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How To Plan A Large-Scale Event

10th May 2016
Senate House Foyer

Delivering a large-scale event is immensely rewarding however, the bigger event, the bigger everything else needs to be. You need to upscale time, budgets, teams and resources accordingly and therefore, planning in advance becomes even more vital.

We understand that there are many variables for everyone reading this. Each of your unique events will obviously have a different purpose or audience for example. With this in mind, we’ve created this guide to be adaptable to suit the needs of your event, rather than be a “one-size fits all” instruction on event planning.

That being said, there are a few event-planning truths that should ring-true for all of you:

  • Do not underestimate the amount of time it takes to plan a large-scale event.
  • Communication is key for ensuring an event runs smoothly from conception to breakdown.
  • It takes lots of different skills to deliver a great event, you can’t do everything yourself.
  • It’s not just size that matters; large-scale events need the wow-factor to make a real impression. A strong concept, clear objectives and an interesting program will give you lots to shout about and help your event stand out from the crowd.

This guide is broken into several key sections so you can skip straight to the advice you need:

Stage One: Concept and scope

  • Timescales
  • Understanding the event lifecycle
  • Creating an event planning timetable

Stage Two: Detailed event planning

  • Strategic planning checklist
  • Systems planning checklist
  • Operational planning checklist
  • Breakdown planning

Stage Three: Planning for the unexpected

  • Contingency planning
  • Emergency Planning

Stage Four: Event management planning

  • Team management planning

Bonus

  • Tracking tasks
  • Senate House – here to help

Concept and scope

Stage One: Concept and scope

Large-scale events are characterised by deadlines and restrictions on budget, time and resources. Delivering beyond scope is the most common cause of overspending and delays. So before you can really get started you need to figure out:

Your aims and objectives

  • How big the event is
  • How many people will be involved/attend
  • Decide what resources will be required

Timescales

As a sensible guide we recommend you give yourself at least 12 months to plan a large-scale event (up to 500 people) and longer if you’re planning a more complex event or one that involves international attendees.

Understanding the event lifecycle

It is not just the event itself you’ll need to plan for but also the process before, during and after too. Here is a brief outline of the task involved at each key stage in an event lifecycle:

Laying foundations:

The first step to planning a large-scale event should be focused on strategic planning. Before you think about any logistical or operational planning, you need to lock down the concept, aims and objectives.

Getting ready:

This period is all about operational and logistical planning – budgets, task creation, bookings, contracts, promotion and so on. This is by far the biggest stage in an event lifecycle and it involves a lot of task management and deadline management.

The approach:

This is the hectic and exciting few weeks before the event in which you will be busy completing last-minute tasks and dealing with problems that occur. It is also when you will need to do your event run through to finalize operations and brief your event delivery team. Stay calm and trust in the planning you have done.

Delivery:

Everything is finalized and it’s time for the big show! You will need to be there managing the event on the day – coordinating your team and resources, responding to any unexpected situations and making sure things are generally going to plan.

The aftermath:

Shortly after the event is the time in which you need to tie everything off. Clearing the event, evaluating, reporting and finalizing all accounts as well as payments. While it’s tempting to wind-down after a big event, it’s really important that thank yous are sent out and learnings are collected promptly after the event.

Once you understand the lifecycle of planning a large-scale event you can map this onto your timescale and create an event-planning timetable. This is a vital central document that will help you with forward planning and understanding how all the individual planning tasks will fit together.

Your event planning timetable could look something like this:

12 months before:

  • Finalize the concept
  • Set the budget
  • Initial risk assessment
  • Book the venue
  • Put together your team
  • Make provisional bookings for any main aspects of the event
  • Sponsorship possibilities

9 months before:

  • Review budget
  • Market and advertise your event
  • Decide on the venue layout
  • Create a program
  • Make provisional bookings for catering, transport, site services, equipment etc

6 months before:

  • Confirm all provisional bookings
  • Update risk assessments
  • Identify emergency procedures
  • Plan for any event merchandise – gift bags, passes, programs etc
  • Review the budget

3 months before:

  • Confirm event merchandise
  • Make security arrangements
  • Organize an on-site run through/visit for your team
  • Collect/make final payments
  • Review the budget

4 weeks before:

  • Confirm numbers for catering
  • Check all bookings and services are in place
  • 1-2 Days before
  • Event walkthrough
  • Set up the event

In the week after the event:

  • Evaluate and report
  • Finalize accounts
  • Send out thank yous

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Detailed Planning

Stage Two: Detailed planning of the event

To help you get started with this stage we’ve put together comprehensive checklist also divided into stages to work from.

Strategic planning:

  • Concept
  • Aims and objectives
  • Evaluate any learnings from the last event

System planning

Check that you have an appropriate system in place for each of the following:

  • Tracking tasks
  • Budget monitoring – including claiming expenses
  • Keeping records
  • Storing and sharing data
  • Bookings
  • Registration
  • Ticketing
  • Refund policy
  • Cancellations policy
  • Data protection
  • Communication- both with stakeholders and your event teams
  • Making payments
  • Cash handling
  • Reporting

Initial operational planning:

  • Timescales finalized
  • Budget finalized
  • Events planning team
  • Share concept and objectives with planning team
  • Minimum and maximum number of participants
  • Days and times of the event
  • Research potential venues
  • Event budget planned
  • Fundraising/sponsorship

Top tip: Before the final details are put in place, you need to review your plans by asking yourself and your team the following questions

Is it suitable for the numbers attending?

Does it meet the original aims and objectives?

Event planning

  • Book the venue
  • Review venue’s facilities – do you need to organize any extra resources
  • Site services
  • Venue layout
  • Create an event program
  • Provisions for people with additional needs
  • Book equipment, services, and entertainment
  • Contracts
  • Insurance, licences, qualifications and certificates
  • Event packs, information etc produced
  • Marketing and advertising
  • First aid and safety
  • Security
  • Catering
  • Transport and logistics
  • Finalize the number of people needed to deliver the event (contractors, volunteers, entertainment and all)
  • Program finalized and shared
  • Recruitment
  • Training

Break down planning

  • Clearing the site
  • Team and volunteers debriefed
  • Final expenses and invoices processed
  • Evaluations
  • Thank yous

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Unexpected planning

Stage Three: Planning for the unexpected

No matter how well you plan for your event, there will always be some aspects that are beyond your control. Therefore it is vital you plan for emergency scenarios and how you will respond. Always inform local emergency services and council early on in the planning stages, this will give them an opportunity to arrange any support they may wish to provide.

Contingency planning

We strongly suggest you have a plan B for everything! Unpredictability is in the nature of event planning, however in the least you should have a contingency plan for the following:

Finances – in case you go over budget

Personnel – how will you manage if staff/volunteers do not turn up to your event?

Venue – how will you deal with a loss of venue or change of facilities

Records – back-up all important event planning files and data

Poor take-up – what will you do if the event is majorly under-subscribed?

Top tip: always plan for the worst-case scenarios so you’re prepared!

Emergency planning

In order to be prepared, you need to define all the possible worst-case scenarios and courses of action to be taken in the unlikely event of an emergency occurring. Bear in mind you may need to recruit a Critical Incident Manager for a very large event to be responsible for emergency planning and incident management.

Emergencies include:

  • A serious accident or death
  • Natural disaster
  • Infectious illness outbreak
  • Fire
  • Missing persons
  • Unforeseen circumstances e.g. public transport strike
  • Breakdown of essential services – e.g. power cut

To help plan for an emergency check you should have done/know the following:

  • Venue fire procedures
  • Risk assessments
  • Evacuation plan
  • Venue walkthrough

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Event management planning

Stage Four: Event management planning

In order to be better prepared for managing the event we recommend you do multiple ‘dress-rehearsals’ and run-throughs.

At least two weeks before the event - mentally walk yourself through the event from set-up to break down in order to identify any missing urgent last-minute tasks that need completing. Make sure you also schedule a venue walk-through at least a week before the event.

Team management planning:

You will need two main teams to support you throughout the event lifecycle:

Planning team – responsible for overseeing the planning and the delivery of the event and recruiting the event delivery team

Delivery team – volunteers and/or external contractor recruited to assist with event delivery (bar staff, marshaling, registration etc)

Structuring these two main teams into smaller groups focused on specific tasks with a team leader will help you more effectively manage the entire events team.

Checklist:

  • Recruitment
  • Sub-teams
  • Team leaders
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Teams and volunteers briefed and prepared
  • Training

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Tracking tasks

List every task that needs to be completed in order to make the event happen and assign each a firm deadline and a responsible team member.

It is likely you will need separate task lists for each main aspect of the event, these should be mapped along a central timeline so you can see how everything fits together. This is important as a lot of tasks will be dependent on others being completed first and you’ll need to make allowances for external restraints such as delivery times and order fulfillments.

When it comes to tracking tasks and storing information, Excel really is your best friend. You can create separate spreadsheets in one workbook for every aspect of your event such as budget, timeline, attendees etc.

Project manager is another helpful online tool to event planning as it lets you create giant charts and carry out critical path analysis as well as planning.

Top tip: Create a yearly wall planner with colour-coded stickers/post-it notes – these are great for viewing tasks at a glance and can be easily ticked off when needed.

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Event planning at Senate House

At Senate House we have a dedicated events team to help share the burden of large-scale event planning. Including staff that are trained and experienced with contingency planning and emergencies. We also always make sure a team is on-hand during your event to help ensure it runs smoothly.

Posted by
Charlie Vernon
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