Your guide on how to plan a corporate event

Do you have a corporate event to plan?

Any business that wants to build lasting relationships needs to know how to produce professional events. Whether you're hosting a product launch for 300 people or an employee training for 15, it’s key to approach each gathering with an understanding of the five elements of event management – research, design, planning, coordination and evaluation. Once an event is broken up into these manageable stages, it is much easier to conceptualise it and pull together the many moving pieces needed to bring it to life.

In an increasingly digital world, corporate events allow people to relate in a personal way and develop genuine connections. As a result, hosting corporate events has become more important than ever. In fact, according to marketers surveyed as part of a recent event marketing benchmark and trends report, live events are the most effective channel for achieving business goals. Hosting a corporate affair allows you to strengthen bonds with current clients and partners, and attract future ones.

Here are 10 tips on how to plan an event that your attendees won’t soon forget

1. Understand the purpose of your event

Once you decide you want to host an event, your first step is to define what you hope to accomplish. Start by asking yourself why you are hosting the event and what you expect from it. Once you've identified your goals and expectations, you can then determine what kind of event will resonate with your intended audience.

2. Set a realistic budget

You need to know how much money you have to work with to determine what sort of event you can produce. According to Worley, you should know early on how much you want to spend, and then plan on spending at least 10% more. Once you have a budget, knowing where to allocate most of your resources is essential. For example, if you spend more money on fancy decorations than you do on a skilled tech crew or personable speakers, your event might be lacking in substance.

Additionally, don’t skimp on food or beverages, and take into account special dietary restrictions. Though this may not seem as important as other aspects of your event planning, audiences are more forgiving of missteps when they aren’t hungry or thirsty.

3. Establish a project timeline

Designing the event requires you to keep track of a broad range of tasks. This can be facilitated by creating a master detailed checklist. There are new, tech-savvy tools that streamline and simplify the managing of dozens, if not hundreds, of tiny details. To keep your checklist on track, create a spreadsheet and using individual tabs for each event category, such as venue, speakers, schedule, agenda and travel. This way, you can list each activity or task, the people responsible for each part of the process, and all the relevant deadlines.

4. Decide on your audience

An important part of the planning process is defining your target audience. Is it your company’s executives, managers, longtime clients, business partners, community members, or a combination of a few of these or other groups? Once you can name your audience, you can cater the program to their needs and interests. Regardless of how small or large the guest list is, what people will remember is how they were treated.

5. Choose a theme and format

Once you have set your objectives and defined the audience, it’s time to choose a theme or topic for the event and determine the best format for presenting it to your guests. For example, coordinating a client event with an industry expert, such as a guest speaker, can position your company as a trusted advisor instead of just a vendor. Peer-to-peer learning with client panels, keynotes, roundtables and breakout session speakers are other popular options. A successful corporate event is immersive while educational, according to Worley.

6. Select an appropriate location

Once you decide the type of event you'd like to create, it’s time to find a venue that allows you to bring your vision to life. It’s tempting, at times, to jump ahead and book a venue you've heard good things about or that you know is an up-and-coming hot spot, even if you haven’t quite honed in on the mission of your event. This is a mistake, according to Worley. If you have a tight budget, Jost suggests lowering your costs by holding the event at a less popular time when the venue is more likely to be available, such as hosting a media breakfast on a Monday morning.

7. Plan the logistics of the day

To have a successful event, you will have to identify, vet and contract all the necessary event specialists. This may include caterers, audiovisual technicians, printers, decorators, photographers, florists and security personnel, to name just a few. Of course, you must also book speakers and presenters, including prominent figures, experts or influencers, who can best communicate the ideas you'd like to circulate throughout the gathering. To assure everything goes according to your plan, determine a timeline for the event, and make sure everyone on your team knows what aspects of the day they are responsible for managing.

You have to work very intentionally to create a balance between keeping attendees engaged and giving them some freedom in their schedule. When deciding how to wrap up your day, skip the typical promotional giveaways with the company logo, and think of gifts that have a big impact with a small footprint. A much better idea is a digital take-home, according to Jost.

8. Promote your event

If people don’t know about your event, no one will show up, so it’s imperative to find creative ways to get the word out. For a small event with a limited guest list, you can simply send out invitations, but you need to be bolder for larger events. You can also explore possible sponsorship opportunities for your event. Sponsors can fund a portion of the event, which helps you defray the costs. More importantly, sponsors have a vested interest in promoting your affair. Brainstorm a list of ideal sponsors whose brand, mission or services complement your event in some way. You can develop a range of sponsorship packages and reach out to them about potential partnership opportunities. This works best if you focus your pitch to highlight the value of attendees to potential sponsors.

9. Make use of technology

Gone are the days of cumbersome mile-long lists to track all the moving parts of an event. Today, there are tons of event management software platforms and apps (some of which offer a free base product) that do everything from providing seamless onsite check-in of attendees to enhancing the appeal of workshops and presentations with simulations and virtual reality games. Interactive features, such as live polling and session Q&A, can be easily displayed on large screens in the venue, and some apps have gamification features, such as scavenger hunts. You can make speaker slides available for attendees, as long as they are in the correct format, by simply uploading them to the event app. Event management software keeps your project on track, but it also makes it easier to work collaboratively with vendors and other creative partners.

10. Celebrate and evaluate your event planning success

If your event went off without a hitch, congratulations! You aren’t done yet. Now is the time to wrap up any loose ends, such as sending final payments to vendors, reconciling your finances and conducting a post-event debrief with your team.

Most importantly, you want to gather feedback from guests. If you used an event-planning app with a feedback option, you can use it to ask attendees questions. This information will help you determine if the event met your original goals and what impact, if any, it had on the attendees. You can then share this information with all the relevant stakeholders so an appropriate follow-up can be planned. The lessons you learn will help you refine your planning for the next event.