7 Steps to Event-Planning Success

Review this checklist to guide you through each step of the process.

Event planning

Whether it's a holiday party or annual customer luncheon, pulling off a company celebration takes a lot of planning and a bit of luck. These seven tips can help you keep stress levels to a minimum and ensure your special event is truly special.

1. Start before you think you need to.

Even if your event date seems far off, many small steps will need to happen along the way for you to stay on track. If you have an annual company meeting, you might start thinking about basic details, such as location and agenda, right after the previous meeting, while the lessons of what went well and what didn't are still fresh. If you're planning a holiday party, checking venue availability over the summer could help you secure your first choice — and perhaps even net you an early booking discount. Starting early mitigates the chances of overlooking important details, and it gives you room to make adjustments. 

2. Create a master calendar.

Once you've gathered initial input from your boss and other stakeholders, draw up a list of things that need to happen. On a high level, this might include researching venues, planning for food, sending registration forms, and arranging transportation. Below each of these items, note more specific steps and assign deadlines to them. For example, before reserving a venue, you'll need to research options, visit your top choices, and find out what will and won't be provided (for example, AV equipment). Check each item off as you complete it, and add new ones as appropriate.

3. Assemble a team.

Don't try to handle all the planning yourself. Instead, assign specific duties according to people's strengths. Someone on your team has food service experience? Ask him to investigate catering options. A colleague down the hall moonlights in a cover band? Ask her to take charge of finding the entertainment. Set clear expectations and deadlines, and meet regularly to track progress.

4. Negotiate prices with vendors.

If you use the same vendors year after year, this step might be easy — the repeat business could net you a discount. Planning your event on an off-peak day or time could lower the price tag as well. If you'll need multiple hotel rooms for out-of-town attendees, see what kind of discount you can get — often, hotels will comp a room once you've reserved a certain number. Get quotes from multiple vendors for the services you'll need, as that can help you negotiate: For example, the caterer with the best menu might be willing to come down in price if they know you have lower bids.

5. Think of "what-ifs."

Plan proactively for potential snags. Maybe the popular new restaurant downtown can accommodate your holiday party — great! Politely ask how many other events are booked on the same night, since the number could impact the service your group receives. Or, perhaps you're planning a family event at a local amusement park. Check that there will be activities for all of the kids — you don't want the youngest ones upset because they're too small to go on the rides.

6. Get it in writing.

Review vendor contracts carefully so that there are no surprises come event day. Don't make assumptions — anything you expect to be provided should be spelled out. For example, if you're renting a tent and chairs and want the vendor to set them up and break them down, be sure your agreement specifies this. Your contracts should also account for contingencies — if the DJ you've booked gets sick, will someone else be able to fill in?

7. Enjoy yourself!

Once the big day comes and everything is in place and running smoothly, it's time to step back and watch your hard work pay off. Enjoy the moment — but also keep an eye out for things you might do differently next time. And always be sure to thank everyone who pitched in to make the event a success.