised and what you need.
Some of the other details you should clarify with the venue are:
1. How many events like yours has the venue hosted?
2. Is there an upfront deposit?
3. What is their cancellation policy?
4. Are you allowed to bring in external vendors / caterers?
5. What is covered by the venue’s insurance?
6. What are their health & safety policies?
7. What is included in the venue hire? (WiFi, parking, furniture, equipment, catering, DJ, etc.)
8. Can you have access to the venue before the event?
9. How flexible is setup and clean up? (Can you move furniture? Can you have equipment moved / removed?)
10. If they offer catering, can you sample the food in advance?
11. Does the venue have any 3rd party licensing requirements?
These are all important questions to verify with the venue. The answers to these questions could impact the quality of your event, down to the food that is served and the beverages you can (and can’t provide)
Asking these sorts of questions will help you decide whether a venue is really a good fit or not. It will also allow you to develop your plans and make any early adjustments that might be needed.
Pro tip: It’s especially important to verify the types of event and entertainment licenses required in your state or province. If you’re planning on selling or distributing alcohol at your event, you might need a special license. Some states / provinces also require a temporary events notice (or TEN) if you plan on having amplified music or even dancing.
When you’ve got the answers you need (from all the venues you brainstormed) make a decision — and stick to it. Make sure you have all the info and double check the contract before you sign it.
4. Book the entertainment.
If you’re hosting a larger event that requires a venue or a marquee, chances are you’re considering some entertainment.
You probably already have a good idea of who you want to entertain your guests. The smartest thing is to start with the biggest and hardest to book act. If you’re enlisting the help of famous local talent, book them ahead of time. Your biggest act in the bag, work down from there and be honest about how much entertainment you’ll need.
You don’t have to book the hottest Top 40 recording act (who are we, the Kardashians?)
Entertainment can range from a talented local band to karaoke. Dancing also counts here too, but if you’re planning on shaking a leg, make sure you book a DJ that can see to the night so you don’t have to.
If you’re booking a DJ or talent with a contract, make sure to always consider a few things:
- Research the artist or DJ ahead of time. What events have they done in the past? What was the feedback from attendees of those events? Do they have references?
- Know what your absolute “must haves” are. If you need visual aids along with music, make sure you book someone that can do that for you. Be explicit about every detail of what you need and don’t sign a contract unless those things are clearly included.
- Set a budget and stick to it. This gives you a good starting price for negotiations and allows you to walk away from bad contracts.
If you’re thinking of organizing a larger event, consider using a platform like Prime Performers to find entertaining acts for ever budget.
5. Organize the vendors.
You don’t have to be organizing the royal wedding to need vendors. Fact of the matter is that vendors are anyone you organize equipment or services from for your event.
Vendors can include the person who delivers the marquee to the DJ and catering staff. If they help you pull the event off, they’re more than likely a vendor.
When organizing vendors, make sure you set a budget and stick to it (noticing a theme here?) Have a list of all the services and equipment you’ll need and make sure you spend some time calling around to get the best prices and benefits.
Looking for vendors, event planners are generally a good place to start. But, you can do it on your own with sites like AddtoEvent.
Event planners, however, will have access to a lot of vendor information. Information can include pricing, permits, insurance and record. Their knowledge can help you narrow down which vendors to invest in and which to avoid.
Just like securing a venue, you should ask potential vendors a series of questions. These questions should cover their cancellation policies, expenses included, required licenses, etc.
With vendors, you can also ask for prior references. Any vendor worth their salt will have a treasure chest of good testimonials. if a vendor doesn’t offer any prior references, tread with caution.
Once you’ve decided on a vendor, verified their offerings and signed the contract, make sure to set a reminder for yourself. You’ll want to stay in touch regularly to make sure their progress on your event is going on without any issue.
6. Make a place for your guests to connect.
In this social media age, there’s no excuse for not having an event page.
Event pages are where your guests can receive regular updates on your event, as well as necessary information like sign up or tickets (for those throwing charitable events).
You don’t have to be a programmer or a social media whiz. An event page can be a simple as a few minutes on Facebook.
However you choose to connect with your guests (outside of standard invitation) make sure your event page addresses the following:
- All the basics: When? Where? Dress code? Agenda? Entertainment? Catering?
- Contact info: Give people a way to get in touch with you or the event planner or vendor (as needed.)
- Call to action: If your event requires an RSVP, give them the option to do so digitally with a clearly visible button.
- Shareable: For charitable events or ones where numbers matter, make the event page shareable.
It’s never too early to start an event page, so once you’ve secured the venue (and nailed down the date) pop an event up on Facebook and make sure everyone saves the date. If you’re sending out paper invitations, pop those in the mail first.
7. Administrate the administration.
Chances are you aren’t going to want to be knee deep in chaos on your big day. At least, not on your own.
Figure out who is going to be your “go-to-person” or “people” on the day. Who is going to help you when things start going wrong and you’ve got your hands full?
If you’re running a particularly large event, make sure to have a few people who can answer questions and make decisions in your stead. Make sure these people are known to your guests through the event page. This will save you a lot of anxiety and frustration on the big day.
Make sure all of your administrative team have the same clear and precise vision of your day as you do. The last thing you want is someone making a devastating call that costs you hundreds (or thousands) of dollars.
8. Communicate your event.
This gets left behind for a lot of people, when organizing events for family and friends.
You’ve sent out the invites and invited your friends and family to a page. Great! Now you need to let them know about all the hard work you’re putting in and really sell them on the great time they’ll be having.
Update the event’s social media or pages regularly. This can be done through regular and fun blog posts that share what’s going on with the events, or small posts that just remind your guests the big day is still at hand.
In the case of weddings, guests really enjoy seeing the preparations for the big day. So, consider a blog that follows you on your journey to the altar.
9. Do the dry run.
Don’t skip out on a dry run, whatever you do.
A dry run is a sort of “dress rehearsal” for events. This allows you to invite in performers and vendors and communicate and run through the events of the day.
Dry runs let you identify potential problems in your event plan. Organizing events isn’t easy and there’s sure to be some hiccups. Dry runs let you identify those hiccups before they happen and iron them out before your guests arrive.
Unpleasant surprises can be avoided by making sure that vendors (like catering staff) know exactly what’s expected and what they have access to on the big day. Pinpoint bottlenecks and identify all the logistical challenges that you experience. If they can be solved easily, do so.
Make sure everyone that’s crucial to the day is involved and make sure they’re present for the dry run. Follow up with your support team ahead of time and make sure you’re all ready to rock and roll well before the date of the dry run is set.
Pro tip: You don’t need to go through cooking or providing anything perishable for the dry run, but it’s a good idea to test any audio and visual equipment needed throughout the event.
10. Formulate a contingency plan.
No matter how much you plan or how hard you work, something is going to go wrong. They call it Murphy’s Law. If it can go wrong, it will go on. That’s a definite mantra of any event organizer.
Just go ahead and accept now that things on your day are not going to all go smoothly. Before the panic sets in, try this exercise.
Sit down with a sheet of paper and work on a contingency plan. Split the paper into 2 halves. In the first column, write down your worst-case scenarios for the day (rain, no shows, etc.) In the second column, write down everything you could do to solve those worst-case scenarios. (Have umbrellas for guests, move the event inside, etc.)
You can do this for every nightmare scenario imaginable. It especially helps if you break it down into a few different categories:
- Legal (contact goes missing, doesn’t get signed, doesn’t include something)
- Technical (AV equipment cuts off, fuses blow)
- Physical (rented equipment gets damaged, the venue gets damaged)
- Team (someone you need to help gets sick, your event planner gets sick)
By sitting down and thinking about these problems ahead of time, you can reassure yourself and also develop a series of back up plans. It’s true that most bad situations can be salvaged, and its especially true with you put in a little forethought.
When things don’t go according to plan, make sure you’re ready and calm. You’ll know exactly what to do in each situation if you just take a deep breath and get creative.
Putting it all together…
You don’t have to shell out thousands on an event planner to get the event you want for your friends and family. Whether you’re planning a wedding or a small garden affair, by sticking to a few basics you can organize an event that will blow them away. Sit down and brainstorm a plan, paying attention to the type of event you want and the type of venue you want to host it at. When you’ve got an idea, sit down and turn it into a reality by setting a budget and finding a venue and vendors that work best for you and your needs.
Be assertive and make sure to sign a contract with any venue or vendor after making sure they can deliver everything your event requires. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and never sign anything that hasn’t been verified by yourself and any previous references your vendor or venue might have.
Make sure you have a team ready to help you. When you’ve got everything in place, make sure you go through a dry run to iron out all the kinks before the big day. Whatever you do, though, make sure you always have a contingency plan in place. There’s nothing like an event without a backup plan to guarantee disastrous results. Make sure you have solutions to problems ahead of time, and you’ll be soaring toward a day you’ll all remember for years and years to come.