When you’re planning an event, creating a long-term event planning timeline is one of the first things you should do. No matter how experienced you are, establishing and sticking to a planning timeline can help make sure you meet deadlines, stick to your budget, and keep everything organized.
If you’re just starting to plan an event and aren’t sure how to create and stick to a timeline, we’ve put together this guide to get you set up and ready to roll.
What is an event planning timeline?
An event planning timeline is a chronological checklist of everything that needs to be done leading up to the big day, in contrast to a day-of timeline that maps out what needs to take place on the actual event date. The size and scope of the timeline will depend on the complexity and nature of your event, but in the professional event planning world, a standard timeline might span anywhere from six to twelve months.
Do I really need an event planning timeline?
Event planning is often a long, convoluted process, and a structured timeline can help you visualize the pieces coming together to meet the ultimate goal: a successful event. “Free handing” your planning can leave you and your team without a sense of direction, which makes it easier to drop the ball every now and then.
Having all your to-do’s listed out for you chronologically ensures that you complete every step and don’t accidentally leave anything out. A good timeline should highlight tasks such as paying deposits on time, keeping track of contracts, among other things. Knowing all of your deadlines ahead of time makes it easier to prioritize tasks so you can manage your time better.
Event Planning Timeline Must-Haves
While the nitty gritty of your timeline will vary depending on the specifics of your event, there are three things that every planning timeline should address:
- Define and establish anchor points. Anchor points are defined as non-negotiable deadlines usually set by key stakeholders. For example, if your keynote speaker of choice requires booking at least six months in advance, a timeline for an event planned for December 2022 would include an anchor point for booking the speaker no later than June 2022. Anchor points are often out of your control and inflexible. While this may seem like an additional source of pressure, anchor points can actually make the planning process easier by providing parameters and structure.
- Don’t forget about vendor timelines. When crafting your timeline, you need to take your vendors and suppliers’ timelines into consideration as well. Communication is key and a two-way street. Be sure to stay in touch and provide each other with the most up to date information.
- Create buffer zones and contingency plans. No matter how well you plan or how airtight your timeline is, there’s always the risk of something not going as planned, such as a keynote speaker pulling out of the event a few weeks before or one of your vendors going out of business before the event date. These unforeseen circumstances can put a major dent in time-sensitive plans. While you can’t possibly account for every scenario, it’s important to include wiggle room in your event timeline after each major planning stage. The buffer time will need to get shorter as the event nears. For example, you might include a buffer of one or two weeks at the end of the six months out stage, but only include a couple days at the one month out stage.
Sample Event Planning Timeline
While each event’s specific timeline will vary depending on its nature, below is a sample timeline featuring common anchor points and industry standards.
6-12 Months Out
- Assign roles and responsibilities. Designate who will be responsible for what, and what the timelines of each individual role might consist of. What do they need to do and when do they need to do it by?
- Determine event budget. Deciding on your budget early on makes it easier to stay on track.
- Choose a venue. Depending on how much of a hot commodity your venue is, reserving your spot first thing can save a lot a time and provide peace of mind. If you’re interested, you might consider asking the venue if they have any preferred vendors they usually work with.
- Choose your caterer and main vendors. Like booking a venue far in advance, snagging your vendors early is a simple way to get ahead of the curve. “Main vendors” can include entertainment, keynote speakers, equipment, and accommodations.
- Plan your marketing and/or promotion campaign. Decide whether this will be contracted out or done in-house.
3-6 Months Out
- Select the rest of the vendors. Now that you’ve booked your main vendors, you can reassess your budget if need be. Other vendors might include services such as florists and photographers. Finalize and confirm with all other vendors.
- Confirm speakers and special guests. Begin gathering details for brief biographies or blurbs to promote their attendance.
- Order necessary supplies. Anything that might be necessary to support staff, backup vendors, or for attendees.
- Review the venue’s safety and emergency protocols. Make sure you have an emergency evacuation plan in place. Evaluate current and local Covid-19 transmission rates and create your ⦁ covid safety plan (leaving room for adjustments should the situation change as the event gets closer).
1-3 Months Out
- If applicable, send out your invitations. Give attendees enough time to prepare for travel and other accommodations. Finalize your headcount as RSVPs come in.
- Keep your attendees informed with up-to-date information until event day.
- Confirm with vendors to ensure they can still fulfill all orders. Don’t forget to check in with vendors such as the AV team, florist, and media production.
- Create a seating chart for seated events.
- Arrive at the venue early. Make sure everyone involved knows what time they’re supposed to show up and where they need to report.
- Run an event walkthrough with your team if necessary. Review roles and responsibilities, emergency procedures, evacuation plans, etc.
- Check in with vendors, speakers, caterers, and entertainment as needed.
While one size doesn’t fit all, we hope the above guide serves as a helpful starting point for drafting your own event planning timeline. Contact us today to discuss your event and experience needs.