If you’re planning a party or successful event, you’ll have a lot to think about and do over the coming weeks. Being responsible for everything from the location to the party favors can be intimidating, but never fear. Here are some basic steps that will help you plan and host a successful event.
1. The Plan is the Party!
The most single important aspect of having a successful event is to plan successfully. Consider all the scenarios – best, bad, and really bad. Now build your event plans to address your best dreams and worst nightmares. First, what is your goal? Are you throwing a bash for a long, lost friend? Are you selling a service or product to your customers? Are you raising funds for a charity? Your purpose for having the event should be the framework for everything you do from here on out.
Plan not only what you want to happen, but what you will do if it doesn’t go that way. Give yourself lots of time to do your research, arrange for services, get the accessories, and encourage great attendance. Start with the big picture items like the location, the date and time, your theme, and your goals. Work your way down to the details including, but not limited to, table decorations, menu and specific dishes, space layout, coat storage. Plan flexibility into your schedule, and you’re more likely to have a successful event.
2. Get and Stay Organized
Once you’ve established your plan and schedule, stick to it. Of course, there will inevitably be problems and changes. But make it a point to keep personally organized. There’ll be a lot you can’t control, but you can control your own time, your health, and your attitude. When you start wandering away from your plan, things will become chaotic, harder to manage. Don’t let the ankle-biters distract you. Be flexible, but keep your overall goals and schedule at the front of your mind. Keep your planning materials, contracts, and correspondence organized in folders. Use a day-planner to keep track of your appointments and commitments. And always, always plan “me time” to maintain your energy and interest in this project. Staying organized as a critical part of planning and executing a successful event.
3. Make the Venue a Driving Decision
Once you have your plan laid out, your first big decision will be where to locate the event. How many people do you expect to invite? What type of entertainment are you planning? (A keynote speaker will use a lot less space than a 10-piece chamber orchestra.) Are you serving a sit-down dinner, a buffet, snacks? How much space will you need for seating? Do you want to be in a facility where other services are available? How far are you willing to make people travel to get there? Do you want an elaborate, expensive setting? Or will a casual, relaxed environment be best? When you know what type of place you want to use, identify at least three candidate locations and visit each one of them personally. Talk to the facility managers. Ask lots of questions. Find out what they’ll provide as part of the contract and what you’ll need to provide on your own. Ask for detailed formal bids from the candidates, and be sure to let them know they are competing. That will bring in lower bids. The investment of time and effort in selecting and securing the perfect facility will pay off big time on the night (or day) of your wildly successful event.
4. Develop a Detailed Schedule for Event Activities and a Program
You probably already know the theme of the event if you’ve established your goals and you’ve selected an appropriate location. Now you need to plan activities that are consistent with your theme. The larger the event, the more carefully each activity must be planned. For big events, will you have speakers and presentations? Ceremonies? What types of activities are you planning? As a first step, sit down and make a list of every activity you want to happen. Then order them in a logical way that flows. Plan for some unstructured social mixing time at the beginning and end of your successful event. Decide how long you want to allow for meals, speakers, announcements, and entertainment. Allow extra time for your guests to leave for a smoke or a bathroom break. Keep your guests busy, but not so busy that they feel stressed or overloaded. Build in time for fun and relaxation as well.
5. Now Turn to the Details
The first major part of your detail planning is food and drink. Food arrangements range from the very complex sit-down multi-course meal to the pot-luck munch-n-go party. You’ll need to decide whether you and your helpers can provide the food or whether it would be easier and more appropriate to hire a caterer. If you do decide on a caterer, go through the same process as you did when securing a location. Select candidates, interview them, and get formal bids. Decide what menu you can afford and want to serve you want the caterer to prepare. When you’ve made a decision on the caterer, sign a contract with your agreements outlined very specifically. Have costs broken out into line items so that, if you have to, you can make changes to adjust to your budget.
Many caterers also provide beverages. Do you want to have an open free cash bar or will you ask guests to make for their own alcohol? Do you want to have alcohol at all? If you decide on serving booze, you may also need to consider hiring some security guards to make sure things don’t get out of hand. Again, whether through your caterer or as an independent service, get formal bids and sign a written contract for the beverage service. (Some locations will provide non-alcoholic beverages as part of the rental agreement.)
6. Focus on Entertaining Your Guests
Once you are settled on the facility, the theme, and the food and drink, you’ll need to pin down your entertainment. For more serious gatherings, you may want to hire a keynote speaker or ask for presentations. For more social gatherings, you should consider a band or orchestra, a DJ or comedian, or other entertainers. Will your entertainment involve dancing? You’ll need to be sure you have the space for that. If you’re using an emcee, DJ, or comedian, a small podium will probably work. But if you’re having band or group of entertainers, you’ll need a stage. You may even want to have structured games or entertaiment (ever heard of the murder mystery party?) that your guests can participate in. If you’re holding a fund-raising event, you might consider an auction or competition designed to get bids. Whatever entertainment you choose, make sure it’s appropriate for you theme. And time the presentation of entertainment after dinner or snacks. If you have a keynote speaker, have them start their presentation about half-way though the meal so that they don’t have to compete with the hustle and bustle of getting people seated, early dinner conversations, and the tinkle of glassware and silver.
7. Cultivate your Providers
To have a successful event, you must develop and maintain positive, productive relationships with your vendors. The first step is selecting reputable, dependable vendors that come with good recommendations. Avoid vendors who can’t or won’t get you in touch with their other clients. Be very clear with them about what you need and what your expectations of them are. Always get your agreements down in writing to avoid confusion and disappointment later on. Be kind and considerate with them. Don’t think that because you’ve hired them, you can treat them without respect. Your successful event may well depend on the nature of the relationships you’ve built with them. Remember that important point as if your successful event depended on it … it does.
8. Take Care of Yourself
No matter how busy you become or how difficult the job may be, you absolutely MUST take care of yourself. Stress can cause illness, and the last thing you’ll need is a bad cold or the flu as your planning is underway. If you can afford it, hire an assistant to help you with the smaller details. Or get others in your organization to volunteer their time. Have someone you trust to be a sounding board for your ideas and plans so that you don’t go off on some tangent that doesn’t make sense. Two heads are almost always better than one.
But more than anything else, build time into your plans for self-care. Give yourself time to take a day off at the spa or the local nature preserve. Build a time into each day for meditation, reading a novel, playing with the kids or your pet, or visiting with friends. Do what you enjoy. Make sure to eat properly and get plenty of rest. Aim for 8 hours of sleep every night, and take naps in the daytime if you need to. Plan social time too. Go to lunch or dinner with your friends. Ask your partner to go to the movies. See a play or go to a concert. Do things that keep you interested and positive in life generally. That will maintain your physical and psychological health and your ability to cope with the myriad of decisions, activities, and events that will inevitably come up during the event-planning process.