In Charge of Planning an Event? – How to Get Started

Coming up with new and creative ideas to wow a client on a budget is a challenge even for professional meeting and event planners.  So if you’ve been ‘elected’ head of the “social committee” you may find that planning an event – for work, for your kids’ baseball team or for the charity organization that you belong to – a daunting task.  You’ll be expected to create an event to meet the expectations and tastes of a wide range of people, many of whom have no interest in helping you but most of who will have some “constructive criticism” for you after the event is over.

We’ve compiled a few pointers to help you get started.

Planning an Event for a Diverse Group of People

Planning an event for a group of very diverse people (i.e.:  the office party) is a challenge, no question.  But it is not impossible and it does not have to be a nightmare.  The key for a successful work-related event is to NOT try to be all things to all people.  No matter how much time, effort and consultation you put into planning an event for a diverse group there will always be somebody who is not happy.  In fact, trying to keep everybody happy has been the undoing of many who have experienced the joy of planning the company “holiday party”.  Just accept that, do your best…and then move on.

 Set Realistic Goals When Planning an Event

Do not make even one trip to the party supply store until you and your committee members understand and agree upon the goal(s) for the event that you’re planning.  Is it to celebrate a traditional holiday?  Are you creating an event as to allow work colleagues to get to know each other better?  Are you celebrating the launch of a new product or service?  Or, is this the end-of-the-season hockey banquet for a group of 15 year olds and their parents?  Understanding the goal of the event will help you to decide on the theme, where to best spend your budget, what to put in the invitations – the list goes on.

Once you have a clear understanding of the purpose/goals of the event – put them in writing and be sure that everyone involved in planning the event has a copy.  

Set a Realistic Budget When Planning an Event

A great event does not have to cost an arm and a leg but you do need to have a clear understanding of your limits before you move forward.  Can you really do a “tropical nights” theme with a decorating budget of $75.00?  Will it really be possible to provide four different entrée selections when you’re budgeting $20/person?

Once you know your spending limits picking a theme, menu selection, entertainment and décor is not necessarily that difficult.  The key is to communicate just how extravagant or “restrained” the event will be to the people expected to attend before the day of the event.  If you’re going with a basic “one meat/one vegetarian” menu be sure that people understand this prior to their arrival.  Indicating that the event will be “a casual get-together” on the invitation should give attendees an idea that there will most likely not be a Champagne fountain at the entrance to the dining room.

Less Can be More When Planning an Event

When planning an event on a very limited budget you may want to choose to spend the bulk of your budget to ensure one or two aspects of the event are really amazing.  Cutting down on the décor may ensure that your menu is a lot more memorable.  Rather than hiring an expensive band, consider a local DJ (caveat…always a good idea to do your research, ask the DJ if you can just pop into one of his/her upcoming events, get references).  Can’t afford to bring in live palm trees for your Caribbean Nights event?  Maybe just create colorful centerpieces and forget the foliage!

Remember When Planning an Event – This is THEIR Event – Not Yours

Even though you can’t possibly make 100% of the people 100% happy 100% of the time you can take some steps to ensure that you are meeting the expectations of the bulk of your event attendees.  Do ask for input and whenever possible use that input.  The key here is to narrow down the choices from which your colleagues, other committee members, the parents of the kids on the team can choose.

For example.  Putting out a call for “menu ideas” could be your worst mistake when planning an event.  If you ask 200 people for their menu ideas you could get 200 different ideas.  Narrowing down the selection allows input from people who have a vested interest in the event but keeps the process and the costs under control.  So rather than asking for “menu ideas” give them a sample of 5 or 10 menu items that you know your budget can handle and that would be appropriate for your target audience.  Ask them to vote for their top 3 choices and voila – decision made in a democratic fashion.

There are a multitude of things to consider when you’ve been tasked with planning an event.  Set your budget immediately, get as much input as is practical from your committee and/or potential event attendees and keep the lines of communication open to minimize the occurrence of unwelcome surprises.  And then, of course, sit back and enjoy the event….and then welcome the inevitable follow up feedback.  You’ll feel really gratified to hear how happy most people are with the event…and of course, you’ll be grateful for any “constructive feedback” because you can share that with the person who plans next year’s event.

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