Tuesday, March 3, 2009

How To: The Basics of Event Planning

Like you, I have attended many events over the years---guest lectures, forums, topical and panel discussions, the list goes on.

There are many ways that an event can go well or miss the mark. Sometimes overlooking the tiniest details can create a miserable experience. This happened recently at a meeting I attended that lacked one thing: water. I had forgotten my water bottle and although all of the speakers were captivating (rare!), I sat there for four hours contemplating my state of dehydration. Needless to say, I may have missed a few details as my mind wandered.

Planning events can be challenging and even daunting if you’ve never done it before. But don’t be intimidated, because we’ve compiled a list of basic how-to tips to get you started!
  1. Define your goal. What do you want to achieve and why? Do you want to educate people about an issue, have a debate between opposing sides, or position your organization as an expert on a topic? Once you figure out what it is you’re trying to achieve, you can plan more effectively.
  2. Choose a topic or theme. You can hold a lecture or discussion about anything. However, if you are going to focus on a current topic, make sure that it maintains it’s relevancy throughout the planning process. For example, it probably wouldn’t have made sense to plan a panel discussion on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as it moved through Congress because the process went so quickly that the topic could be irrelevant by the time the panel discussion occurred.
  3. Target an audience. Identify who the topic/theme of your event will appeal to. Determine how to advertise to them and how to accommodate their schedules. For example, if you are targeting full time students, you could post colorful flyers around campus. The event could be held on campus during a lunch period or in the evening (free food helps too!).
  4. Choose the type of event: lecture (ex. brown bag lunch), panel discussion, interactive event (ex. a hunger dinner), forum, movie showing followed by a discussion, etc.
  5. Pick a time and location. Plan ahead! If you would like to host your event in a popular location, you will have to book it months in advance. It is important to consider your audience when planning the time and place. For example, if you are targeting parents, hold the event at a child-friendly location like a school cafeteria or gym at a time when parents are not working.
This is Part 1 in the New Voices series on event planning, so check back for more tips soon!


  1. Speakers were captivating, but dehydration and a missing detail made her feel like, err, a fish out of water.

  2. These are great tips - event planning can be very daunting. I've also been looking at using interactive technology in events to make sure that the audience is engaged. So far I've found http://www.audience-response.ca/ - they offer a system to have polling of the audience during the event. I definitely think this technology seems worth some consideration.