Planning a large professional event takes a little more than just adding a few more bottles to your liquor store run. Planning an event is hard work—even for the most seasoned event planners. Thinking through a few essential details upfront will ensure that your party goes smoothly and your upcoming event guests leave thoroughly impressed.
Establish your goals and objectives
If you’re wondering how to plan an event, begin with a simple question. Why are you throwing the party? While it might be technically correct to answer “because my boss asked me to,” we’d venture to guess that there’s probably a larger professional goal or mission behind the function.
It’s worthwhile to consider what these may be as you embark on your planning process. Some common objectives for professional parties include:
— Building brand awareness
— Launching a product or service
— Networking with clients
— Making industry connections
— Driving sales
— Celebrating employees or holidays
By equipping yourself with a clear set of goals, you can hone in on the appropriate budget, venue, and guest list. What might be successful at an employees-only holiday party may not satisfy the expectations of an industry-wide awards ceremony.
Determine your budget
Creating—and sticking to—a budget can feel challenging at times, but it’s a critical facet of planning a successful event.
What should your budget look like? That depends on your company, your party, and your style. Whether it’s logged in Excel or fastidiously scribbled in your planner, it should function as a clear roadmap for the expenses ahead, complete with projections of expected revenue.
While it might be a pain to keep score of cupcake costs and cocktail server wages, keeping a tidy account of expected expenses can shine a light on where you have some extra spending power and spare you any unwelcome surprises down the road. After all, no event planner wants to spend the evening of the party arguing with a taco truck vendor about the cost of sour cream or the unexpected absence of napkins.
To craft a budget that you can stick to, make sure to talk with your department about your allocated cash flow and take care to research competitive rates for venues and vendors. Having a clear sense of standard rates will empower you to advocate for extra wiggle room where you need it and to make those tough decisions. Full bar or floral arrangements?
Pick the right venue
The Venue Report
In parties, as in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Your professional venue should be the first thing you consider. It’s ultimately the box you’re going to put everything in—so you need to pick one that suits the size and style of your crowd.
Lucky for you, we are living in the golden age of private event spaces. So in your planning process, think beyond restaurants and ballrooms.
Consider checking out:
These companies consolidate offbeat spaces to make it easy to find a perfect venue—one that fits your brand or organization’s vibe and large event budget.
Make a space your own
It turns out you can force a little chemistry. Make your party the kind of place where people are interacting in the way you want. (This should factor into your venue-picking, but there’s a lot you can “build out” after the fact.) Not sure what we mean? Consider these examples:
— For an event with a signing, product sale, or meet-and-greet: Consider the receiving line at a wedding. You want a clear path for guests to file through, interact at the designated spot, and exit. You’ll also want an associate or two to act as ushers.
— For an event where you want to encourage mingling: Build out nooks, tables, seated areas, or something similarly hospitable and slightly removed from the party throng to give people places to talk.
— For a workshop, lecture, or presentation: Do the exact opposite! Make sure to rent a good AV system, test it (!!!), and rent enough chairs to seat all event attendees comfortably. While a crowded standing room may look impressive, it’s not always so much fun to experience as a guest.
Give rentals a go
When event planning for professional events, use rentals to inject your space with personality and bring in anything your private event venue might be missing.
We’re not just talking about gold Chiavari chairs and polyester tablecloths. Did you know you can rent a margarita machine (clearly a necessity), a confetti cannon, teepees, vintage glassware, or entire lounge setups?
Local vendors may be perfect for your event—we love Patina Rentals in New York, Yeah! Rentals in California, and 12th Table in Nashville. To stretch your budget even further, you should also consider larger nationwide companies like Classic Party Rentals and Casa de Perrin for basics and smaller boutique firms for specialty items.
Brand your event
Whether the goal of your party is to drive sales, launch a product, or just celebrate the success of your team, you should pay special attention to branding your event.
From the save the dates to the day-of decor, every aspect of your event should feel authentic to your organization. While a bit of excitement never hurts, staying true to your brand’s values and voice throughout the entire planning and execution process can build recognition, loyalty, and attendance.
Don’t know where to begin? Here are a few memorable and easy-to-implement branding ideas:
— Step and repeat. Setting up a step and repeat with a backdrop in your company’s colors at the entrance of your party is a glamorous way to delight your party guests, promote your brand, and pull in sponsors. Your party guests will love having their own red carpet moment, and your sponsors will love seeing their logos all over social media.
— Branded merchandise. Every guest loves a party favor. Why not use the event as an occasion to premier some new swag? Bonus points if the merch connects to your event. Think branded golf caps for the company retreat in Palm Beach.
— Customized food and drinks. Tie your brand’s visual assets into your food and drink offerings. Cakes and cookies make a delicious platform for your company’s logo, while a custom cocktail can speak to the ahem, strength, and uh, spirit, of your organization’s culture.
Create a moment of surprise (and delight)
Instagram (@gryphandivyrose, @thelondonmummy)
Parties are by definition delightful. And what guests increasingly want are ways to share their joy. So as the event planner, try to build in a moment in the event planning process that’s a bit interactive and, yes, well-suited to social media. Some social event ideas we’ve seen that are cool and work as promotional materials:
— A flower wall backdrop: An organic way to get your party on the ‘gram.
— A photo booth: Built-in entertainment meets built-in party favor.
— A big (or small) surprise: How about an unexpectedly gigantic punch bowl or exceptionally tiny burgers?
Practice your party (to make it perfect)
This tip is short but so important that it needs its own section: rehearse your social event. Walk through your event before set-up, during, and right before launch. Put together a “run of show” to feel out the space. Assign a point person that will solve any issues that arise once the party kicks into high gear.
Remember these extra event tips
If you can make it through a dry run of your party, then you are well ahead of 90% of hosts and are destined for event success. With that warm glow, we want to pass off a few last tips for your event plan:
— Pack a first aid kit (really!).
— Take more photos than you think necessary.
— Plan a post-mortem with your co-hosts (or just yourself) for the next event.
— Get some rest. You earned it as the event coordinator.
For your professional party, meet party professionals
“Saint-Preux – Black” by Paperless Post, “Ocean Wave” by Gray Malin for Paperless Post
We believe that it’s always the right time to plan an event. No matter the season or the reason, online or in person, a big professional event is a fabulous, festive way to boost sales, build loyalty, and foster company culture. Looking for an excuse to break out that budget spreadsheet? Some causes for celebrations might not even be on your radar yet—including retirements, birthdays, or certain cultural and religious holidays.
Whether you’re planning a formal gala or a daytime affair, start your planning process with a customized save the date from Paperless Post. (They’re not just for weddings!) It’s a thoughtful way to test the scheduling waters and give guests time to suss out logistics. Plus, a stylish save the date can be an effective first step in your event marketing strategy.
Our professional online invitations will not only fit your organization’s unique voice and vibe, but you can also seamlessly share them on your own email service, text, or social media accounts. Ready to make your professional event a personal success? Get started with Paperless Post!
Hero Image: Creative Edge