If seeing the words ‘corporate’ and ‘event’ in the same sentence conjures up images of suit-filled schmooze fests and insufferable PowerPoint presentations, then the idea of planning such an event probably fills you with dread.
While some events involve suits and PowerPoints, corporate events are as varied as the companies that host them. When approached the right way, planning a corporate event can be a smooth and satisfying process.
Whether the purpose of your event is to train employees, bolster company culture, impress partners, fundraise, or all of the above, this Corporate Event Planning Ultimate Guide will give you the information you need to plan with confidence and ease.
9 Steps to Planning Your Corporate Event
- Identify Your Event’s Purpose
- Clarify Your Audience
- Determine the Size
- Build Your Budget
- Establish a Timeline
- Take Inventory of Your Event Needs (with a planning checklist)
- Find Your Venue
- Market Your Event
- Generate Engagement: Before, During, and After the Event.
- Celebrate and Reflect
Step 1 - Identify Your Event’s Purpose
Before you lock down a location for a venue or fork over any hefty deposits, make sure you have some clarity on the big picture of your event. Why are you having the event in the first place? What are your objective outcome goals?
These questions might sound too obvious to explore, but they’re worth asking because the goals of your event should drive the direction of your planning.
Step 2 - Know Your Audience
No matter what your specific event goals are, as an event organizer, you want your audience to leave satisfied and delighted. That said, it’s impossible to blow away your audience if you don’t understand who they are.
How do you get to know your attendees? First, map out what you know about your audience on a broader level. Knowing whether your event is designed for upper management, potential clients, or team members will help you decide the voice and style you use to communicate throughout the event.
In a team bonding event, for example, you can likely infuse the event copy with company jargon and inside jokes—as long as it fits the company culture. On the other hand, an event with potential partners will have different objectives and, as such, require a more professional tone of voice.
Once you’ve identified your audience on the macro level, put a magnifying glass on the micro details. Use your email list and social media accounts to poll the audience. What are they curious to learn about? What problems are they trying to solve?
Ask them questions about their pain points and motivations. Then, use the information you gather to delight your audience and deliver beyond expectation.
Step 3 - Determine the Size
Assessing the size of your event is a prerequisite for setting a realistic budget and accurate timeline.
Use the table below to determine your event type
+ Micro/Simple Events: <100 attendees.
+ Small Events: 100-250 attendees
+ Midsize Event: 250-1000 attendees
+ Large Scale Events: 1000-10,000 attendees
Generally speaking, the larger your event, the more planning time it requires. A 5,000-person event might need 10 months, whereas a 100-person event may only need 8 weeks. That said, don’t be fooled by the word simple; some micro events still require a massive amount of logistical complexities.
If you plan an annual event that always sells out, assessing size will be easy. If you’re a first-time event organizer planning a debut event, you can gauge interest on social media or offer a pre-registration option to estimate more accurately.
Step 4 - Build Your Budget
From the speakers to the venue to the food, the amount of money you have to work with has a direct influence on nearly every facet of your event. And yet, far too often, event organizers will neglect to budget ahead, and instead, spend as they go. Avoid this financially fatal mistake by drafting a budget and determining how much you need to pull off the event you envision.
If you’re wondering where to begin, start with data from your past events. If this is a first-time event, find some data from other, similar events. From marketing to meals, make a detailed list of both fixed and variable expenses. Next, list out all of your projected revenue, from registration sales, sponsorships, merchandise, etc.
As you develop your budget, examine whether the totals in each category accurately reflect your stated company values. If learning is a top priority, then going big on alcohol while simultaneously lowballing your keynote speakers might send the wrong message.
Pro tip: Aim for ballpark accuracy on the larger expenses, such as the venue, but don’t agonize over hitting an exact bulls-eye. Your goal here is to kick off a working document. Keep this budget handy when it comes time to negotiate and commit. As a general rule, decide how much you want to allocate for this event and then plan for 10% more. Be it a costly weather change, or simply inflation, you won’t regret having a margin.
Step 5 - Establish a Timeline
Similar to corporate projects, corporate events have a series of tasks and deadlines that require management in the lead-up time beforehand. While we touched on the relationship between timeline and size, earlier, there’s also a connection between timeline and budget.
A larger budget tends to offer a greater range of choices. It means you can afford to book venues during the pricier peak times and pay for rush services. A tight budget can require extra time for bargain hunting. Regardless of budget and size, however, make sure time is on your side! Using a collaborative project management tool, like Asana or Trello, will help ensure that people know what to do and when. For a visual layout of your timeline, try using an event timeline template or spreadsheet.
Step 6 - Take Inventory of Your Event Needs
Planning a corporate event requires you to keep track of a staggering number of details. Give your mind a break from juggling, and take inventory of your event specifics with a checklist.
The Planning Checklist
+ Time and date of event
+ Ideal location
+ Meeting rooms
+ Rooms for breakout sessions
+ Keynote speakers
+ Presentation technology and facilities
+ Transportation to and from the venue
+ Post-event entertainment
+ Catering and refreshments
+ Post-event feedback
Step 7 - Find Your Venue
The ideal venue is one that meets the needs of your event and enables you to bring your event vision to life. If you book the wrong venue, you’ll be forced to build your event around the location, rather than the other way around.
As you go about searching for your venue, consider the following list of factors.
1. Availability - Is this venue available when you need it? If not, is your event flexible
2. Capacity - Does this venue have the capacity to accommodate an event of your size? If so, does it have space for all your attendees to gather in one place?
3. Aesthetics - Will this venue bring your theme or desired aesthetic appeal to life?
4. Location - Does the broader location, outside of the venue itself, meet the needs of your event? If you’re hosting a few hundred remote workers from all over the country, consider factors such as airport proximity, post-event entertainment, food availability, and public transportation.
5. Technology - Can the venue provide sufficient technology for the planned audio/visual of the event and live stream? This is especially important for events centered around the presentation component.
Drawing from the list above, write a venue Request for Proposal (RFP). Include as many relevant details as you can, including your objectives, budget, and event requirements.
As you sift through the proposals and quotes, keep your event checklist by your side. Compare your categorized budget with the costs and offerings in the venue package. Does the total venue cost allow you to stay within your budget barriers?
We recommend keeping track of the factors in a pro/con list, a spreadsheet, or an online venue sourcing tool. Pay attention to your experience with the customer service team, too; consider it a preview of what’s to come if you decide to choose them.
Step 7 - Market Your Event
Developing a marketing strategy for your event generates attendance and drives engagement among attendees. Not to mention, it’s a great way to keep your attendees informed.
In the lead-up to the event, create a buzz by posting regularly on your social media channels. Take advantage of email, a marketing powerhouse, and send out regular drips, newsletters, or promotional videos. Whichever strategies you choose, make sure the voice in your marketing matches the tone of your event.
Marketing is a big job, but thankfully, there are plenty of tools out there to help you.
Step 8 - Generate Engagement…Before, During, and After the Event.
One of the many measures of event success is the level of attendee engagement. If you’ve organized enough events, you know there’s a big difference between an engaged attendee and a checked-out attendee.
The engaged attendees tend to learn more and make more connections! Engagement strategy starts with knowing your attendees. Examine the audience information you gathered earlier, and consider the four main types of engagement.
1. Attendee Engagement with Event Organizers
Before and during an event, attendees will contact event organizers for countless reasons—logistical questions, partnership proposals, or special requests, to name a few. Show your attendees that they matter by making yourself available to help them when they need it.
2. Attendee Engagement with Sponsors
If you want your sponsors and attendees to hit it off, don’t have to leave their encounters up to chance. Strategically design the setup of your event flow to help attendees and sponsors connect.
3. Attendee Engagement with Other Attendees
From networking to new friendships, meaningful connections between attendees can leave a positive impact on their entire event experience. While people are unlikely to bond over hours of passive PowerPoint consumption, they’ll connect through breakout sessions, networking opportunities, and planned post-event fun.
4. Attendee Engagement with the Content
Provide your attendees with speakers, breakout sessions, and written guides to fuel their specific learning needs. Use technology to your benefit and include a Q&A, a quiz, or a poll.
Pro tip - Kick-off attendee engagement—on social media and over email—before the event begins and keep it rolling throughout the event.
Step 9 - Celebrate and Reflect
Finally, after the event is over, soak in the accomplishment and celebrate. And then, before you toss out your event materials, take some time to reflect.
Did you consider the event a success? Why or why not? What would you have done differently? Take the attendee’s opinions into account as well. What were their biggest wins and toughest challenges?
Gather as much information and feedback as you can. The takeaways from this year’s event can provide valuable insight to help inform next year’s event.
Alas, with this guide by your side, you’re ready and equipped to hit the ground running with your corporate event planning.