A few weeks ago, we shared some tips on planning a retreat and thought it would be helpful if we shared tips on planning an event, too.
Former Overflowing Cup Coffeehouse manager Krista Rull, owner and event coordinator of Lights & Flag Co., graciously allowed us to ask her about the best way to plan an event.
What is the first thing someone should know about planning an event?
The first thing a person should do is find out what the vision or need is of the event. The actual type of event doesn’t really matter–whether it be a wedding, one-day conference, memorial service, or community breakfast–because they have the same structure. It is more important to figure out what need or service you are going to be meeting through your event.
After you solidify your vision/mission, creating a budget for your event if necessary. The amount of money you have at hand will help determine the location of your event. Nailing down the date, time, and the location is the most important thing to do after creating your vision.
Ask yourself: what can stumble or hinder the main objective of my event? Whatever those things are, get them out of the way. This includes things like any holidays that might be happening on or around your desired date that could cause travel delays or accommodation issues if applicable as well as if the venue you are looking into is already booked on your desired date. Think about details like parking, the convenience of arrival, whether or not there’s going to be air conditioning, how many seats you’re going to need, and if the event is indoors or outdoors. Think about the vision of your event and if the venue you’re looking into is cohesive with the style you’re going for. Think about every single possible angle and cover it so you don’t find yourself chasing the event but rather in front of it. The sooner you get these details out of the way, the better off you will be.
I cannot stress this enough: ask questions. Ask as many questions as you can think of: is food allowed at the venue I’m choosing? Is there a volume level for music/sound? Are we allowed to have an open flame, i.e. candles? Can I tack/nail things to the walls? Ask whatever comes to mind. It’s better to be overly cautious than have issues come up you could have prepared for.
How long does planning an event take?
The more time you give yourself, the better. Coming out early is coming out on top. You’re going to want to give yourself time to react properly to issues that could arise. If nothing comes up, you have a time of rest when you’re finished planning.
What’s the biggest thing people forget?
I think there are a couple different things people forget but the little details of an outdoor event are usually the most overlooked. Events that are outdoors always have to factor in weather — what’s the temperature going to be? Will it rain? Plan for every outcome just in case. Also think about electricity (lighting, music, projection), the landscape of your venue — is it level ground or are there hills? This will be something to factor in for the comfort of your guests as well as tables and seating. Plan for the wind, too (safety clips for linens/papers).
Another thing is the accessibility of your venue. Will your vendors have an easy time finding your location as well as unloading and setting up their equipment?
How much does an event cost?
The cost of an event depends on how small or large your budget is and what type of event you’re having. You should set aside the largest portion of your budget for food. Food benefits people the most. Remember, what you pay for is what you get; $7 a person equates to hors d’oeuvres whereas $15 a person gives you one meat option and a few sides. Honestly, you can do a really solid event with a $500 budget, but your event probably will not provide a full meal for guests but rather an appetizer or dessert bar. With a smaller budget, you’re going to need to be more creative with decorations and will need to put together a lot of do-it-yourself crafts. A larger budget allows for less creative thinking.
What is a basic timeline for an event if I have six months to plan?
Six months out:
- Note from Krista: When choosing a venue, be sure to take into account any fees they might have for things such as missing chairs, broken furniture, etc. Set aside a small amount of your budget for these just-in-case chances.
- Date & Time
- Food (the most amount of money goes towards food)
- Start purchasing decorations (if applicable) in small amounts
- Note from Krista: Create a vision for your decorations so you don’t end up making unnecessary purchases. Only buy what you will need.
Four months out:
- Figure out who is going to be in charge of what — food, drinks, emceeing, transitions, set up and tear down
- Delegate tasks to volunteers or hire people
- Look for vendors — live music, refreshments, photography/videography, florists, etc.
Two months out:
- Create invitations
- These need to be sent out no later than six weeks before an event. If you are sending invitations to people who are traveling from afar, consider sending out invitations at the four-month mark. Guests/attendees will need to sort out flight and housing arrangements if you are not providing them.
- Create a timeline
- Note from Krista: Every event needs a timeline. If you do not have a timeline, your event will be aimless.
One month out:
- RSVP’s need to be in by this time
Two weeks out:
- Finalize timeline
- Note from Krista: Send timeline to vendors. Caterers and florists typically have a two-week time period of flexibility if changes occur.
- Create program for event
- Finish purchasing any last-minute decorations
- Read through your contractual agreements. Do you have to pay any of your vendors prior to the event? If so, now is the time.
- Note from Krista: Prior payments are recommended. That way, it’s not on your mind during the event. Communicate with your client who will be taking care of paying your vendors so that it isn’t your responsibility.
- Check the weather (make appropriate changes if weather isn’t accommodating)
- Respond to any missed details
- Note from Krista: Prepare for changes. They happen. Like the weather, events can be slightly unpredictable because of the amount of moving parts. Think through your list and create backups for anything that could change.
- Double check everything
- Rest and pray through the details
- Arrange a set-up and tear-down team if venue does not offer one themselves
- Meet with your client and, if necessary, have a rehearsal of the event
- Communicate with set-up and tear-down team — do they understand their roles? Do they have everything they need?
- Note from Krista: Know your client’s and your venue’s expectations on clean-up. What does your client want to keep? Trash? Does your venue provide clean-up supplies or will you need to bring it yourself? If you need to, be sure to set aside any mops, brooms, vacuums, trash bags and trash cans, and paper towels the day before.
- Ensure everything is in place (organize decorations)
- Note from Krista: if possible, set-up the day before.
- Ensure everything is in place.
- Communicate clearly and precisely. Answer every and any question you or the client might have.
- Involve only the necessary people (i.e. the client). The more people are involved, the more opinions you will have. Keep it limited.
Day of event:
- Keep your eye out for anything that isn’t happening
- You want to bless every single aspect: clients, guests, helpers, and vendors.
- Over communicate. Delays will happen. Reassure the client things are under control (they are).
- Make connections, not just with your guests but every person involved.
- Note from Krista: People serve their best when happy. People will want to work with you again if you ensure every person’s needs are taken care of. Make sure your vendors are supported by either providing them meals or giving them the opportunity to get food for themselves during your event. Continually check up on everyone working the event. The happier people are, the more enjoyable your event will be.
- Take into account being a Christian. Believers should want to do more than just put on the event. This could be a time to minister to unbelievers and expand the Kingdom.
Ultimately, your success in your event lies not in how perfect it was or wasn’t but in the connections that are made because of it. Whatever type it is, your event is most successful when your goal has been met and people have connected with others.
Photos from Lights & Flag Co.
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