This guide will give you the keys to organize a successful business event. Each step of the organization process is explained. Eliminate unforeseen circumstances, omissions and last-minute panic and turn event management into a strategic asset for your company. Events come in all shapes and sizes, but the principles of organization are always the same. The key to a successful event is making sure it’s well planned and that it meets all of your targeted expectations.
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About the author
Marine Bénard is event coordinator and project manager at Ideas on Stage, a company specializing in presentations and corporate events. Previously, she worked for event agencies and an international exhibition company, and helped organize several high-profile events. She turns business conferences and meetings into dynamic, memorable events, working with organizers and senior management to develop agendas, set up the logistical aspects and prepare speakers that make a lasting impact.
Ideas on Stage is not an event agency and we are not just coordinators. We are specialists in powerful business presentations and events. We work with clients all over the world to present their ideas and strategies clearly and memorably. We design the event with you every step of the way: advice, reflection that leads to creativity, logistics and set-up.
As we do for our training and coaching, we apply our brainstorming, storytelling and design methods to Event Management. This methodology will help us understand together who are your attendees/guests, their needs, the context of this event and your objectives.
Then, project management steps in. We will organize and control the entire implementation of the various artistic, material, human, regulatory and budgetary elements, and ensure overall consistency, while sticking to the planning. We will ensure that your corporate event is not only memorable for the attendees, but also achieves your goals in alignment with your organizational culture.
Set the Goals
When? Where? Why? What? Who? Answering all of these questions will help you set strategic goals while determining the content of your event. Wanting to organize an event is good. But knowing why, and creating an event with a clear purpose is much better! In any project, foundations are essential. One of the most frequent mistakes is to forget to define the expected framework and objectives. It inevitably leads to oversights and a lower return on investment. To avoid that mistake, start by defining the frame with the 5 W rule:
What type of event do you want to organize? Is it internal or external? Is the atmosphere festive, relaxed, professional?
Who is the target?
=> Employees, prospects, customers, suppliers, investors, press, general public, VIP…?
What is the strategic goal?
- Notoriety, brand image, visibility, team building, loyalty…?
Why do you want to organize this event?
- Motivate your employees, develop the corporate culture, make an announcement/inform, launch a new product, educate customers/prospects about a product or service, find new partners, present something new to the press…?
What messages do you want to convey to your guests? What will they discover or learn?
Where will it be held?
- Conference room, restaurant, office…?
What is the chosen geographic area? What type of place are you looking for?
- Atypical, cozy, warm…?
When should it take place?
- Morning, lunch, afternoon, dinner, evening?
How long will it last?
- A few hours, half a day, a day?
What day of the week?
Is the event the fastest, easiest and most relevant way to get your message across to your target audience? What added value can be expected from the organization of this event compared to simply sending a report, a brochure? Ultimately, is this THE solution to achieve the objectives set by your company? These are some of the key questions to ask yourself before you get started.
Using the 5 W, you will identify several important elements: the theme of the event, the subjects addressed, the speakers selected, the budget required, the tone of the invitations, the decoration and the scenography, etc. Don’t fall in love with an idea, no matter how extraordinary it may seem. Remember that an event only exists if it meets the expectations of the audience!
Use S.M.A.R.T. Objectives
- Specific. They are clear, understandable and as precise as possible, even out of context.
- Measurable. They are precisely defined and allow you to track your progress and assess the result.
- Achievable. They must be ambitious enough to represent a challenge and boost motivation and concentration towards their achievement but without discouraging your team from reaching them.
- Relevant. The objectives of your event must be part of a global business strategy. Ask yourself if your event helps you meet the challenges of your business. And take your resources into consideration (human, financial, material, time); your goal should be consistent with your situation.
- Time bound. You need to set a date to reach your goals. Do not hesitate to break down a main objective into several steps, which can correspond to given periods (a month for example).
The type of event you choose, in line with your objectives, will determine the number of participants you want. The next questions will therefore be about the presence or absence of accompanying persons (spouses, children), whether or not to use facilitators and speakers, and whether or not you want to invite journalists to your event.
To choose the date, remember to check the legal school holidays, competing events, public holidays, periods identified as busy depending on the sector of activity, or even the electoral calendar.
The location should be easy to reach for your participants. Choosing a location that is too far from any transport infrastructure, too small or too large, is guaranteed to annoy and discourage your visitors. Beyond the content, the location should leave a strong impression on your participants. Either the destination matches a strategic decision of the company (presence of a branch of the company, subcontractors, desire to develop in the region), or you have the freedom to choose. In the latter case, we advise you to select several options as part of a pre-selection and to measure the pros and cons of each of them, before making a final choice.
The duration of the event is defined by what you have to say and show. If there are a lot of topics to discuss, do not hesitate to plan your event over several days so that the speakers can present and debate in good conditions.
Finally, do not choose the theme of your event lightly. The theme will be the unifying thread for your communications and for the promotion of your event. Above all, it allows you to convey the purpose of your event in an original way and ensures that all your guests gather around a common idea.
Organize and Set Up Management Tools
A keyword: anticipation! Any event is the result of a set of tasks, providers and suppliers, to-do lists, tracking spreadsheets. The link between all: a master organization! To keep everything going as smoothly as possible and to anticipate each action, here are five essential tools.
You will certainly not be able to remember everything. This document details each step leading to D-Day. It contains all the tasks and sub-tasks necessary for the completion of the project, classified in order of priority. Each task is assigned to one or more managers, with clear deadlines and status (to do, in progress, done, late). You will also have an overview of the people mobilized for a better distribution of the tasks.
You are free to choose the tool that suits you best. The larger and more complex the event, the more robust the tracking tool will need to be.
A Checklist of Things to Have on D-Day
This list will be essential on the day of the event. It will be completed one task after another, throughout the organization. This can be for example “Order xx vegetarian meals” or “Don’t put the chairs, tables, etc on stage before 10 a.m.” This list clears your mind and keeps you from constantly asking yourself if you’ve forgotten anything.
A Technical Timeline
The closer you get to the date of the event, the clearer the event will materialize in your mind and you will be able to program everything, minute by minute. This timeline is the equivalent of a film script. It precisely lists every action that needs to be done, when, where and by whom. It is the reference for the day so that the experience is as smooth as possible.
Choose the tool that suits you best. Excel is a very popular tool for this.
Make sure everyone knows exactly what to do. Share your planning with everyone and make a general briefing. Explain to each team member his/her responsibilities to avoid misunderstandings and moments of hesitation on D-Day.
Before the big day, imagine yourself in the shoes of your guests. Step by step, experience the event. This will give you the opportunity to compare reality with what is on paper. This is also where you will be able to do technical tests and verify that everything is working according to plan. Ask yourself at each step: “What if?” Considering the worst allows you to eliminate the unexpected and prepare for the best.
Define and Manage the Budget
The size of your event is largely determined by your budget. How much is your total budget? Is the budget strictly capped or can you plan your event first and then see how much it will cost? How much should you allocate to each element? And what if you exceed it?
There are many expense items: venue rental, reception and security staff, caterers, audiovisual equipment, furniture, insurance, etc. It’s up to you to quantify what you can hire for this event. Do you have other sources of funding (grants, sponsors, etc.)? Do you charge your participants? What are the possible sources of external revenue? Should the event be profitable or just balanced? Again, answering these questions will guide you in your management.
There’s never enough budget when running an event. That’s why it’s critical to prioritize your objectives and commit only to what is realistic. To stay on track and make sure you allocate your financial resources optimally, here are some tips:
- Create a first event budget with estimated figures to help you calculate the required budget, income targets, and break-even point of your event.
- To plan your budget, you can simply create a table and register your expenses and revenues. There are also several specific applications for calculating and managing the budget.
- Update your estimates with the actual figures as soon as budget items have been confirmed and committed to so that you can rework your budget allocation if needed.
- Keep a safety margin, essential for unforeseen expenses.
Find the right place
This is a key success factor for your event. Once you have defined your budget, you have an idea of the number of guests and the kind of venue you can afford. You can then start looking for the best location possible. Here are some criteria to choose THE ideal location for your event.
The location of your event contributes to the image you want to convey. The overall atmosphere should reflect your brand image and represent your objectives. Study as many options as possible and carefully weigh the pros and cons of each. The more the place will differ from the atmosphere you want to create, the more you will have to compensate with additional decoration. If all or part of your event is outdoors, consider your alternatives if it starts raining, and choose a date that minimizes the risk of rain.
Proximity and accessibility
The location of the place is critical to the success of your event. Make sure that it is easily accessible and that its position is relatively central for your attendees. Check if there are enough parking spots. If your guests are traveling from abroad, then select a location near an airport and take into account accessibility by public transport.
The space must be proportionate to the number of expected attendees. Make sure that the space does not appear empty because it’s too big, or that the guests are not able to move because it’s too small. Plan for extra space needed to support the event (i.e. coat room, registration, prep room, etc.)
Nothing better to make an impression than selecting an outstanding location. An unusual place will leave a positive image and an unforgettable memory to your guests!
Once you shortlist the locations that meet your constraints and expectations, do not hesitate to contact them and ask questions:
- What is the price for the rental, including the days/hours of set-up/clean-up?
- What is the maximum number of guests?
- What are the terms of cancellation?
- Is there a caterer referenced/imposed or do you have to plan for it yourself?
- What are the audiovisual possibilities on the site? What about the power supply? Is it possible to play music?
- Is parking paid or free? Are there shuttle and taxi services?
- What can the place provide, and what should you take care of yourself?
- Is there a cleaning staff? Security staff?
Go to the place and make a detailed visit: from the parking to the reception hall and from the event spaces to the sanitary facilities. This visit may give you negotiating arguments before you sign the contract.
Choose Your Providers
Several providers will be required, depending on the configuration and size of your event. Here are some rules for finding the best providers:
- Seek recommendations within your professional circle. This at least gives you evidence of the provider’s quality. Once you find a service provider you are satisfied with, you can start building a long-term relationship with him.
- Build a database of contacts: company, contact, website, recommendations, details of the offer, prices, availability, etc.
- Always ask for a quote detailing the costs line by line. You can then simply integrate it and adapt it to your budget.
- Do not consider any price quote as fixed. To optimize your management, do not hesitate to negotiate with the service provider or put several companies into competition.
Make Your Event Unforgettable
A great event creates emotion. It pleases, surprises, amazes, makes people laugh… To achieve this, every detail counts: the decoration/layout of the building, the quality of the presentations of your speakers, the animations, the master of ceremony, …
How to Properly Prepare the Venue
The venue and its decoration can make a huge impression on your guests. It will reflect your company’s image. Whether it’s for a conference, a trade fair, an internal meeting or a product launch, be creative. Create a universe linked to the message and main theme of your event. Internet is a nearly infinite source of ideas and inspiration. The scenography decorators are also at your service to create the atmosphere you want by adapting it to the constraints of the venue. They will help you enhance your brand’s presence.
It is advisable to arrange and decorate in priority the spaces that will draw the largest crowd and attention:
- reception desk/entrance
- the stage, for a conference
- the booths, at a trade show
These spaces will also be the most photographed/filmed. Make sure that photographs will have a convenient location to shoot from. Use colors, lights, sounds and volumes to design an amazing space that looks good on film.
A successful conference cannot happen without a successful technical execution:
- The stage is slightly raised so that the whole audience can see the speaker. It will also be large enough for the speaker to move from left to right without constraints, and to accommodate groups if necessary (such as a panel).
- Arrange for the audience to be in the shade, but not completely in the dark. This allows to film audience reactions if video teams are present.
- Good stage lighting will greatly improve the chance of having quality photos and videos.
- Provide a small bottle of room-temperature water on a desk so that the speaker can drink.
- During formal presentations, the speaker often stands behind a podium. Aside from these very formal cases, we do not recommend its use, as it adds a barrier between the speaker and the audience.
- Check where the speakers are entering and leaving the stage.
- In the case of a seated audience, make sure that all guests have a seat.
- Check all audiovisual equipment (screen, slide format, secondary video screens, timer, microphones, clicker with batteries, sound systems, connection cables to connect the computer to the projection system, etc.).
How to select the speakers
Speakers will also be a very important and meaningful way to make an impression. In many ways, your speakers, especially big name speakers, will be the “face” of the event and help you attract guests.
Choose speakers who match your vision of the event and enrich the conversation. They can be opinion leaders who will attract participants, experts who master the subject or theme perfectly and will improve the quality of the debate, or enthusiasts who will offer an alternative vision to participants.
Do not forget your professional network when looking for these speakers. Searching into your network has the advantage of providing a warmer introduction to a potential contact. It can also help reduce costs if they agree to join your event for free.
How to Choose Activities
Organizing an unforgettable event undoubtedly means fun activities that will engage your guests and make them have a good time. This has several advantages:
- Impress your guests
- Create a friendly environment
- Promote exchanges between participants
- Attract people
- Generate posts on social networks
During a business event, whatever the objectives, you will have to think about activities that will make your guests comfortable, immerse them in a relaxing atmosphere where they can have fun while receiving the message you want to communicate.
Participatory games or group games, such as games using LEGO, are excellent animations for the purpose of a challenge. High-tech events are very trendy and offer immersive and fun experiences. The unusual entertainment offers your guests the opportunity to do an activity that they would never have been able to do elsewhere. In any case, we can help you find the best ideas to animate your event.
Create an Effective Communication Plan
Everything is organized. Now you just have to start the communication and make your guests want to register! No successful event can exist without successful communication.
If time permits, plan for “multi-channel” communication. This maximizes your chances of reaching your target. The better you know your intended audience, the better you will be able to communicate effectively. This will allow you to adapt the tone and style you use to “speak” to your target.
Communicate Before the Event
Website. Today, an event should have a website. Depending on the time and budget you have, there may be a question of a dedicated site with a specific domain name, a page on your existing corporate site, or a simple banner at the top of your site. Make your site attractive and clearly state the place, date and theme. Do not forget to integrate a button for the registration of your participants. If speakers are present at your event, give them a good place, with photo, text and biographies.
Landing page. It’s the page that a visitor lands on after clicking on an advertisement or a call-to-action button on your website or social media. It allows you to highlight the most important information, notify participants of the various news related to your event or to send a reminder to those who have not confirmed their registration.
Newsletter. It is a good way to maintain the relationship with your contacts, by quickly sharing free news and by showcasing new products or services. Qualify your contact database properly.
Invitations. It’s up to you to choose between paper and electronic formats. Send a “save the date” notice to your guests so that everyone can block the date and organize in advance. Resend an email just before the end of the official registration date. Just before the event, send a new reminder with all the relevant information.
Social media. The choice of social media to activate will depend on your target audience. Take into account the specifics of each media. Invent a short, simple and fun hashtag for your event and use it as soon as possible. Send as many tweets as you can. Post your event on Facebook and LinkedIn, add a logo or image and don’t forget to link to your event page. Regardless of the media used, be sure to provide relevant, synthetic and interesting information every time. And entice your audience to share and repost your content to their audience.
Partnerships & influencers. Some organizations would probably be delighted to help you and associate their name with your event. Try to reach agreements with suppliers who can bring something, either by promoting your event through their channels, or by providing D-Day services or products. Also look for bloggers, YouTube stars, Instagram icons… They are called “influencers.” If they are ready to associate their name with your event, your visibility will be greatly increased.
Press and media. If you have time and it is suitable to your event, prepare a press release and a press kit to send to a selection of media.
Event marketing assets also include teaser emails, mobile event app, designed posters, flyers, pin badges and other accessories to keep the event front-of-mind.
Communicate on D-day
On D-Day, communication meets a triple objective:
- Create engagement among your audience. Invite your guests to share your event and its highlights. What could be better than a live broadcast of their messages posted live on the media? Your guests will certainly feel the need to contribute!
- Give external visibility. You develop your notoriety and at the same time allow all those who could not be present to benefit from the content. Be active on social media platforms, live, via photos, videos and quotes.
- Create as much content as possible. Share photos, film the event, interview participants and speakers. This content will then be shared on media and on your website.
Other elements are also possible to make your event attractive and interactive: quizzes and draws to win prizes; surveys to give a voice to the audience but also collect feedback on your event.
People expect more from their conference and event experience than ever before. If a corporate event cannot generate engagement, it will impact the attendees’ ability to retain information. The week before your event is crucial for building this engagement. Here are some simple tips to do so.
Produce Great Content
A memorable event starts with engaging content. The content you deliver should support the strategic objective of your event as well as audience interests and needs. Share behind-the-scene photos, speaker quotes and moments to make attendees really feel like part of the experience. Ensure that your event speakers and presentations are relevant.
Live posting on social media during your event is an excellent way to keep your attendees engaged. Give attendees the possibility to access the agenda, speakers bios, maps and more to prepare for the event in advance.
Make your event fun and enjoyable. Add competitions or games to spice up the event. Insert surprises, such as musicians, professional acrobats or magicians. Incorporate virtual or augmented reality into your training session. Organize a raffle and announce the winners in between event sessions. Whatever entertainment element you choose, your attendees will appreciate a fun break in a packed day.
Organize a live Question & Answer Session and Polling
When it comes to the Q&A sessions, traditional methods are often met with groans and eye rolling. Today’s event technology makes it much easier to interact with your guests. Make use of a dedicated tool to enhance and improve communication. Consider collecting and curating top attendee questions and answers. Collect audience feedback on your event. By listening and interacting, you increase attendee engagement as well as identify opportunities to improve the overall experience.
Create Networking Opportunities
For many, networking is the primary reason for attending an event. By creating networking opportunities—whether face-to-face or virtual, one-on-one or in groups—you can encourage and facilitate networking and create a more valuable experience for attendees.
Create a Meeting Place With Your Partners and Sponsors
If you have sponsors and partners for your event, then those paying customers will be looking for real connections with attendees, rather than just signage. They should also have the best seats.
Adapt the Seating Layouts
Conventional seating layouts still work best for some sessions, but there are other options which can improve engagement. Different layouts serve different purposes, so consider the objectives and best approach for each session.
Create an Event Hashtag
Before your event takes place, create a short and unique hashtag that will be used across your event. Have all your event speakers use of the hashtag. Add the hashtag to speaker slides, event signage, badges, and any place your audience will go for information.
Create a Mobile App
Mobile apps are now commonplace for organizers and attendees, but remain an effective way to improve audience engagement. A well-designed event app enables attendees to plan their itinerary at the event, receive alerts for essential information, connect with other attendees, and find answers to common questions.
Conference engagement is a challenge but is not impossible. Using the right event technology tools, implementing feedback strategies, reconciling goals and expectations, and staying authentic should be the top priorities.
Prepare and Print Event Materials
What is the key to successful event materials? It needs to be professional, easily recognizable and brand consistent. When you use the same logos, fonts, colors … over and over again, customers easily recognize your brand and easily remember your business. Here are 5 key points to organize and create successful event materials:
List every promotional material you will need for your event. It’s easy to think about some key items like business cards and brochures, but don’t forget the little items such as signs, name badges, goodies, or the pre-event material as well (invitations and “save the date”).
Determine the size of each item. For each item, write down the dimensions required and make sure your designers have the information. Be sure you give them as much detailed information as possible. Your project will avoid delays and frustration.
Use templates for print materials if possible. Using templates helps to keep your design consistent. Make sure it is accessible to your designers.
Define the quantities you need. You will likely bring several different types of materials to your event, but you may not need to bring the same quantity of each. Keep in mind that for some items, such as signs, it may be a good idea to have an extra sign printed up just in case one is damaged or lost in transit.
Create a timeline and set deadlines. Your deadlines are going to determine the timeline for the entire project. The first step is to gather all deadlines from your vendors and printers. Then, create a timeline for your team/designers that allows buffer time to absorb inevitable hiccups. Finally, work backward to create your production timeline.
After weeks, even months of preparation, the big day has arrived! How to avoid getting lost among the multitude of things to manage that day? How is it possible not to forget anything? How to make sure that everything goes smoothly? Here are the golden rules for perfect execution:
- The day before, prepare everything you can and prepare for the worst. Scroll through the event planning in your head to review each step and consider all possibilities. A sentence should loop in your head: “What if…?”. This brings to light elements that you could never have anticipated around a meeting table.
- Install clear signage so that each person can find the site and rooms easily.
- Review accessibility and safety concerns.
- Book a significant time slot for rehearsals, set-up, etc.
- On the day of the event, arrive early! You’ll find time flies twice as fast as usual.
- Ensure that all technical equipment works properly (microphones, sound system, video projector, camera, computer, connections, lights, wifi if necessary, etc.).
- Have backup batteries for your electronic devices. All of them.
- Check that the cleaning has been done.
- Make sure that the deliveries have arrived (equipment, goodies, documentation, etc.).
- Print all the documents you will need (detailed briefs for service providers, checklist of “essentials,” technical timeline, flyers, programs, etc.).
- Build a “logistics kit” with Scotch tape, sheets of paper, pens, markers, cleaning products, trash bags … and everything that might be useful to you, as well as a first aid kit, in case: plaster, bandages, scissors, etc.
- Brief each team member. If you want to ensure smooth execution, make sure everyone knows from the start what is expected of them. Organize a briefing, in which everything is clearly and precisely indicated. If necessary, provide a copy of the technical timeline of the event with all relevant contacts.
- Keep with you the documents created throughout the organization.
- Make sure that the welcoming process for your participants is fluid and efficient.
- Look everywhere, all the time. Pay attention to the smallest details. Are some buffet trays empty? Did a poster come off? Is a table wobbly?
- Respect the timing. You are free to designate a “time keeper” among the members of your team who will be responsible for the schedule. Announce the program during the event, and stick to it. Your guests will appreciate having a clear view of the process.
- Be transparent with your audience or with your teams or service providers. A speaker is late? Do you have a technical problem? Explain it clearly. It is always unpleasant to experience an unforeseen event or to undergo a last-minute modification without understanding what is going on.
- Be discreet but available. You will be extremely busy, try to be available in case there is a need for you.
- If it could not be anticipated, accept the unexpected. It’s part of the event … anything can happen. Act professionally whatever happens, rely on your team and control your emotions. And tell yourself that this is one more lesson to learn for the next event!
After the Event
It’s over, the door just closed behind the last guest. You feel a mixture of relief, pride, fatigue…. But now is not the time to release all the pressure. The hardest part is over but save some energy for the final stretch: the post-event phase. Take time to evaluate and close your event:
Follow-up. Make sure to pay any outstanding bills and follow-up with reimbursements as needed for staff. If you encountered problems, be sure to follow up with those involved and resolve these issues. Save an electronic record of what you did, so those that plan the event in the future will know what you did, save time, and can learn from your challenges.
Thank. Partners, participants, speakers, service providers, various helpers, … take the time to thank each of them.
Share. Do not hesitate to send to stakeholders all useful and quality content, such as photos or videos of the event, interviews, … to further extend your event. This can be done by email, via your website or social media. You can also send a report: it’s a good way to receive feedback from your guests if you didn’t already have one.
Ask. Involve your participants through polls or satisfaction surveys right after the event. Plan closed questions (general appreciation of the event, of the providers, of the program, etc.) and open questions. This will lead to improvement or real positive points.
Evaluate your providers. Follow up on your collaboration with them, in order to capitalize on the best over the long term.
Analyze. Take the time to consider the impact and ROI of your event, in relation to your objectives. It is not because everyone had fun that the event is a success. And the reverse is also true. In particular, calculate the absenteeism rate and assess your budget. Integrate these figures and results into a clear report and share it with everyone involved in organizing your event. Also discuss all the pros and cons of the event place, the different services provided. These are valuable indications for an upcoming event, but also for suppliers and partners.
An event represents such an investment, in terms of time and budget, that it would be a shame not to make the most of it. Continue creating content and share it: articles from your video interviews, videos from the film of the event, quotes from your speakers, photos of the event, articles in the press, etc. This will further help increase awareness of your business.
Organizing events has no more secrets for you! You now have all the keys to create a quality, memorable and unique event. However, you will understand that preparing for an event requires a lot of involvement and this time can sometimes be difficult to find between the different daily tasks. This is why Ideas on Stage is a major event player who will support you in this organization and relieve your workload.