Now you have the basics. Your event has a name, a purpose, a prospective audience, a budget, and a date. But did you forget that your date needs a venue?
Let's discuss the Pre-planning or pre-launch logistics of the event:
- Workback Schedule - Before proceeding any further, develop a workback schedule outlining all the major milestone tasks and activities that need to be completed and the date they need to be completed by. The level of detail is a personal preference but having one place you can consistently refer to helps simplify the process. Try project management software to help you along, see Basecamp (popular) or AtTask (my preference) or a handy Excel spreadsheet.
- Venue - The venue is the perfect opportunity to set the tone and level of expectation for the event. I have a preference for professional, high-class and all-inclusive. Venues must be booked well in-advance, 6-12 months to ensure you get the date of choice.
Consider how many people in total will be attending the event (including registrants, non-paid attendees, staff, speakers etc.), your venue must accommodate them all comfortably. Conference-style rooms with the ability to house theatre-style chairs or round tables with a stage and appropriate technology including podiums, projectors and screens, mics, sound system, internet access, video recording, and temperature control. Higher-class venues will have all this included but be prepared for a hefty price tag.
Also consider the location of the venue, geography is important and the venue must be accessible to local attendees and those travelling from abroad.
- Launch Date - You should now have the day of your event and the venue. Next step is to set a launch date. When will you begin marketing the event externally? When will registration for the event open? Set a soft start date and a hard start date. Ideally, if all goes smoothly, launch will occur on the soft start date but ultimately cannot start any later than the hard date!
- Agenda - I believe the agenda is the heart and soul of any event. It's why people are coming, it's why your organization is spending all this time and money, and it's a built-in marketing tool.
The agenda should be complete (or as close to complete as possible) before registration is opened and the event launched. Prospective attendees want to know what they're paying and, to be blunt, they deserve to.
The agenda planning process involves developing the day's schedule by timing out registration, breakfast, sessions, breaks and other applicable occurrences. Session titles and topics must be brainstormed and refined and scheduled accordingly. This can be an exceedingly lengthy process because at the core of these sessions is the message you want to deliver -- content must be interesting, relevant, novel, and exciting; it may also need to be technical, interactive, and demonstrative.
From here, prospective speakers must be proposed. Create a collaborative list of who would/could readily grab hold of a topic and make it their own, which leads us to....
- Speakers - By now, you should have a list of possible speakers assigned to possible topics. The hard part is convincing these speakers to take the time to not only present on the day of the event but also construct entire presentations around possibly spoon-fed topics.
Use your network. Use your executives. Call, make personal requests and sell the brilliance of your event. Elaborate on the the marketing opportunity it provides to the speaker's organizations and the networking interaction they will benefit from.
Remember, big names from big companies never hurt!
Keep in mind the logistics associated with speakers such as cost, hotels and accommodations, flights, presentation templates and approval and special speaker perks. What will you be responsible for and what onus is theirs?
- Sponsors - Sponsorship packages are a lovely way to entice attendees. It is also an effective way to foster strong relationships with partners, customers and the like within the industry that do not mind lending their name and their money to your event.
There should be packages of varying price ranges with respective levels of branding opportunities. Packages can include everything from lanyards to name tags to signage to targeted speaking sessions. Determine what branding and co-hosting opportunities should be made available at each tier and then assign each a price tag.
Again, that network comes in awful handy. Contact companies with the means and capitalize on strong relationships where mutual benefit can be emphasized and the event as a marketing opportunity can be highlighted.
- Catering - Catering can easily become a negotiating nightmare. With often too many options to choose from and inflated pricing structures, the decision is a difficult one.
Some venues offer preferred caterers, which helps refine your options from the get-go. Acquire preliminary menus and determine what style of food you will be offering for breakfast, lunch, breaks and/or even dinner. Continental or Premium? Cold or hot? Beverages per person and staff service at the event.
Retrieve quotes and negotiate the price down. Choose your preferred caterer and you're done! I've outlined this to be much simpler than it is. Rely on recommendations from others and do not be easily caught up in the swirl of menu options. Catering will quickly become a large part of your budget, sometimes rearing the ugly 30% mark! But food's important, so don't skimp.
NEXT: Launch & Registration