March 29, 2021
By Mike Fletcher

Did you know there are now more than 300 tools, platforms, and software options to help stage events online? 

A year ago, there was only a handful. In the last twelve months, you’ve not only had to up-skill yourselves in virtual event management and design, but you’ve also had to navigate the swaths of new platforms and technology to find the solutions and partners that will enhance particular event-types. 

Now that a return to in-person conferences, meetings, and exhibitions is finally back on the horizon, you’ll need to decide what elements of virtual events can benefit the live experience and how best to incorporate your new-found digital knowledge into traditional event management.

At the end of the day, your journey of digital discovery, which opened new doors into video streaming, studio production, technical support, and pre-recorded content should now not distract you from why you stage events and how to meet those core event objectives. 

That’s not to say that virtual events will disappear overnight - there’s far too much invested in those 300+ new technology tools and the many hours planners have spent learning a new digital discipline, not even taking into consideration the benefits virtual events offer that in-person don't.

However, a reminder of the basics of event management is now more important than ever in order to ensure that factors such as strategy, budget, venue sourcing, and the planner journey all align with your company’s objectives for staging different types of events. And, that your events program moving forward (whether it be hybrid, virtual, or in-person) remains a valued part of the marketing mix. 

Let’s get back to basics, starting with the event objective. 

Event objective

What is the event’s objective? This should be the first question you ask before planning an event. By gaining a deep understanding of the deliverables that key stakeholders are hoping to achieve, it’ll allow you to plan more effectively and communicate your ideas in a language your bosses will understand.

Once you understand whether the event’s aim is, for example, to build brand awareness, communicate business strategy, reward and motivate, or launch a new product or service, you can then set goals, put the right metrics in place to track results, decide whether it should be virtual, in-person, or hybrid, and determine who the attendees will be, along with their expectations.

When you have well-defined goals and objectives for your event, planning, promoting, and sticking to your budget all become much easier.

Event objectives should be SMART

  • Specific: What is the desired outcome and when does it need to be achieved by?
  • Measurable: Return on Investment or Return on Objectives… or both?
  • Achievable: Ensure that the event objective is something that can actually be achieved otherwise senior leaders will consider it a failure.
  • Relevant: The overall objective needs to remain something that relates back to the company’s goals throughout the entire planning process.
  • Timebound: Plan for the event objective to have been achieved between two time periods. This may require subsequent training seminars or a follow-up event to assess the outcomes of the first.

Venue sourcing 

The event’s objectives may also determine your choice of venue. If stakeholders are looking to leave a lasting impression on valued or prospective clients for example, the venue will need to play its part and deliver a memorable wow factor. If there’s a virtual offering, you may wish to source a venue with a hybrid events studio or additional technical support. 

Other factors that will influence your venue choice include budget, capacity, location, availability, and logistics. Having a clear understanding of these event requirements will allow you to shortlist a number of venues, send out requests for written proposals (RFPs), and arrange site visits either online or in-person.

Many venues may be experiencing a back-log of events scheduled pre-Covid that have had to be postponed and rearranged, while others may have seen cancellations at key times or be keen to attract new events business by offering more competitive pricing or hybrid solutions.  

Whichever venue you speak with, make sure you discuss and understand their new Covid-safe protocols and how they may impact room layouts, delegate catering, networking, accommodation and transport. 

Event budget

The budget can impact every aspect of event planning, from the choice of venue and speakers to the levels of catering, entertainment, technology, and staffing. 

It may determine what role virtual plays in your future-facing live events program or how you create an online-only offer for the virtual part of a hybrid conference. 

Has this event happened in the past? If so, use the previous budget to establish a baseline but ensure that inflation and your evolving hybrid needs are taken into consideration.

Figures from past budgets are useful in providing a clearer picture of how much certain suppliers may charge. Use these to ensure you are not being over-charged when you reach-out to suppliers for initial quotes. 

Remember, every event budget needs built-in flexibility. Unanticipated expenditure is common and supplier costs are often provided as estimates, rather than fixed prices, so it’s vital that an overall budget is managed accordingly and a contingency fund is in place.

A lot may also depend on whether or not the event is monetized. 

Ticket sales, sponsorship and booth bookings may help to bolster budgets but by adding virtual elements, you could generate additional income with sponsor-branded directories, pre-recorded content, live-streamed sessions, web pages, online networking events, blog posts, downloadable product brochures, chat lobbies, and more.  

You could even ensure sponsor visibility beyond the duration of your in-person event with additional paid-for podcasts, webinar series’, digital display advertising and social media takeovers. 

Build-back better

The importance of physical communication to build human connections, address sensitive issues, gather feedback, plus enhance credibility and trust, will ensure that live ‘in-person’ events are very much a part of all our futures. But with newly acquired skills and trusted technology partners, virtual events are now a key addition to the event planner’s toolkit. 

Refresh what you knew and evolve what you now know for a more complete event management experience

Event Planning Checklist 

Use these 21 back-to-basic action steps, together with the aforementioned best practice advice, to ensure an effective and successful return to in-person event planning.

  • Determine the overarching goal and the primary objectives you intend to meet by holding this event
  • Identify the audience to determine the event’s tone of voice and what takeaways they’ll expect
  • Agree on how the event fits into the overall company strategy. What are its long-term objectives? 
  • Make a comprehensive list of all the budget line items in the event lifecycle
  • Appoint a planning team and allocate responsibilities 
  • Establish a schedule for planning meetings
  • Decide on the date(s) when the event will take place
  • Prepare a preliminary budget based on historic costings and supplier quotes
  • Create a list of venue and virtual requirements
  • Compare venues and negotiate
  • Plan the event layout
  • Secure speakers
  • Develop and activate an event marketing plan
  • Prepare an event timeline allowing adequate time between sessions and activities for transitioning, as well as for any potential delays or technical difficulties.
  • Reserve accommodation and transport requirements
  • Plan menus for meals and refreshments, taking dietary needs into consideration
  • Prepare and print event collateral
  • Confirm or recruit event staffing
  • Rehearse speakers
  • Follow-up with all speakers and attendees post event to thank them for attending and provide key takeaways
  • Conduct surveys, secure feedback and collate final costings for future reference

Back Back to Basics: Delivering Great In-Person Events is up-next in our seven-part Cvent webinar series. Register today for access to the Virtual Attendee Hub where you’ll be able to choose which webinars you want to attend and watch on-demand.  

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Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.
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