By Elle Smith
As women, we each tend to become event planners at some level from the moment we carefully select a movie, sleeping arrangements and snacks for our very first sleep over. After that there are Sweet Sixteens, team functions, study groups, graduation parties, home shopping parties, work parties, engagements, weddings, bachelorettes parties, baby showers, and then birthday parties and on and on. We all know some people who seem to effortlessly throw the best parties. Then there are those of us who have to try really, really hard.
Despite having the word “coordinator” in my job title, organization is not a quality I obtained naturally. Now as a full time event coordinator, my success has been based almost exclusively on a series of trial and error. I’ve won. I’ve lost. And now I’ve compiled a list of my top eleven ways to plan your event like a pro. Whether you find yourself suddenly in charge of school bake sale or blissfully engaged, I hope this list saves you some headaches and insomnia and gives your next event a professional touch.
1. Pick your date and location as far in advance as possible.
I hate to play favorites, but this is perhaps the biggest indicator of whether your event is successful. Get your place booked and get on people’s calendar. If it is not time to send out invitations or fully launch marketing, send out press releases or save the date cards as applicable. For casual events you can still create an online presence early on.
2. Use a checklist.
Seriously. I have created one for you to download HERE and hope it can be used for any number of different events, but don’t feel obligated to stop there. If my list doesn’t work for you, find one that does. If it helps, make a whole event binder. I have one for every event.
3. Customize your theme.
I really think this is less about the “what” and more about the “how.” You can throw the billionth Mickey Mouse Clubhouse preschool birthday party of all time, but if you bypass that dedicated aisle at Wal-Mart (and there is a whole aisle) and opt for black, white, red and yellow décor, a specialized menu (maybe a hotdog bar?), and a few simple, but custom, homemade decorations, your overdone theme can feel new again. Throw on the soundtrack cd and you are ready to party!
4. Set the tone right away with themed invitations (or signage).
Whether you mail out specially designed invitations, put up a facebook event invite, or just tack posters on a community board, remember that invitations and signage are the very first impression potential guests have of your event. Make it count. If you are lacking in design skills and have a small budget, make it simple and edit personal or stock photos in a program like photobucket or picasa with text details on the image.
5. Pay attention to your guest list.
Both large and small events can end up with a mismatched crew, but that doesn’t mean they are destined to be flops. Assigned seating is definitely worth the hassle. For small scale events, consider inviting guests slightly outside of the loop, but who may bridge gaps between groups.
6. When it comes to venue size, go slightly under rather than over.
This is one of those fun little life lessons I didn’t understand until event coordination became my day job. Drop whatever you know about bigger is better. Even if you have an unlimited budget and can fill an oversized room with endless extravagant décor, fill your room with people. Don’t push for strangers sitting on each others’ laps, but if you can’t have just the right amount of room, go a little under. If your venue is booked and your numbers are lower than anticipated, get the venue to help you out. Bring the temporary walls in. Add things around the room and bring the seating together. Get people close and mingling.
7. Details are important. Not just décor. Lighting, ambiance, menu, floor plan, favors.
We all have a budget. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least consider every detail. Maybe you can’t rent the rustic chandeliers you’d love or afford a live band. Maybe you can bring in authentic, warm lighting in the form of lamps from your own homes and create a spot-on playlist. Either way, at least consider all of the details and align them with your theme.
8. Invest in reusable staple items and for God’s sake use your hostess-y wedding gifts that are still boxed in storage.
Make June Cleaver proud. If you own cake pedestals, a silver ice bucket and/or actual serving utensils, please use them. I absolutely promise your event will look more professional if you simply serve your basic cake and Costco veggie tray on your stored and forgotten wedding gifts. Begin collecting staple, neutral items. Glass cylinder vases, mirrored trays, pillar candles and more can all be found at dollar stores. I like to stick with glass and white items, and don’t forget to shop thrift stores for mix-and-matchable serving ware. Neutral fabric table cloths may cost 10x what a plastic one does, but I promise you will get your use out of it for years to come and look more professional every time.
9. Get others involved.
This is a two-part deal. First, help yourself out by learning the fine art of delegation. Second, grow your involvement by letting others take some ownership in the event. A friend is far less likely to flake out on a party if they already promised to bring the ice.
10. Technology is your friend.
Use eventbrite, evite, facebook or whatever else you need to promote and remind. Use pinterest to organize recipes and ideas. Eventbrite is great for large events, concerts, tours, auctions, etc. It is free unless you sell tickets, and then they collect a percentage. If there is no ticket cost, there’s no fee. Evite lets you create digital, custom invitations.
11. Keep it interactive. When people don’t know what to do, they are likely to leave.
Games, even cheesy ones, are an awesome icebreaker. Admit it is cheesy if you want to, but get your guests to loosen up and enjoy themselves. If games are not going to work for your crowd, look to other options like photo booths to keep everyone entertained. Even if it is not publicly distributed and even if you don’t stick to it, have an agenda to ensure you have enough things going on to keep things moving along for the set amount of time.
**Bonus Tip** Create a hashtag.
This is part #10 and part #11. Create a unique hashtag for your event and share it with your guests. If appropriate, share it before your event is big and has some prep time from guests. Share this hashtag on programs, invites, menus, signs, photobooths, social media or through any outlet you think of. Then use it. Encourage others to use it. This generates buzz, creates a little interaction, is a fun activity, and links all the instagramming, facebooking, and tweets going on about your event so everyone can share in the fun.
Cheers and happy event planning!