Planning even a small event requires the simultaneous juggling of layer upon layer of details, none of which can be dropped or forgotten. It’s stressful, to say the least! But with a little forethought and planning, your small event can go off without a hitch.
An event planning checklist is the secret weapon of event planners everywhere: They can help organize your thoughts, tasks and to-do’s at a glance. They can be adapted and expanded to suit every stage of your event and your event’s unique requirements. In this blog, we’ll break down what to consider when planning an event, and guide you through building the ultimate event planning checklist.
How to Prepare for an Event: Make a Checklist
Again, an event checklist is a great way to begin the planning process for small scale events and larger events alike. Getting your thoughts down on paper can help solidify your upcoming steps and tasks in your mind and remind you of related to-dos.
Your checklist may begin as an event planning timeline, which may then evolve into a pre-event preparation checklist and so on. The idea is that your checklist is a living document that can be utilized throughout your event planning process from beginning to end.
What to Consider When Planning an Event
There are so many things to think about when planning an event—vendors, venue, budget, timing, AV, and so on—that it can be easy to feel overwhelmed as you take your first steps. A good rule of thumb is to think macro before you think micro. For example, there’s no use in worrying about whether the hors d’oeuvres will be passed or plated before you’ve even chosen a venue!
As such, an event planning timeline is an ideal place to start in in planning small events. If you’re a new event planner for small events, a timeline will give you clear guidance toward how to prepare for an event and at what pace.
Creating Your Event Planning Timeline
In general, the further in advance you can begin planning your event, the better, but planning for smaller events can reasonably begin 4-6 months ahead of your prospective date.
How to Plan a Small Event
While event planning can be similar across all sizes and scopes, small scale events offer their own unique set of considerations and opportunities that savvy event planners will want to be aware of:
Special Tips for Small Scale Events
- Choose the right venue: Generally it is easier to size-down at the last minute than to size-up, so look for spaces for small events that can accommodate your largest attendance projection and scale down as needed.
- Sweat the small stuff: Smaller events often leave room in the budget to option-up to higher quality food and beverage, entertainment and decor. Consider the details a chance for your planning skills to shine, and determine into which you’d like to invest more resources to really make an impact.
- Keep it interesting: Small groups offer more opportunities for discussion, so keep this in mind when planning your itinerary. Get creative and brainstorm different ways to engage attendees with the dialogue, as this will increase their retention rate of your presentation and their satisfaction with the event.
- Watch your budget: A small event can turn into a budget blow-out if you don’t stay realistic about what you want vs. what you can afford! Keep a keen eye on your budget and look for ways to cut costs without cutting quality.
Event Planning Checklists: Pre-event, Day-of, and After
Preparation for your event means much more than choosing a venue and setting a date: It means having multiple, thorough checklists to keep everything on-track. Take a look at these checklists for each stage of your event and the tasks therein to help you get a better idea of what each list should include.
Pre-Event Preparation Checklist
As so much of an event hinges on diligent preparation, perhaps the most important checklist in your arsenal is the pre-event checklist. Here, we’ve broken down the major steps into smaller, more manageable tasks. While this approach may seem daunting at first glance—that’s a lot of checkboxes!—you’ll find that in practice, it makes the entire process of planning your small event much less stressful.
Establish Your Event’s Goals And Objectives
Establishing your event’s goals is as simple as asking yourself or your team: What are we trying to achieve by hosting this event? Is the goal to raise funds or awareness? To draw a crowd for an evening of fun, or to educate a select group of people on an important issue? Once you’ve established the thesis of your event, you can move on to other steps:
- Determine how many attendees you hope to have.
- Establish how you will gauge the success of your event.
- If your event is a fundraiser, determine where those funds will be allocated post-event.
Choose Your Venue and Set a Date
It’s important to get everything squared away with your venue as early as possible. In looking for places for small events to be held, you may want to create a separate venue-finding checklist specific to your event’s needs.
- Select a date that does not conflict with any holidays or other events taking place in your area.
- Choose your venue after comparing the capabilities and amenities of several at your price point.
- Negotiate details with the venue, such as their alcohol policy, parking, insurance, on-site AV, etc.
Gather Cost Estimates and Create a Budget
While you should have a general idea of your budget prior to selecting a venue, now is a good time to nail down the nitty gritty. Gather costs estimates from your venue and other venues for:
- Room rental
- Food and beverage service
- Entertainment, if applicable
- Event equipment of any kind, such as tent rental, AV components, etc.
- Event speaker fees
- Travel for staff
By compiling the above costs, you should have a solid idea of how much your event will cost—and where you may be able to identify extraneous spending or room to splurge.
Develop a Master Plan
Your master plan should be a document that includes all the information you’ve compiled about your venue, vendors, itinerary and speakers or entertainment therein, and all the administrative components like promotion, registration or ticket sales, etc.
Be sure your master plan includes details on:
- Venue, logistics and catering management including contracts, permits, insurance, etc.
- AV requirements, including what equipment is provided by your venue and what, if any, rental equipment or additional staff will be needed to fulfill your requirements.
- Speakers and presenters, if applicable, including the identification of possible speakers, confirmation of their availability, contracts, logistics and management
- Activities and entertainment, if applicable, including the identification of entertainment providers, confirmation of their availability, contracts, logistics and management
- Publicity and promotion, both online and offline
- Registration and ticket sales, including online sign-up details, payment and tracking, on-site sign-in, etc.
- Sponsor and partner management
- Volunteer management and responsibilities
Design and Plan Your Event Experience
Determining the design, theme and overall guest experience is crucial no matter the size of your event. You should consider not only the goals of your event, but also the synergy of the event’s design with any existing company branding or event-specific branding.
- Determine a theme, if applicable
- Consider the overall guest experience you are aiming for. Do you want guests to walk away thrilled by the excitement of your event, or impressed by its refinement and class? Consider your event’s goals and what kind of “vibe” might help achieve them.
- Settle on a general design, such as informal vs. formal, modern vs. rustic, bold vs. minimalist, etc. Your budget and event goals should help guide you toward an appropriate design.
- Identify potential decor vendors, florists, and other vendors within your budget who would be suitable for your event.
- Consider event branding and how your chosen design and event experience could inform it, or how it may support or undermine any existing branding.
Secure Presenters, Entertainment, Catering, Rentals, Etc.
Once your venue and event design are set, you can move on to contracting the additional players. Now is the time to identify, confirm availability and secure:
- Key presenters, if applicable
- Entertainment, if applicable, including a DJ or band, performers, etc. Consider if your venue has space/materials for a dedicated dance floor, or if you will need to rent and install one day-of.
- Catering, if not using in-house caterers at your venue. If using in-house catering, take this time to discuss any relevant details, such as a special menu, dietary restrictions, etc., that have not previously been discussed with your catering lead. Now is also the time to begin planning your menu.
- Rentals, including AV, lights, decor, tents, etc.
Brand, Promote, and Sell Your Event
Branding and promotion remains important, even if your event is small! An event marketing checklist will help you get the most impact and engagement from all your efforts.
- Build an event website or page on your existing social media or web pages.
- Develop an event logo and tagline, if applicable.
- Create a publicity plan, including media strategy and communication, VIP coordination, printed material design and printing coordination, signage, email campaigns, online and social media strategy coordination and launch, etc.
- Determine how many team members or volunteers will be needed to successfully carry out your publicity plan. Identify team members or volunteers and begin assigning them to specific tasks.
Day-Of Event Checklist
The big day is here! All your event prep is about to pay off. But first, you’ll need to have a rock-solid day-of event checklist that includes an event site checklist or event set-up checklist for load-in, a clear plan for event flow, and dedicated time to double-check all the details.
Confirm and Coordinate With The Venue and Vendors
The morning of your event, it’s important to touch-base with your venue coordinator and all your vendors to ensure things are running on-time and without issue. This includes:
- Confirming with your venue the day’s timeline, including vendor load-in, equipment set up, doors-open, performance or presentation times (if applicable), meal times, last call/bar-close and vendor break-down/load-out.
- Confirm with your vendors, speakers and entertainment that they are aware of the timeline and on track to arrive on time.
- Check-in with event staff and volunteers to review the master plan and itinerary for the day and to ensure all necessary tasks, like registration, coat check, servers, etc. are covered.
- Confirm your event security, if applicable, including what hours they will be on-site, in what areas, and how you/your volunteers can get in contact with security if need be.
Ensure Decorations, Tables, Signage, Promos Are In Place
While it’s true you’ve coordinated with your venue and decor vendor throughout the day, it’s important that you personally do a review to ensure the physical details are all to your specifications.
- Confirm all signage is in place both inside and outside your venue and in any other applicable areas.
- Confirm registration and media tables are in place and stocked with necessary items like blank name badges, paper sign-in sheets, pens, tape, a stapler, etc.
- Ensure all promo items, gifts, plaques, trophies, etc. are on-site and situated where they need to be during the event.
Test and Troubleshoot AV Equipment
Successful AV can make or break your event. Be sure to thoroughly check all technology playing a part in your event to confirm they are operational and properly set-up for your itinerary.
- Test WiFi stability, speed and bandwidth.
- Test microphones and speakers.
- Test screens, presentations and related computers and set for the start of your event. Confirm with the volunteer controlling each presentation that they know how to maneuver the presentation and troubleshoot any issues.
- Test lighting, including any specialty lighting, and set for the start of your event.
- Test any cameras or video equipment that will be used during the event.
- Confirm any online components are operational, including livestream pages, webpages, online check-in, etc.
Check In On Event Staff & Greet Guests
Your event is about to begin! Do a final check-in with key players, make sure everything is in its place, and welcome your excited guests.
- Confirm you have copies of all necessary materials on hand, including instructions, directions, phone numbers, keys, extra parking permits for VIP guests, seating charts and guest lists.
- Check-in with your team members for any final questions or concerns.
- Check-in with catering to ensure they are on track for the first round of service.
- Assist sponsors, speakers, and other teams as necessary.
- Greet arriving attendees before or after they reach the registration table.
Congratulations: The hard part is over, and you can bask in the glow of a successful event! But the work isn’t done. To get the most out of your small event, you’ll want to follow up with guests, share your success on social media, and analyze the event with your team to help inform future events. Your post-event checklist will guide you through these important final steps.
Connect with Participants and Send Thank-Yous
Don’t leave your guests feeling abandoned after your event! Be sure to make an effort to connect with participants and show your gratitude, including to your volunteers.
- Check-in with your venue and vendors immediately following the event (i.e., that night) to confirm nothing has been left behind, broken, etc. Settle any outstanding payments that may remain at the end of the event.
- Send thank you notes/emails to your guests, 12 hours to 2 days following the event.
- Send grateful acknowledgement letters to any sponsors 12 hours to 2 days following the event.
- Send thank you notes to your volunteers, participating team members, speakers and presenters, donors and the media, 12 hours to 2 days following the event.
Conduct a Post-Event Survey For Attendees
Reach out to your attendees to discover what they enjoyed and did not enjoy about your event. This is invaluable, first-hand knowledge that can help immeasurably as you plan your next event, so don’t neglect these steps!
- Identify a survey platform to distribute your survey to your attendees.
- Confirm your attendees provided valid email addresses.
- Build your survey using yes/no questions, multiple choice questions, and/or open ended questions in which the employee can write a lengthier response. Keep your survey’s length brief and ask informative questions such as: “Was the event structured well?” “How would you rate this event?” “What did you enjoy about this event? What could we improve upon for next time?”
- Send out your survey to your attendee list and set up a folder or mailbox into which you can file their responses for later review.
Analyze and Evaluate Event Success With Your Team
After any event, it’s good practice to conduct a post-mortem with your team to discuss what you felt went well, what could’ve been better, and what you’ll need to consider for next time based on the findings from this event.
- Survey your team to determine how each member feels about the success of the event.
- Review any data gathered from the event, including guest attendance levels, donations, survey responses, etc. After review, open the floor to discussion and analysis of this data.
- Share any relevant stories about the event’s success or issues that could help inform the next event.
- Discuss team satisfaction with the venue and vendors, possibly determining whether they might be used for the next event.
- Assign any final tasks, such as continuing to compile survey responses or file receipts, and make a plan for next steps if another event is in your future.
Hosting Small Events at Earle Brown Heritage Center
At Earle Brown, we love hosting events of all sizes, and we’d be delighted to be the historic backdrop to your next small event! From our versatile spaces to our experienced planning team, Earle Brown is the perfect place to host a small-scale meeting or event. When you’re ready to begin planning your next event, the Earle Brown team is ready to help make it extraordinary! Contact us today to learn more about hosting your small event at Earle Brown Heritage Center.