Planning any size event takes thought, time, and organization. When that event includes a large crowd, catering, live music, staging, and displays, it takes even more. So, what do you do first, how soon do you book your venue, when should you hire a production company, when do you finalize details?
Don't leave any of this to chance. A thorough event planning timeline can save you from forgetting any detail, big or small, and prevent headaches down the road. Here's a template to help get you started.
When Should I Start Planning My Event?
Large scale events can take a year or more to plan. That said, you can probably comfortably start your timeline six months out. Things can get more comfortable with repeat events, but that doesn't necessarily reduce needed lead time. With a checklist in hand, you won't overlook details. And you won't have to rush around, which can cost more and cut into event quality.
An event planning timeline will give you confidence and ensure your event is right on track.
Your timeline should include every detail, but here are the highlights:
6 Months Out: Set the Foundation
Before you start calling vendors or book a venue, you'll want to define the goals of your event. What do you want your guests to experience and walk away, knowing and feeling? What elements of this experience are most important to you — customer service, live music, catered dinner, well-known guest speakers?
Once you've determined your goals and objectives, set a budget. Did your company provide a predetermined budget? Or are you responsible for creating one? Remember, sponsorships are a great way to help fund an event.
Then, after you have created your foundation, keep building.
- Assign a trusted "lieutenant" to be in charge of each event component or venue, and make them part of the planning process
- Hire your production company, because you'll need their professional advice starting now
- Secure your venue(s), including dates for setup and strike
- Begin soliciting sponsors and midway or display vendors
- Secure speakers and entertainment or both. (The most sought-after may require longer lead time.)
- Create a marketing plan to give your event a substantial build-up
3-4 Months Out: Smooth Out the Details
Now is the time to work through the details of your event. Every single one.
- Secure your critical vendors like a caterer, florist, anyone who will also need lead time for their planning.
- Collect bios and photos of speakers, bands, and any other talent to use in marketing.
- Order supplies to support event operations (such as wristbands and badges) as well as public-facing goodies such as branded giveaways, T-shirts, and other swag.
- Identify signage you'll need onsite and offsite, and get that started.
- Develop a multiple-contingency emergency plan in conjunction with your venue, security, and local first responders. If something goes wrong, you'll have to react instantly.
- Apply for any permits you may need.
- Purchase insurance. Don't forget this one!
1 month out
Confirm arrangements with everybody. Everybody!
- Confirm your order with the caterer. Provide the final headcount.
- Check setup times with your vendors — decorators, florists, AV company, and other key partners.
- Go over your emergency plan with your entire team and conduct a mock run through if necessary.
- Create your event day timeline. Identify if anything missing. If so, fill in the gaps now. This checklist will help everything run smoothly on the big day. We recommend making several copies to hand out to your team and a few extras in case someone loses it.
Keep your team, vendors, and venue up-to-date if any changes arise in the final weeks leading up to the event.
Congratulations, you're almost ready for the big event! Remember, something is bound to pop up last minute. Remain calm. You are ready.