Derek Neighbors

The more I learn, the less I know.

Personal 10 Steps for Planning a Great Event

By Derek Neighbors, Published on January 9, 2012

The most difficult part about planning an event is knowing where to start. At Gangplank, we plan a lot of events. We have created a simple process that allows us to jump right into planning.

We assemble those involved in the event planning (it could be 1 person or 20) in a room with a white board. We put each of the following 10 steps up as columns on the white board. We start on left (first step) and work our way to the right. The steps are in an order because generally knowing the item(s) in previous steps makes answering the following steps easier.

  1. Purpose: This is where you brain storm the “why”. What is the goal of this event. Why do you want to do it? What does success look like?
  2. Audience: Based on our purpose who do we invite to the event? This can a list of specific people or as broad as general groups. (ex: Phoenix Area CEOs)
  3. Format: What is the format of this event? Is it a traditional one track conference? Multiple track? Open Space? Bar Camp? Is it multiple day? Half-Day? Weekday? Weekend?
  4. Content: What are the primary topics? If you were to do a call for speakers what would you want them to speak about?
  5. Schedule: Since you know the format, you should be able to set a loose schedule. This helps give you an idea of how long to make sessions and how many there will be. Whether to include breakfast, lunch, dinner, etc.
  6. Venue: Since you know the format, audience and schedule you should now be able to brainstorm a number of potential venues. Be liberal here, because you will need options.
  7. Speakers: This is a brainstorm of potential speakers you would like to invite to the event to speak, assuming your format requires it. This could also be persona’s of type of speakers you would like to accept on an open call for papers.
  8. Time Frame: This can be a very specific date or it can be a general time frame (ex: early March 2012). This will allow you start finding a venue. Generally the closer the event the more specific this will be.
  9. Sponsors: Who will help make this event happen. We usually split this into three categories. Media sponsors, those that help us get the word out. Partners, those that let us use resources (including their mailing list). Financial sponsors, those that are financially contributing.
  10. Determine Next Steps: Now that you have all this brainstorming done. You create a punch list of action items to do based on what has been discovered.

We find that this exercise takes anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour. Tasks can usually be distributed and fairly quickly the event is ready for promotion.