How to Design the Perfect Event Planning Checklist

Picture this: Your boss comes to your office one day and informs you that he’s giving you an important assignment... You’re planning an event!

He gives you the usual platitudes about believing in you, you can do it, he’ll have your back, and so on. Then he drops a file on your desk and walks away, leaving you sitting there slightly panicked and lost.

It’s enough to make you want to crawl under your desk and hide.

You have no idea how to plan an event. You don’t even know where to start!

Alexander Graham Bell said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

You need a concrete, actionable event planning process you can follow.

Here's a series of steps for planning a successful event and a basic checklist to get you started.

With these steps as a guide, you can craft a perfect checklist for your unique event.

Part 1: Pre-Planning

Before you begin planning any event, you need to gather information. Start with these five questions:

  • Who will be attending your event?
  • What is the event about?
  • When would you like to hold the event?
  • Where would you like to hold the event?
  • Why are you holding this event?

The point of pre-planning isn’t to nail down the answers right away, it’s to brainstorm and gather information to guide your planning. This research forms the basis of your event’s goals and objectives.

A good way to approach this is by brain dumping. Open a document on your computer and dump every piece of information you collect into it. This could include notes, flashes of inspiration, contact information, web links, and anything else that might be helpful to you.

Part 2: Laying Down Your Master Plan

Once you’ve done some pre-planning, it’s time to get started on your master plan. You need detailed documents that cover every aspect of the event. This includes a written game plan, an event checklist, a budget spreadsheet, and a day-of script.

Plans can vary depending on the size and type of the event you’re organizing, but here are some key parts of the process you want to make sure are present in your checklist.

Event objective

This is the most crucial bit of your planning, because it is going to guide every subsequent decision you make. It’s worth it to take the time to make your objective detailed and specific.

Your objective needs to answer two key questions: Why are you holding this event, and what goal do you want to achieve with it?

Here are some examples of well-designed event objectives.

If you’re planning a fundraising event then you need to set a monetary goal to work toward.

For example: We are organizing a charity sporting event to raise $30,000 dollars for the local animal shelter.

If you’re planning a seminar or conference, you want to write out exactly what attendees will learn and be able to accomplish by the end of the event.

For example: We are organizing a weekend conference where small business owners can learn marketing strategies. Participants will learn how to construct and implement a complete marketing plan for their business.

Even if it is for something informal and fun, like an appreciation event, it can still benefit from having a clearly written objective.

For example: We are organizing a Labor Day Barbeque for our clients to let them know how much we appreciate them. Our goal is to get 10 qualified referrals to attend, collect material to use in future marketing efforts, and have a great time.

Budget

At first, you don’t need exact numbers. You do need to know your budget range or limit.

To help with the budgeting process, you will want to set up a spreadsheet with a line for every single aspect of the event that you expect to spend money on. You also need two expense columns, one that shows the amount you have budgeted for a particular item and one that shows what you actually spent on that item. You will fill these out gradually as you hire vendors and support staff, negotiate rates, and finalize contracts.

At the end of every day or week, you should spend some time with your event budget spreadsheet. You’ll need to adjust amounts and add lines for anything new. Making this a habit helps you keep track of unexpected expenses, identify places where you can do a little cost cutting, and allows you to make sure every dollar counts.

Team

Having a great team to delegate tasks to you room to breathe and helps ensure that you don’t accidentally overlook important details while you’re focusing on the big picture.

You also want to set up a digital hub, where everyone can access documents pertaining to the event, like the budget spreadsheet, the master plan, and the vendor list. A free website like Unison, Google Docs, or Dropbox will work fine.

Make sure every member of your team knows the event objective and is actively working towards it. Assign people specific areas to focus on and hold regular meetings to gauge progress and work out kinks.

Time and place

You should pick two dates, your first choice and an alternate (in case the first doesn’t work out). Keep in mind school, public, and religious holidays so you can plan around them.

Make sure your talent—presenters, speakers, special guests— are available on those dates before finalizing them.

You then want to make a list of possible venues and find out prices, capacity, and date availability for each of them.

There are three things to consider when choosing a venue: your budget, the size of your event, and the physical location.

The physical location you need can depend on whether your attendees are mostly local or traveling from other places. If many of your attendees are flying in, you’ll want to focus on venues near airports that offer shuttle service. If most attendees are local, consider places a little outside of town, where there is plenty of space for parking.

Event theme

Choosing a theme is important because it is essentially your event’s brand. A well-chosen one gives many of the benefits that branding does: it helps your event stand out, gives it credibility, and develops customer recognition when they encounter your marketing materials.

You want to choose a theme which fits your event objective and the overall tone of the event. A theme like the Roaring Twenties is great for a casual event. For a professional event, you want to choose something more polished. For instance, a trade show on new technology in your industry might look great with a futuristic theme.

You want to give the event a name, a tagline, and possibly a logo. All these things can be used in printed materials, on social media posts, email reminders, landing pages, and anything else that you make for the event, so it’s important to choose them early.

Game plan

This is where all your prep work starts to come together. You need to write up a detailed road map of every aspect of your event. If you are planning something large and complex, it might be useful to write up separate plans for different parts of the event.

Start with a simple document that includes the things you have worked out so far, including your objective and your team’s assignments. For example, take your budget spreadsheet, you’ll be continually adding to this document for the first few months. Spend some time on it every day.

Make sure to include transportation logistics, marketing, support staff management, registration procedures, vendor and entertainment management, emergency procedures, and a day-of script, which outlines the timeline of all parts of the event.

By the day of the event, it should be complete, extremely detailed, and every member of your team should have a copy.

Emergency plan

An important part of your master plan is going to be your emergency preparedness plan. Unexpected emergencies can happen during any event, and you need to have something in place for tackling them.

Make a list of possible emergencies which could happen during your event. Not every type you can possibly think of, but ones that are more likely to occur based on your event’s unique qualities. Here are some examples:

Is the event outside? Then you need a detailed rain plan in place in case you need to move everything inside or set up tents.

Are attendees going to be spending time outside in hot conditions? Make sure cold drinking water and shady areas are available.

Are there going to be sporting activities? Then make plans for dealing with injuries.

Is the event being held in an earthquake zone? Have a plan in place for evacuating everyone from the building.

Event giveaways

Are you going to be giving away any goodie bags, souvenirs, party favors, or handing out any awards?

You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to order and ship so you can inspect and package them before the big day.

Talent

The speakers, presenters, and special guests you book can be a major draw for attendees. It is worth your time and money to find talent that will enhance your event and generate buzz.

Contact them early, asking about date availability and rates. Once you’ve confirmed and gotten a contract in place, remember to request information from them.

You will need their speaking topics, biographical details, and a photo for promotional materials. You will also need to make travel and accommodation arrangements for them, as well as arrangements for any props or technology they will need for their presentations, like projectors or microphones.

Event marketing campaign

The marketing campaign lets people know about the event and gives them opportunities to learn more and sign up to participate. It should make up one large section of your master plan and consider every possible source of promotion.

Are you going to send out emails? Print flyers? Post on social media? Run advertisements?

You’ll need to design a landing page where people can learn about the event and a registration page where they can sign up and pay. You’ll also want to set up automatic email reminders for registrants, prepare news releases and media kits, print posters, and set up dedicated social media pages.

Remember to include your event theme in every part in your marketing so people are more likely to remember it.

Event invitations

Make sure to send out invitations at least eight weeks prior to the event so attendees have time to make personal arrangement for pets, children, or time off.

Invitations should follow your theme. They should also indicate the who, what, when, where, and why of the event.

Decorations

Like invitations, decorations should be designed around your theme. They help immerse the attendees in the experience. Pay attention to color, lighting, foliage, and backdrops.

Food and drink

Food, when done well, can be the most memorable part of an event. It’s worth spending some money on!

You’ll need to decide if alcohol will be part of the experience. If so, there’s going to be extra logistics to work out, such as liquor licensing.

Hire a caterer who will work with you on planning a menu. The caterer will need to know the number of people attending and what kind of theme you’ve got.

Event day-of script

This is a minute-by-minute breakdown of everything that is going to happen during the event, from the opening ceremony to the closing remarks.

Using this script, you will design your event program, which attendees will receive at registration. It lays out the times and places for everything. If the event is happening in a large complex, include a map in the program so participants can find their way around.

Venue inspection

A few months before the event, you should arrange to do a venue inspection. Look for the following things:

  • How is the Wi-Fi? Are there any dead spots?
  • What kind of audiovisual equipment is available?
  • Are there any safety or security concerns?
  • Are restrooms easily accessible?
  • What is the parking situation like?
  • How are the facilities and accommodations for disabled attendees?

The inspection is an essential part of the planning because it allows you to uncover any possible issues that you didn’t catch while looking at photos of the venue online.

RSVPs

As your invitations are answered, you should be creating a database of your confirmed attendees. You need an accurate headcount, as do your vendors so they know how much to prepare. The database can also help with setting up reminder emails.

Contracts

You are going to have a lot of signed contracts. Set aside some time to go through each one of them and make sure they are all finalized and have the necessary signatures. This will save you headaches later.

Mailing materials

Attendees need to have their tickets, parking permits, and other necessities mailed to them so they can have them in hand when they arrive. Make sure these go out at least a month before the event, and be prepared with extra on hand for people who forget them.

Printed materials

You will want a final, alphabetized guest list printed up and copies made for you and your team. Make sure there are multiple copies at the registration area—they'll need them. You will also need to have place cards, name tags, briefing packets for VIPs, and media kits printed and assembled.

Staff

You need to have written instructions prepared and hold at least one meeting with all your event staff, including volunteers, within two weeks of the event.

The meeting should consist of going over everyone’s duties on the day-of, and include back-up plans for possible logistical emergencies. The written instructions should lay out in detail what everybody’s duties are and who they can report to if there is a problem.

Part 3: Event Day of Preparations

The day of your event, make sure to dress comfortably and arrive early at the venue.

You'll need to have a folder with you containing all your preparation materials, and you should spend a good part of your early morning doing checks: facility checks, sound and camera checks, registration area checks, and signage checks. Give yourself plenty of time to ensure that everything is in order so you can deal with any problems or surprises.

Additionally, make sure to have your registration area set up and ready to go at least 30 minutes prior to the start time. Your registration area should have the following:

  • At least one copy of an alphabetized guest list
  • Extra blank name tags and sharpies
  • A way to keep track of walk-ins and no-shows

The staff or volunteers working the registration table should have ready answer to common questions, like what time the event will begin or where the restrooms are located.

Have an "event survival kit" assembled in a convenient place. This is a stash of important items that you may need in an emergency or while the event is going on. It should contain things like scissors, tape, extra name tags and sharpies, duct tape, paper clips, aspirin, and a first aid kid.

During the event, your job as the event coordinator is to ensure that everything runs smoothly and on time. You should be regularly making circuits through the venue, observing, unobtrusively managing, and being available to the staff and talent in case they need anything.

Part 4: Event Post-Planning

After your event has concluded, you want to send out thank you notes to everyone who participated, including attendees, talent, vendors, staff, and volunteers.

Do not forget this crucial step. It reminds people that their work helped make the event a success, and it makes them more likely to work with you again in the future.

You can send these "thank you notes" via email or snail mail—whatever is convenient for you, as long as you send them within a month of the event’s conclusion.

Thank you notes should be short, but specific and personalized. Greet individuals by their name, make note of the event they attended and why you’re thanking them.

Here are a few examples:

To a volunteer:

[Name],

Thank you so much for running the registration desk at [event] this past weekend. Your hard work was appreciated, and your attention to detail ensured that our walk-in guests received the same service and respect as our pre-registered attendees. Our [event] would not have gone so smoothly without your assistance.

Thank you,

[Your name]

You also want to send surveys out to attendees. Gather as much feedback as you can; it will help you to improve your next event and make it an even better experience.

Finalize your budget spreadsheet and remember to finish up any billing issues.

And finally, have a post-mortem meeting with your team. Ask yourself, “How did we do?” Don’t just focus on what went wrong; look at what went right so you can repeat it next time.

If you follow these steps and keep yourself organized and prepared, your event will go off without a hitch!

Event Planning Checklist

You can use the following event planning checklist as a start to building your own stellar event, or you can print it out as is and use it as part of your planning process.

Six months prior to the event:

  • Do your pre-planning
  • Work out your event objective
  • Start a budget spreadsheet
  • Assemble your team
  • Make a digital hub where all team members can access documents
  • Choose a date and a location
  • Brainstorm a theme
  • Write up the master plan
  • Write an emergency plan
  • Decide on and order giveaways like souvenirs, favors, or awards
  • Book the talent
  • Design your marketing campaign

Three months prior to the event:

  • Send out invitations for the event
  • Plan the decorations
  • Hire caterers and decide on a menu
  • Launch your publicity campaign
  • Prepare your program
  • Inspect the venue

One month prior to the event:

  • Acknowledge and keep track of RSVPs as they come in
  • Make sure all contracts are finalized
  • Mail out tickets, parking permits, and other essentials to attendees

One week prior to the event:

  • Print out your guest list in alphabetical order
  • Make sure all your printed materials are finished and ready to go, including place cards and name tags
  • Have a final meeting with staff, security, and volunteers to go over their duties
  • Prepare a briefing packet and send it to any VIPs or hosts

Day of the event:

  • Make sure to arrive early with all your preparation materials in hand
  • Do a check of the facilities
  • Conduct equipment checks
  • Start setting up
  • Set up the registration area, and be open 30 minutes prior to launch
  • Remind everyone to smile

After the event:

  • Send thank you notes to everyone who participated
  • Email surveys to attendees
  • Finalize your budget spreadsheet and billing
  • Have a post-mortem meeting with your team