Formal events tend to be hit or miss. When they're done right, they're smart, fun and sophisticated. When they're done wrong, well, it's just a bunch of people muddling around in high heels and penguin suits. If you're in the midst of planning a formal event, you definitely don't want it to fall in the latter category, but putting together a successful soiree is hard work and takes a lot of time and effort. However, it doesn't have to be as stressful as you might think. If you stay organized and follow a few simple rules, you'll throw the party everyone will be reminiscing about the next time you're all dressed up and shuffling around in some boring conference hall.
Continue reading to find out what goals have to do with planning your next event.
Set a Goal
Whether it's to entertain, inform, create awareness or raise money, you need to know what you're trying to accomplish with your event. Setting objectives will be helpful when determining where to spend your money as well as planning the schedule. If at all possible, try to set targets that are easily measurable, such as how many guests you expect to attend, so you can see where you stand after the event is over.
Set a Budget
You need to know how much money you have before you start any actual planning. Be realistic with your costs. Sit down and make an outline of every aspect of the event and how much you're willing to shell out for each. As you plan, visit your budget frequently to be sure you aren't going overboard. Make tiers of options that you can live with if your first choice doesn't work out. For example:
- Option 1: You have an open bar.
- Option 2: Each guest receives two free drinks.
- Option 3: Guests pay for their own drinks.
Don't be afraid to take a little from one area to give to another. If you're determined to have an open bar, for example, you may have to cut into your catering budget. If there are things you want that you just can't afford, look for discounts and don't be afraid to negotiate with vendors. They need your business just as much as you need theirs!
Identify Key Players
Identify the people and companies you'll need to make sure your event goes off smoothly. Anyone from the event coordinator to the valet parking team should be a part of this list. Be sure they know exactly what their role is, what's expected of them, what time they need to arrive and any other information you feel is necessary. Set up meetings throughout your planning to keep everyone informed and updated. Be sure to have a pre-event meeting to go over any last minute logistics and troubleshoot as needed.
Create a Timeline
Depending on how far in advance you're planning your event, you may need to set up a timeline that will help you meet your deadlines. For example, you should book the caterer well in advance -- even before you send out invitations -- and then contact them again right before the event with your final number of RSVPs. Make an outline of every decision and activity in sequential order from beginning to end. As you plan, visit this chart frequently to ensure you're staying on track.
Make Contracts and Get Them Signed
Contracts are the backbone of any event because without them, you won't have any speakers, entertainment, informational materials, equipment or anything you can't provide yourself. Until all your vendors and entertainment have signed on the dotted line, everything about your event is uncertain. So prepare your contracts as early as possible to prevent being left in the lurch should your chief speaker receive a more lucrative offer two weeks before the big day.
Set a Location and Date
Most of the time, securing a location and choosing the date of an event go hand in hand. If you have a specific day and time in mind, you'll need to find a location that can fit your needs. However, if you've already determined the setting for your soiree, you may have to be flexible with the timing.
Also, keep in mind the atmosphere you're trying to create when selecting the locale. Depending on exactly how formal your event will be, you may want to have it in a hotel ballroom instead of a stuffy conference hall. You also need to keep in mind what essentials the location will provide, such as tables, chairs and linens. Remember that whatever doesn't come with the space will have to be rented, which will be more money subtracted from your budget.
Create a Guest List and Send Invitations
Send out invitations well in advance of the event. Depending on the type of affair you're hosting, your guest list will include an array of people from friends to coworkers. Formal etiquette says that you should send your invitations at least six to eight weeks before the occasion and have your RSVPs recorded two weeks before. If you feel it's necessary, include the dress code on the invitations.
Food and Beverages
Decide what kind of food you'd like (and have the budget) to serve: a buffet, tapas, a seated dinner or desserts only. Consider food options that will work with the theme of your event. Serving cheese cubes and pigs in a blanket to the Vegan Society is not going to go over well, regardless how much money you save on the catering. But you don't have to provide an expensive four-course meal, either. Make it clear in the invitations what will be served -- even if you aren't asking people to make their selections beforehand -- to ensure that your event won't be full of hungry, angry guests.
Decorations are critical for establishing the atmosphere of any event. Depending on the location, you may be able to use the space's natural beauty to save money on the décor. However, if you do need to amp up a dull conference area, consider adding some furnishings to the dessert or buffet tables. Just make sure the decorations you choose don't conflict with the overall style of the event. For example, if you're having a black-tie get-together in a fancy hotel ballroom, strobe lights probably aren't the best option. Floral arrangements often are the easiest and most adaptable choice for making a plain space look great. However, flowers can get expensive and there are other options that require less money. A single votive or tea light candle at the center of each table, for example, can go a long way.
Review and Evaluate
Revisit your goals at the end of your event and see how it measured up. How successful were you? Did you hit some goals and not others? Why or why not? Dig deep into the execution of the gathering to get a good idea of your successes and failures. Have a post-event meeting with your key players to celebrate and review ways to improve your next affair.
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