Expert tips for planning your next corporate event

At a corporate event, many people smile and clap towards one woman seated in a conference room with wine on the table.
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It takes strategic corporate event planning to make a product launch party or industry conference a hit. Whether it’s a small gathering with just a few dozen people or a much larger trade show where you expect thousands of people to come through the door, planning a corporate event involves a lot of moving parts that contribute to a goal.Packed with expert tips and advice from event planning professionals, this step-by-step guide will help you keep big-picture goals in mind without overlooking the finer details. From choosing the right business event invitations to booking keynote speakers and reaching out to attendees, follow the corporate event planning checklist below to make sure all of your bases are covered, both before and after your event. 

 

Corporate event planning ideas

From events with up to 100 attendees to large-scale industry trade shows and conferences with thousands of professional guests, corporate event ideas come in a lot of different formats. The time needed for corporate event planning can vary widely, too. You may only need a few weeks to plan for a smaller event, but it could take up to a year to plan a large one. For larger events, hiring a professional corporate event planner can help you nail down the details while you focus on bigger event goals.

 

Meet the experts
Kara Hoover is an Event Operations Manager at One10 Marketing and volunteer for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Dorit Phinizy is the Director of Events & Sponsorship Sales at Grand Central Terminal, planning and overseeing large-scale public events like the annual Grand Central Holiday Fair.

 

Any corporate affair is about making a lasting, positive impression. “Your goals can be about building loyalty through good human experiences,” says Kara Hoover, Marketing Event Director at Press Ganey | Forsta. “You want to be the company that has the event guests will never forget.”

Left: A cocktail reception invitation with simple illustrations of three green olives on toothpicks. Right: A coupe glass holding a dirty martini with an olive garnish.
Pick Me” by Paperless Post; Image via Taryn Elliott.

 

Internal meetings 

These small-scale events may involve one specific team or the entire company. Some internal meetings are more formal events where leadership announces future direction, while others are less formal team-building activities for employee engagement.

Keep it simple: Provide snacks

Go the extra mile: Bring in a special guest speaker or light entertainment

Make it epic: Make it an off-site weekend retreat

Time to plan: 1 to 4 weeks

 

Left: At a corporate event, a man sits on a wooden stage speaking into a microphone with a laptop facing him. Right: A seminar series invitation in light blue with gold lines criss-crossing.
Image via Mattheus Bertelli; “Southampton” by Jonathan Adler for Paperless Post.

 

Training workshops 

Workshops are great events to keep your staff connected while also letting your customers get a peek behind the scenes of your company. They can be internal or external, but they usually work best if they’re kept smaller so attendees can ask questions. These types of corporate events can be more hands-on, too, since there are usually fewer than 100 attendees. 

If it’s external—like a training workshop for customers on how to use new product features—it may be beneficial to send out seminar invitations so attendees know what to expect and when to show up. 

Keep it simple: Give away branded merch, like t-shirts or coffee mugs

Go the extra mile: Have lunch catered in

Make it epic: Provide a schedule of varied activities, like ice breakers, hands-on exploration, and training-related games 

Time to plan: 1 to 4 weeks

 

Left: A product launch invitation in burnt orange with thin gold lines forming a grid and a purple envelope. Right: People gather in an Apple store with wood wall paneling.
Grand Time” by Paperless Post; Image via Apple.

 

Product launches 

Product launches allow you to reveal your latest creations to the world, and it’s fun to pull out all the stops. In-person attendees may have hands-on opportunities following the stage presentation, which can make it more enticing to attend the physical event, as well. Dorit Phinizy, Director, Events & Sponsorship Sales at Grand Central Terminal, highlights the importance of interaction at an event like this: Interactive elements are key. What drives the most success is sampling. When folks come in, what can you hand them quickly that makes an impression?”

Hybrid events involving both in-person and online attendees are also common and allow more people to join your event. In these hybrid events, companies often stream a video of their on-stage product announcement. 

Keep it simple: Hold a raffle for special prizes

Go the extra mile: Hire a wandering performer, such as a juggler or mime

Make it epic: Make it a cocktail reception, and provide light bites from a local eatery

Time to plan: 1 to 3 months

 

Left: A waiter carries passed hors d'oeuvres on a tray. Right: A black invitation for a silent auction with gold brushstrokes in the center.
Image via Aleka’s Get Together; “Gold Brushstroke” by Paperless Post.

 

Fundraisers

When planning a fundraising event for a worthy cause, the details can make a big difference. Think about amenities that guests might expect at a formal or casual fundraiser, such as a cash bar or complimentary wine. Other fundraising event ideas include cocktail galas, corporate golf competitions, or sit-down banquets.

Keep it simple: Provide attendees with free merch bearing your organization’s logo

Go the extra mile: Host a cash bar or offer complimentary wine

Make it epic: Hold a silent auction for art or interesting experiences 

Time to plan: 1 to 3 months

 

Left: An annual trade show invitation has a large black and white photo of a building facade and a white circle in the middle. Right: A trade booth exhibit with modern beams and several large-screen televisions.
Orbit” by Paperless Post; Image via Behance.

 

Trade shows 

Planning a trade show event involves coordinating with multiple vendors who want to exhibit their products at your show. Secure an appropriate venue before you book your vendors, and design an effective floor plan to optimize space, says Ms. Phinizy. “The layout of this type of event really helps determine the success of it. What’s the flow of traffic through the space? How can you drive those people into the space?” 

Ms. Hoover points out that securing an appropriate budget is important for these types of events. “When you’re in a corporate setting, executives set the budget based on the history of the event or similar events. That’s how we allocate funds. If you’re doing a trade show and you’re doing a booth, you have to consider the general services contractor that you use for the booth. Then, the show production, service fees, and elements like that.”

Keep it simple: Provide a photo booth or set up a fun backdrop for selfies and group photos

Go the extra mile: Create a scavenger hunt to engage attendees

Make it epic: Invite a celebrity to make an appearance, or hire a wandering string quartet or mariachi band  

Time to plan: 2 to 6 months

 

Left: Two people speak to a crowd in an auditorium. Right: A creators summit invitation with colorful watercolor brush strokes placed randomly.
Image via Wan San Yip; “Sonnet” by Kelly Wearstler for Paperless Post.

 

Conferences

Conferences may be one of the most complex types of events to plan since they can include:

  • Multiple keynote speakers 
  • Expert presentations
  • A trade show floor
  • Breakout sessions
  • Catering
  • Travel arrangements 

Expect to take several months to a year to plan for large-scale events like conferences that typically host hundreds or even thousands of guests. One of the best ways to get the word out is to send conference invitations via Paperless Post. Add a customizable Accommodations Block, Schedule Block, and Speakers Block to provide all of the details attendees will need, and manage your guest list in real-time with RSVP tracking.

Keep it simple: Give attendees opportunities to win prizes

Go the extra mile: Plan engaging after-hours activities, like a cocktail reception or musical entertainment

Make it epic: Host a special outing, like a dinner cruise or a tour of a historical site

Time to plan: 6 months to 1 year

 

Before you plan a corporate event

There are a few things to establish before you dive into the specifics of any corporate event: your target audience, the event’s objective and size, and your budget. It’s typically best to have clear-cut information on these topics and start planning at least six months in advance of smaller events, and up to a year before larger ones. 

Define the event’s goals

Before diving into details, determine why you’re organizing the event in the first place—and what you hope to achieve with it. 

Some common corporate event goals include:

  • Asserting your company’s thought leadership in the industry 
  • Acquiring warm leads for your sales channels 
  • Getting a message across 
  • Creating an experiential event to remember 

After you figure out your goals, decide how they tie in with your target audience. If you hope to assert your company’s thought leadership and you’re inviting C-suite execs, then your event should be professional and thought-provoking for the attendees. If you want to generate warm leads, plan an event attendees will remember and associate with your product.

Ms. Phinizy believes there’s one more important question to ask (and answer) before planning an event: “Do you have enough time to successfully pull it off?” If you don’t have several months to plan a larger event, you may need to scale back your expectations and start with something smaller and more achievable to get better results. Those results will encourage your business stakeholders to invest in larger corporate events later on. “Especially in a corporate setting,” Ms. Hoover says, “make sure your executives and thought leaders are aligned with what you’re doing.” 

Identify your target audience

Deciding who you want to invite to your event frames every other decision you’ll make during the planning process. “You have to find out who your audience is,” says Ms. Hoover, “and reinforce what the goals are at every turn throughout the event.”

Your audience will determine the tone of voice you should use on your business event invitations and help you select an appropriate theme for the event. 

  • If you’re inviting external C-suite executives, you might choose a formal, professional theme, and your tone of voice should reflect your expertise in the field. 
  • If you’re hosting an event for community members to connect, you might opt for something casual in tone, and plan fun activities like carnival games or trivia. 

Determining the number of people the event can accommodate will also guide key decisions, such as the choice of venue. If you’re hosting a banquet, Ms. Hoover suggests sending about twice as many business dinner invitations as the number you hope will attend. “We typically invite 50 people to get to a 20-person table. You want to keep it intimate, and I would say no more than 20 to 25 for a private hosted dinner.” Secure your venue based on the largest number of people you expect might attend. Once you receive your RSVPs, you can make decisions about layout and other logistics.

Set the event budget

Establish a budget that covers all aspects of your event, and then add 10 to 20 percent as a buffer for contingency costs. While you may not need a line item budget at this point, it’s important to factor in some expense categories from the start, including: 

  • Venue rental
  • Equipment rental
  • Audiovisual equipment or other technology
  • Staffing
  • Venue insurance
  • Food and beverage
  • Signage
  • Promotional items
  • Security 
  • Contractors
  • Production costs
  • Housekeeping

“You have to consider not just what the public sees as part of the event,” Ms. Phinizy points out, “but all of the things in the back of the house as well.” Ms. Hoover agrees: “AV always takes up way more budget than you think it’s going to. Work with them upfront to get a budget.”

Base your preliminary budget on past events when possible, but be mindful that costs change over time. As you get deeper down your checklist, you can start to request quotes from suppliers to add more concrete numbers to your budget. This information will help determine what type of event you can afford to produce. 

 

A person to the right of the photo writes in a schedule book at a desk with a computer monitor, coffee, and pilea plant.
Image via Adobe Stock.

 

Planning a corporate event in 10 steps

There are generally 10 main steps to follow when planning any type of corporate event. However, the order and timeline for each of these steps may vary based on several factors like type and scale. 

1. Develop a timeline

A target timeline addresses everything on your corporate event planning checklist. The most important date on the timeline is your actual event date. Picking this date can help you backdate everything else on your checklist. 

When to start:

  • Small events: 1 to 3 months before the event date
  • Medium events: 3 to 6 months before the event date
  • Large events: 6 to 12 months before the event date

Ms. Phinizy says, “The timeline really depends on the complexities of the production.” It should mark key milestones and deadlines leading up to the event, like: 

  • Finding a venue
  • Renting tables or chairs 
  • Booking speakers and entertainment
  • Booking caterers
  • Buying decorations
  • Creating an agenda
  • Sending invitations
  • Finalizing logistics

Ms. Hoover adds “It should take three to six months of planning to do an event, even a small event, because there are a lot more details than most people think. Start with the timelines you can’t control. Those are the ones imposed by the venues or the show. You’ll often have to order furniture or carpet in advance. Those are the deadlines you start with, and you build from there. Chase down your internal people to meet those deadlines.”

After you’ve added all your line items to your timeline, break it down into a task list of milestones and deadlines so everybody is on the same page.

2. Form an organizing committee

Creating an organizing committee will help ensure that all the planning and coordinating of a corporate event doesn’t just fall on you. Ask key members of different departments to join at the same time you’re making your timeline, so you can start to delegate tasks based on the skills and interest of people in your committee, like logistics, marketing, and on-site operations. 

When to start:

  • Small events: 1 to 3 months before the event date
  • Medium events: 3 to 6 months before the event date
  • Large events: 6 to 12 months before the event date

Identify committee members who’ll be responsible for:

  • Event branding and style guides
  • Identifying and vetting guest speakers, vendors, and entertainment
  • Planning regular check-in meetings and establishing preferred communication channels

Early brainstorming sessions between committee members can help define the event’s theme, work out event staffing needs, and decide on the event’s format.

3. Use event management software and tools to send invitations

As you develop your timeline and form your event team, start using event management software to keep track of everything on your timeline digitally. This will ensure that any changes or communications from your team are all accessible in one place. 

When to start:

  • Small events: 1 to 2 months before the event date
  • Medium events: 2 to 4 months before the event date
  • Large events: 6 to 9 months before the event date

Around this same time, start building your guest list. Paperless Post offers event management tools that let you upload your guest list as a spreadsheet, copy and paste a list, or import contacts from your phone via our mobile app. Then, pick a corporate reception invitation, and send it via email, text, or shareable link. Use our guest management tools to keep track of RSVPs and dietary restrictions. 

4. Book a suitable venue

Start visiting venues and collecting quotes as soon as your guest list is solidified. Pick a venue that can hold the number of guests you’re expecting. Book as soon as you can, since popular venues can get reserved quickly. 

When to start:

  • Small events: 1 to 2 months before the event date
  • Medium events: 2 to 4 months before the event date
  • Large events: 6 to 9 months before the event date

It’s ideal to finalize the contract with the venue about five months in advance of your event date. The location is important to nail down—if you can do it before you send out conference invitations, you can add the venue’s address to the invite so out-of-town guests have plenty of time to make their travel arrangements.

Booking a venue is typically one of the largest items in an event’s budget, as well. Find a suitable venue that aligns with the parameters of your event, rather than trying to fit your event into a desired venue. Ms. Phinizy suggests asking yourself these questions as you look at venues:

  • “What is your attendance goal?”
  • “Does the layout that you came up with allow for such an occupancy?” 
  • “What are your production and power needs?”

 Also consider whether the venue offers food and beverage or technical services, and analyze the location, accessibility, and parking availability,

5. Reach out to potential event sponsors

If you’re considering finding sponsors for your event, start reaching out around the same time you are looking at venues. Sponsors can increase your budget and allow you to do more with your event. 

As an added benefit, “The sponsor brings in their own PR or their own social media reach,” says Ms. Phinizy. “We’re both posting and sharing, and then that ensures a successful event because you’re reaching more people.”

“It has to be a mutual exposure opportunity,” adds Ms. Hoover. “In most cases, they’re looking to make sure their brand is represented well.” 

When to start:

  • Small events: 1 month before the event date
  • Medium events: 2 to 3 months before the event date
  • Large events: 4 to 6 months before the event date

Since sponsors have a vested interest in the success of your event, you can both work toward mutually beneficial goals. 

6. Make catering and travel arrangements

Secure catering contracts, and make any necessary travel arrangements for out-of-town guests once you’ve secured your venue. 

When to start:

  • Small events: 2 weeks to 1 month before the event date
  • Medium events: 2 months before the event date
  • Large events: 3 to 4 months before the event date

Food and beverage offerings can take time to organize, too. Decide whether you’re going to offer full means for guests and whether you’ll need coffee or refreshment stations. Consider a wide range of options to accommodate dietary restrictions. 

If you’re expecting a large number of out-of-towners, check with nearby hotels to see if they can offer a special event rate. This can be especially beneficial if your event is also taking place in the hotel. 

7. Secure equipment, furniture, and event materials 

Whether you are planning a fundraiser dinner or a series of industry talks, you’ll likely need a wide array of logistics in order to run a successful event. Your timeline should have all of these details outlined, but now you need to do the work of securing the items and personnel.

When to start:

  • Small events: 2 weeks before the event date
  • Medium events: 1 month before the event date
  • Large events: 2 to 3 months before the event date

Some key logistical elements to start securing include:

  • AV equipment for presentations, like microphones, projectors, and lighting
  • Technical needs for online portals or virtual event environments
  • Chairs, tables, and other furniture 
  • On-site logistics, like check-in tables and documents
  • Decorative elements
  • Media outreach
  • Photographers and videographers
  • Guest relations coordinators
  • Speaker liaisons
  • Transportation
  • Safety and security
  • Room(s) setup
  • Signage, including venue directions
  • Event materials, like programs, badges, and swag items
  • Gifts, souvenirs, certificates, and other supporting material

Ms. Phinizy reminds planners that “[these] can always change as their event changes, but it includes everything from carpenters to hang banners to housekeeping. We at Grand Central require site safety supervision and, sometimes, fire safety supervision during events, too.” Conduct regular walkthroughs of the event space to identify and address potential issues. Check your technical setup the day before the event to anticipate and troubleshoot potential technical difficulties in advance. 

8. Plan the event program itinerary

The program itinerary is a crucial piece of the corporate event planning puzzle. It should clearly outline the times and locations for seminars, guest talks, breakout sessions, and lunch breaks. Ensure a good balance of content, engagement, and breaks to keep attendees interested, but not overwhelmed.

“We did a nurse summit last year in conjunction with a big industry conference,” recalls Ms. Hoover. “We had a keynote from a notable speaker, then we went into a panel of subject experts that shared our different solutions, and how they’ve made a difference with different clients. Then, we moved into roundtable discussions where everyone got to really talk to each other. The mix of the different speaking types and the different interactions really made a big difference.”

The program for the day extends beyond what your guests see. The production schedule should be equally well-defined. “We need to know the flow of an event at any given time,” says Ms. Phinizy. “When are the trucks arriving for load-in? What’s on the trucks? How many people are coming with them? What time does the actual build start?” From stage setups to VIP arrivals, she says, “The production schedule is the most important document for the entire event.”

When to start:

  • Small events: 2 weeks before the event date
  • Medium events: 1 month before the event date
  • Large events: 1 to 3 months before the event date

If your event includes external speakers, consider adding their names and the topics of their talks to customizable Blocks on your seminar invitations. Distribute your invitations via shareable link—embed it in the CTA of your email or newsletter, attach it to a calendar invite, or send it via a messaging platform like Slack. A shareable link makes it easy for speakers and others to promote the event on their own social media channels. 

9. Develop a marketing and communications plan

How well your event is attended depends almost entirely on how well you promote it. “We use LinkedIn,” says Ms. Hoover. “We have our company influencers post, and then the rest of our giant team taps in to share and comment.” 

Partnering with industry publications can really help to get the word out, too. Ms. Hoover suggests deputizing your sales team since “a personal invite is often the most effective way to get someone to an event.”

When to start:

  • Small events: 2 weeks before the event date
  • Medium events: 1 month before the event date
  • Large events: 1 to 3 months before the event date

Your marketing and communication plan may involve: 

  • Building an event website
  • Finalizing speakers and sponsors
  • Creating marketing assets to share on social media
  • Working with social media influencers
  • Email campaigns and press releases that highlight key speakers or activities 
  • Clear registration details

10. Manage final RSVPs to the event

As the day of the event nears, RSVPs should be rolling in. It’s important to include an RSVP-by date so you can finalize the guest list well before the event date—include an option for guests to provide their dietary preferences to help you plan menus. “Usually, venues need to know about dietary restrictions about a week in advance,” says Ms. Hoover. “If I can know the bulk of what’s going on or who’s coming a couple weeks in advance, that really helps.”

When to start:

  • Small events: 2 weeks before the event date
  • Medium events: 3 weeks before the event date
  • Large events: 1 month before the event date

“If there are any VIPs expected to attend, it’s always better to have more time so you can prepare for any additional security measures,” says Ms. Phinizy. “Often, VIPs won’t RSVP—especially for things like fashion shows. We always proceed as if they are coming and plan as if they are, so we’re never surprised and everything is laid out in advance.” 

 

The day of the event

All of your planning leads to this—the event day itself. On the day of the event, rally your organizational committee, ensure all logistics are in place, and manage the schedule according to the itinerary.

“For any event, being calm is key,” says Ms. Phinizy. “Even if behind the scenes you’re frazzled and worried, always showing a calm demeanor keeps everyone else around you more level-headed and calm as well.”

Some important aspects to keep in mind on the day of an event include:

  • Guest management, like plans for lines and crowd control
  • Expense tracking, like petty cash purchases
  • Backup solutions for technical issues like malfunctioning AV equipment
  • Food and beverage logistics, like managing the supply and planning what to do if something runs out
  • Collecting ideas and feedback and encouraging participation from attendees

Review team communication methods and protocols in the morning before the event, so you can address any issues that arise as quickly as possible.

 

 

After the event

There are still a few more items on the checklist once your event is over. Take this opportunity to thank your guests, and encourage them to provide feedback on what went well and what could be improved. Follow up personally with speakers and sponsors after the event to thank them, too, and ask for their feedback as well. Use it all to refine your processes for future events. 

As a team, refer back to your original goals, objectives, and purpose of the event. Evaluate the success of the event based on these goals. “We use Salesforce to track leads that we gather from an event,” says Ms. Hoover. “We set KPIs prior, and we communicate those out to the team. If there are 3,000 attendees at a trade show, we’ll say we need 300 badge scans. It’s usually about 10% of attendance that we feel like we can actually reach and talk to.” 

Collected contacts can then be added to relevant marketing funnels and channels. “It’s really important to send something out as soon as you can. It should come from a key stakeholder, and it should be conversational,” says Ms. Hoover.

Look at data like:

  • The average time spent at the event
  • The unique number of visitors
  • The most popular keynotes

Finally, conduct a debriefing with your event planning team to identify successes and potential areas for improvement. This is also the time to send any final vendor payments.

 

An online invite for a silent arts charity auction with a gold block on the left and a Dutch Masters-style still life on the right.
Art and Soul” Flyer by Paperless Post.

 

Planning for success with Paperless Post

There are many dynamic aspects to consider when planning a successful corporate event, from conferences and trade shows to seminars and product launches. Paperless Post makes it easy to upload your guest list, manage RSVPs, and follow up with thank you notes afterward. And all of our invitations are easy to customize to fit your brand’s style guide: add a logo or backdrop, choose from a library of stock photos or upload your own, change the font and colors, and more. Whether your next event involves 20 guests or 2,000, you’ll be well-prepared to deliver a memorable experience with Paperless Post.

 

Browse professional invitations

 

Hero image courtesy of Kara Hoover.