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Event Planning: Making It Unforgettable


Have you ever tried to pull off an event for six hundred people? How about just a small company’s holiday party? In either case, it can be a lot like planning a wedding. Every detail - from the invitations, menu, venue, decorations, even the music or other entertainment - must be planned. For many people, event planning sounds like a daunting and exhausting task. But it doesn’t have to be, if you know how to prepare and logically execute all of the individual steps required, and how to manage the ongoing logistics leading up to the event.


Over the last 14 years, I have had the opportunity to plan corporate events - whether large or small - with very different themes and targeting extremely different types of people. My greatest joy in planning these is the ability to see the final outcome and the excitement of the people attending. For an event planner or someone like me who is, by trade, a graphic designer, the experience is much like that of a painter who stands back from countless hours of labor and sees all of the small pieces working together in perfect harmony; it’s a work of art to be relished. I want you to have this same satisfaction and success in planning your company’s events. And I’m sure that you want your guests to reminisce about the success of the event long after it is over. Therefore, in this article we are going to talk about the logistics of planning a large-scale level event.


Guest List & Venue

Strategically, an event needs to be timed impeccably, especially if you have a tight deadline. If possible, you will alleviate a great deal of stress on everyone, including yourself, if you begin to plan as early as possible. However, the order of planning is also important. A common error that many people make is to attempt to address the catering requirements first. In reality, the catering should be addressed much later in the process. Instead, the first things you need to consider are how many guests you are inviting and what venue would be appropriate for the occasion. These are the most important decisions you will make because they lay the foundation for your guests’ experience. And keep in mind that if your event has a specific theme, some venues will inherently be a poor fit. It’s harder to create the right ambiance for a Jazz-themed event in an extremely modern venue than it is in a smoky, vintage lounge. A Derby-themed party is especially suited to a daytime, outdoor, garden setting. Don’t forget, in the case of an outdoor event, to have a backup plan for unfavorable weather.

Once you have chosen the venue, the next step in event planning is to refine the guest lists and to send out invitations. You want to give your guests enough advance notice to generate a higher attendance rate, and you want to receive their RSVPs as soon as possible to appropriately plan. This is where promotional vendors and graphic designers, like myself, come into play. Invitations convey the theme and style of the event. A designer often has the knowledge and experience necessary to make the right impact, along with the know-how to pull off special, custom features that you might want to incorporate.

For example, will the invitations be digital or print? Digital is the cheapest option, but if you are not a graphic designer, you will most likely need to hire someone to help you design and distribute these. Alternatively, if you are using printed invitations, you may want to send them out in a special invitation box with a thematically-consistent gift included. Designers can be equally helpful in that case. For the events that I have planned, I created custom invitations that were branded to the specific theme of the event.

Promotional & Specialty Items

Graphic designers can also be helpful with custom, promotional items for your guests such as cocktail napkins, bathroom hand towels, or specialty printed items like engraved Mont Blanc pens, or a globe with your logo etched on the side. These items must be considered early in the planning process due to the production time requirements. Supplier timelines differ based on their inventory, the quality and type of item, whether it must be specially packaged - for example, a custom bag or foil-lined boxes - and, most importantly, the desired effect. The turn-around time for promotional items can be quite lengthy. One time, I looked into purchasing a custom bag. I wanted to see a sample, but after waiting for it for three weeks, I found out that coming from Europe, which would only increase the production time. The key take-away to remember is that while a design can be created relatively quickly, printing and shipping lengths can be anywhere from 2-3 weeks for most items and can be much longer for custom items. Plan ahead as much as possible.


Similar, but slightly less stringent timelines, apply to other graphic design pieces needed, such as signage, themed escort cards (cards placed at each person’s place setting on a table), or for logos used with BOGO lights - to display imaging on the walls, floor or ceiling.


Venue-Related Items

Next you need to focus on filling the venue space. The first item of business is a party rental vendor who will provide your desired furniture and accessories. If your vendor is familiar with the space, they can be an excellent resource regarding space constraints and how the optimal layout can be efficiently and attractively accomplished. It is important to ask about any delivery constraints.

Alternately, if the vender is unfamiliar with the space, the venue should be able to provide you and the vendor with specifics regarding space size (ask for a diagram with dimensions if it is indoors), logistics, and the loading and unloading times. Like the venue, graphic design, and promotional items, this important step sets the theme for your guests. I planned one event in what wouldn’t have been my first choice for an event space. However, the furniture was exquisite and created the ambiance my client desired.


The ambiance of your event extends beyond the venue and furniture/ place settings. It additionally includes the floral arrangements, specialty accessories and other décor. This is another time when an event planner is invaluable as he/she is able to help you select and place the décor that will tie into your theme, creating your ideal space in a way that many non-designers may struggle to envision. This is also when a florist can very helpful. When consulting with a florist, bring photos of the event location and photos that represent your inspiration for the event. You can obtain a lot of these sorts of ideas from Google, Pinterest, or magazines.


Don’t forget to consider the overall color scheme that fits your theme. This may be represented in table linens, flowers, or candles. Many florists can supply candle-related, and other accessories to coordinate with their arrangements. Regardless, this information (and the corresponding photos) helps them to understand your vision for the event, particularly the general ambiance you would like. If the florist doesn’t have the accessories that you want, you will need to use separate vendors to obtain these items. If this is the case, keep in mind that you or someone else will have to bring those items to the venue.

Services

Lastly, you need to address the actual services that you will need at the event itself. That includes the actual serving staff, musicians, any other entertainment and the photographer. To ensure that the memories of your event are captured well, you will need to hire a photographer who is appropriate for the event. Believe it or not, not all photographers do well with or like to photograph the same kinds of events. Some specialize at night parties, with subtle lighting and contrasts of light and dark. Others are brilliant at photographing weddings. And some photographers’ expertise is in outdoor lighting. It is important to know the photographer’s experience and skill. Ask for his/her portfolio or samples of their work and how it relates to your event.


When determining the entertainment at your event, start by establishing the event’s purpose? Is this in-part, fulfilling the role of a corporate seminar, or other information-relaying function? Will you have speakers dedicated to specific areas of your business? You will need to ensure that your dedicated speakers are booked and that they know what is required of them. Is your event, instead, for social purposes only? In either case, you may need musicians or other entertainment. Some companies book notable talent, to perform live. Some choose to have a cover band or DJ. Others provide a quiet instrumental group as a backdrop for mingling. You will need to consider what fits your theme, function, budget and the degree of formality that you desire.

Catering

Now we’ve come full-circle to what is often our favorite element - the catering. The first question to ask is whether the venue you have chosen has its own catering, and whether you want to use these services or contract externally. That decision will be dictated, largely, by how specific your food requests are. An external vendor is often a more flexible (but sometimes more expensive) option that can provide you with a more tailored and unique menu.

In either case, envision what kind of food you want and how you want to serve it. Do you want a classic, American-style buffet, or Asian-fusion hors d’oeuvres - either passed by staff, or laid out on tables? Do you want a full sit-down steak dinner? Maybe your vision is some combination of the above. Regardless, you will have to pick out every item that will be served at the event. However, you can trust the caterer to tell you how much food and beverage should be ordered. They do this every day and have a good eye for what to approximate so that no one goes hungry or thirsty.


Speaking of, make sure to specify whether alcohol should be served, and if so, what kind. And don’t forget to provide non-alcoholic drinks for non-drinkers, especially coffee, which many people like to pair with dessert. A fun option, if your budget and the style of the event allow, is to offer a gourmet coffee bar. They are extremely popular. Also ask your caterer about food items for guests who may have food allergies.


And dessert! The options are endless - from a French pastry table, a light, passed fruit parfait, an ice cream buffet, or a gourmet plated dessert. If you need suggestions, ask the caterer and don’t forget the internet. Pinterest is a wonderful source of visual inspiration and links to the details of what you can include.


Conclusion

To summarize, don’t be overwhelmed. Start with the theme of your event. Make a list with all of the independent items - the venue, service providers, furniture rentals, florals and other accessories - along with scheduled dates for when your suppliers can provide each vended item. Communicate with all of your vendors regularly to ensure that these dates are still valid, especially as the event draws closer.


Your list should also include those things that need to occur either the day before, or the day of, the event. This is especially pertinent for the order of deliveries. For example, you will need to ensure that your furniture, tables and chairs are in place before any florals or décor arrive.


If you stay organized and manage the logistics carefully, your event will be a phenomenal success. Your guests will remember the experience they had for years to come!

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