Ask the sponsor or sponsoring agency the real reason for staging the event, because the aim must be clear-cut before planning can start – many events are damp squibs due to badly defined objectives.
Decide if it is really necessary, because there might be cheaper but equally efficient ways of reaching your target audience.
Planning Committee and Co-ordinator
Set up a planning committee, including the sponsor or his/her representative, members or employees of all the agencies involved and people representing the target audience.
Look for dependable, responsible and flexible people who are used to teamwork and empowered to make decisions; and remember: "the more, the merrier" does not refer to planning committees.
Appoint a co-ordinator, empowered to make decisions whenever possible.
With the aim of controlling expenditure, the co-ordinator should be the only person authorised to make payments.
Pin-point your target group and, if you are not sure what their real needs are, identify them by means of a survey.
Find out what direct competitors, peer groups or similar associations are doing at the moment to identify current trends and, subsequently, any gaps in demand.
If it is important to reach the widest possible audience, consider staging a multidisciplinary event or including video conferences, or web broadcasting.
Base your budget on previous event histories, if available.
Establish a budget for the event, setting aside 10% for contingencies. This is crucial because the financial resources available will have a direct influence on the rest of the decisions that will have to be made.
Determine which expenses will be assumed by the sponsor and which by the participants.
If any profits are anticipated or if the event should break even, identify all sources of revenue.
Study all possible risks before deciding on the type of insurance coverage you ought to purchase, besides public liability, which is a must.
Format and Duration
Settle on what type of event format would best suit your target group.
Be realistic when establishing its duration.
Anticipated Attendance Figures
When calculating anticipated attendance figures, do not get carried away.
If event histories are unavailable, conduct a market research and/or a survey (albeit costly and time-consuming, it can save you money and a lot of stress in the long run).
Decide on whether any speakers and/or VIPs will be invited and if interpreters will be needed.
Calculate the number of staff you will require at the event and whether you will be relying on your own workforce or on casual staff.
If the event is to be staged abroad, consider hiring casual staff.
Take into account that big events or those attended by VIPs will require security measures.
Make special arrangements for participants with disabilities.
In the case of big events, allow yourself at least 12-months lead time.
Be flexible with the dates; when financial resources are limited, you will need to negotiate the most favourable rates for accommodation, flights (if applicable), meals, and meeting rooms or venues.
Bear in mind religious or bank holidays, school holidays, other similar events being held at the same time, expected weather conditions and peak seasons, since all these factors might affect attendance figures.
Engage speakers well in advance.
Location and Venue
Decide on where the event is to be staged and at what kind of venue (which of course should be well-adapted to the format).
When planning a one-day or short event, choose a venue with good accessibility, close to where the majority of the target audience lives or works. (With the low-cost flight boom, and quicker road and rail connections, in some cases this recommendation can be overlooked).
Prepare a shortlist of venues, underlining the pros and cons of each one.
As before, do not be over-ambitious: getting 100 people from different countries to a mountain retreat in the middle of nowhere is not as simple as transporting them to a rural convention centre, half an hour away by car from an international airport.
If you are going to outsource, partially of totally, prepare a detailed request for proposal.
In the case of oversees events, the language barrier or just unfamiliarity with the country in question can lead to misunderstandings, so, budget permitting, try to work with a local agency or professional.
Prepare a shortlist of qualified agencies or professionals with a proven track record or who have been expressly recommended to you.
When planning your event abroad, monitor the national and international press on the Internet to keep yourself fully informed about unforeseen occurrences that could jeopardise it.
Always have a contingency plan.
Although the rapid expansion of the Internet now makes it unnecessary, in the case of big events it is still a good idea to go on at least one venue inspection trip.
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