woman creating a checklist for events

How to Create an Event Planning Checklist That Leads to Flawless Execution

Coordinating an event involves layers upon layers of details from the pre-planning stage six months in advance to the day-of-event logistics. Keeping all of those details in your head will result in constant mental chaos and present unnerving stress on event day. To say the least, that’s counterproductive.

Creating a customized event planning checklist will not only keep you on target with clear direction, it will also provide essential information to the event team, who can work in tandem with you to execute an amazing event. Just follow these steps to create a checklist that will keep you on track and executing flawlessly.

Start with the right template.

You can create your own checklist template in Microsoft® Word® or find a template from a book on professional event coordination. You can also use a free online app, such as Asana or Podio, that allows you to design your own process and work collaboratively with your event staff.  Once you have a checklist you can reverse-plan the event and create a timeline of tasks and schedule of deadlines, which assures that every minute detail gets covered.

Establish the event specifics.

Naturally, you will determine the date, time, location and type of the event. However, there are other details just as vital to a successful event that need to be established — event goal, objectives, and audience.

Event Goal

The event goal is the overall reason for hosting an event. It could be anything from fundraising or celebrating employee success to imparting information or launching a new product.

Event Objectives

Event objectives are the way to measure if an event goal has been met. For example, if the goal is fundraising, an objective might be to raise $1,000 or receive 50 pledges of support. Once the objectives are known, elements can be incorporated into the event that steer guests toward a desired action.

Audience

For an event to be successful, you have to know your audience and clearly understand what expectations they have of the event. If you don’t meet their needs, then the desired guest action is less likely to happen.

Audience expectations range from the creature comforts of easy parking, familiar food, and a pleasant room temperature to WOW factors, like an exotic location, tech-savvy presentations, and useful SWAG.

Profile your audience; then, take it a step further. Determine what you want them to feel, think, and do both during and after the event. And make sure to incorporate components in your event design that will provoke those responses.

Build your event budget.

When you contemplate recording every anticipated event expense, creating an event budget seems daunting. With a Microsoft® Excel® spreadsheet, it’s not that complicated. Start with the major categories, such as catering, décor, and rentals. Then, breakdown all the expenses under each category and let Excel do the work for you!

Under this section of your list, you can add details such as research costs of rentals or negotiate a discount with vendors. The event budget isn’t a checklist line item that can simply be marked off. Your checklist is a living, breathing document, and this format encourages you to keep revisiting all aspects of the event until it is as cost-effective as possible.

Create the event design.

This is the heart of the pre-planning because it covers the range of event components that impact guests the most.

Program

The program relays the story of the event goal and objectives. Each story element leads to the next story element, which builds anticipation during the event. The peak of that anticipation should be dramatic. It is what you want your guests to remember the most. An event checklist helps layout the story by breaking down the timeline of the event.

Layout

How you’re using your space — all the way down to the seating arrangments — can make all the difference. Even slight errors in the placement of electrical cords or rigging can cause major headaches on event day. So make sure that visually laying out the event space is on your to-do list. A user-friendly tool like Social Tables’ Diagram can help you map it out and easily share your layout with clients and vendors.

Theme

Choosing an event theme isn’t just for fun. The theme represents the event message and serves other essential purposes, such as:

  • Themes create buzz. The guests’ event experience begins long before the event. A themed invitation and social media posts create eager anticipation and set the tone for the future event.
  • Most importantly, an event theme connects the individual event components (such as décor, catering, and entertainment), thereby layering the event message into a cohesive guest event experience.
  • Themes provoke future recall of the event. For example, if a guest attends an event with a ’50s diner theme, the next time they see a diner on TV or eat a meal at a diner, they will recall being at the diner-themed party, thereby bringing to mind your business, product, or brand.

Listing considerations for how each themed event component can convey the event message will lead to a carefully-crafted strategy for a lively, purposeful event.

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Don’t forget décor.

Décor isn’t just pretty, it’s crucial for a successful event. And since it runs the gamut from rentals and florals to tablecloths and accent pieces, it can be a lot making sure that you’re covering all your bases.

What will attendees see, hear, smell, taste, and touch? Your guests experience the event through their five senses, so make sure that those questions are going to be answered by mapping it out beforehand in your list.

Get creative with food and drink.

This is the most important component of an event because sharing a meal is a visceral community experience. Food is associated with nurturing, so this is an opportunity for the host to illustrate thoughtful hospitality.

Choosing a menu is also a detailed task. There are vendors to interview and select. You have to consider guests’ cultural sensitivities and the array of their dietary preferences and restrictions. Then, there is the question of how food and drink choices will impact the environment.

Your checklist helps you chart those nuances, so that you pick the perfect caterer, keep your menu on-trend, protect the planet, and, most importantly, leave your guests feeling nurtured and nourished.

leaf lettuce on dinner plate at event

Be ready to work with speakers and entertainers.

You will definitely need some space on your checklist for booking speakers and entertainers. There are contracts and labor unions, honorariums and hotel blocks, and green rooms with VIP requests to track.

In addition to speakers and entertainers, you’ll also need to coordinate interim entertainment, such as photo booths, guest engagement, and relaxation areas. Your checklist acts like a blueprint, helping you to see the big picture, while you are planting micro-experiences for your guests.

Map out your marketing plan.

Event marketing creates buzz, builds anticipation and guarantees a good turnout. It can also involve a variety of channels (from printed flyers to dedicated event emails) and multiple teams (from graphic designers to social media managers). Plus, running a digital marketing campaign in a channel like Facebook comes with its own web of dates, analytics, and budget.

An event checklist will help map the pre- and post-event marketing strategy across all of those channels. This is where an online project management tool will be especially handy for you and your team.

Plan for little details and the unexpected.

It’s the little details that make a big difference. That’s why you’ll want to keep track of every minute thing that can affect the guest experience.

An event can be ruined before it even begins by poor directions or long lines at the registration table. What about guest access to Wi-Fi? If you force your guests to unplug, you might have a riot on your hands! And what if someone has a medical emergency? Those are the small, but very important details that need to be added to an event planning checklist. Include everything from signage and SWAG to photography and contingency plans.

Create a chart of event-day logistics.

Plan to create a logistics timeline for the event: a minute-by-minute schedule of EVERYTHING from vendor arrival and set-up to run-through and post-event breakdown.

There are many moving parts on event day, as well as unexpected situations that arise. If you don’t have the day-of-event details outlined to a tee, you will miss something, which will show up later as a big problem. There’s no need for that added stress when you can use your checklist to create a thorough day-of-event schedule.

Follow-up after the event.

After your guests leave the event feeling all warm and fuzzy, touch base with them. This is an opportunity to reinforce the event message and get feedback, as well as prompt guests to take action to meet event objectives.

When putting together your list, contemplate a variety of post-event communication methods that will achieve those results, such as sharing event photos, sending a thank you note, posting on social media, or linking to event materials. The checklist will not only help you manage the tasks, but track the results.

Take time to debrief and write a post-event analysis.

Shortly after the event, you will want to sit down with your team, talk about what went right, and what can be improved. On an event planning checklist, you can list criteria to consider that will map back to your event goals.

That completed list of criteria will provide information for a comprehensive post-event analysis to be written. And, a post-event analysis will contribute to the return on investment report, where it can be determined if the event objectives were met.

This information is valuable in analyzing your skill as an event planner, reporting goal and objectives results to your company, and constantly building upon the success of each event.

Give these additions a go in your next event planning checklist.

It isn’t just a to-do list.  It’s a fluid document allowing an event planner to visualize the event from all pertinent perspectives — client, event team, vendors, and, most importantly, the guest. Invest the time and amazing execution will follow.

Have you had success with your own checklists? Comment below and let us know what’s working for you! Or, serve up your sage advice on Facebook for your fellow planners.

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Sherri Defesche

Sherri Defesche works at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, where she coordinates events and manages web content for the Center for Ethics and Leadership and the School of Arts and Humanities. She has 33 years’ experience in event management and is certified in social media marketing.