At NMP Live, we’re used to booking talent, entertainment and speakers for an extremely broad array of events that vary greatly in scale and budget.
We’ve learned that there are endless variables and enjoy working with clients to ensure we understand the specifics of their particular occasion.
However, there are a number of basic considerations to achieve a successful event that are transferable across the board - whether you’re planning an internal training session for 20 staff, a ticketed charity ball for 150 or high-spec corporate work party for 1000 plus staff.
Here are nine points to consider when planning your event:
1. Consider your event objectives
When planning an event, the first things to consider are why you’re putting the event on, what you want to achieve and who it is aimed at.
For less formal occasions or not-for-profit events and parties this may seem obvious but, even for those, spend a little time considering the audience and desired outcome and write it down to keep on track.
For example, if it’s a seasonal or Christmas party for staff, you likely want to achieve a celebratory atmosphere, perhaps with a sense of reward for a year of hard work. You may want to consider a ‘wow’ act to make attendees feel really valued.
Those with higher-end budgets could go for a recognisable act, such as stand-up comic and prankster Simon Brodkin aka Lee Nelson. Organisers who want equal entertainment value but don’t have such deep pockets can go for a less well known professional. This can be someone who is just as capable of making a splash, such as multi-award award-winning close-up and stage magician Ben Hart.
If your event needs to turn a profit and you want to sell tickets then you’ll need to consider your USP. What will make your event a sell-out sensation and leave the attendees happy and ready to support future events?
For a staff training day, your attendees may be obliged to turn up, but you’ll want them to feel engaged and inspired to be there. A conference/keynote speaker can bring a different dynamic to the day and allow employees a way of seeing things from a different perspective, opening up new possibilities and ways of doing things and inspiring innovation.
2. Agree your budget
It’s great to think big and be ambitious with your plans but budget is always going to be a major constraining factor. There’s not a lot of value in imagining your event at The Sky Bar at London’s St Paul’s Hotel if you need to do it all on a shoestring.
Decide on a ‘wish list’ then prioritise - shifting the musts and the most desired elements to the top of the list.
A suitable venue is likely to be at the top of the list and may be one of the biggest expenses. However, remember there are ways to save on this. Perhaps consider booking on a less popular day of the week, for example. There’s good reason week-day weddings have become more popular.
Being imaginative may also allow you to claw back savings - do you have access to a plot of land where a marquee could be erected? Could you take the risk on weather and gain permission to hold your event in an outdoor public setting such as a local park? Or, is there another business or school you could partner with that has the space and facilities you need?
Catering may also be a high priority depending on the type of event you’re putting on. Consider if you need to impress with your menu. Is a free bar important or is wine on the table enough?
Entertainment is an area many event organisers neglect, yet it’s a key opportunity to make your event spectacular rather than standard. Considering it among the top priorities will allow you to divide your budget appropriately at the beginning.
We’re happy to advise on the tone and topics covered by specific speakers. Our books include speakers from explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes whose learnings from breathtaking expeditions have a message for all, to Judy Murray OBE. Judy has taken the competitive edge passed down from her father to achieve incredible things for women and women’s sport, in addition to being mother of Wimbledon winner Andy Murray and tennis champ Jamie.
3. Allow yourself enough time to plan your event
Life has a habit of never allowing as much time as any of us would like to do most things. Your event planning efforts are always likely to be competing with numerous other things for your attention.
Needless to say, starting early and at least mapping out a plan and deadlines for certain elements will have a huge impact on the likely success of your event.
Quality venues, caterers and entertainment can get booked up a year in advance or more. Ideally, allow time to research and pin down those and any other key things early.
If the clock has got ahead of you, however, don’t despair. Having been in this industry for many years we’ve seen hundreds of events pulled together even at short notice and you can still secure top-quality entertainers right up to the wire. Lean on industry experts to advise you on where to look for cancellations or last minute bookings without compromising standards.
4. Consider your audience when planning an event
You have to think carefully about who you want to - and expect to - attend.
Meeting basic requirements of your attendees takes thought and has to be dealt with first. A lack of clean, accessible toilets is a surefire way to overshadow anything else you achieve at an event.
Clearly, you must consider dietary requirements if you’re serving food, and accessibility is also important, particularly if your audience includes people with disabilities, frailty or mobility issues.
Your ‘target audience’ should also be at the forefront of your mind when considering speakers or entertainment. If you’re planning an event where families will be present you’ll want your talent to be briefed to tone down any edgy material, or even add in something to please the children if there’s likely to be a lot of them.
Taking advice on who to book and ensuring a thorough brief for comedians, for example, will avoid offence. You can get further advice on this via: ‘How can I guarantee the comedian won’t be offensive.’
Seasoned professionals such as multi award winning comic Dominic Holland (dad to Hollywood actor Tom Holland aka Spiderman!), bring invaluable versatility and experience.
If your event has a niche audience, it’ll allow you to tailor your event to be a crowd pleaser with an industry-specific conference speaker, for example, or a motivational sports speaker. A celebrity appearance from a star, such as eccentric horse racing pundit John McCririck, may cost less than you think and set your awards dinner or race night apart from the rest.
5. Be selective when setting the date
Give some consideration to outside factors when selecting the date for your event to increase the chances of getting the right people there and enhance what you plan.
Clearly, you need to set the date far enough ahead to allow people to get it in their diaries and enable ticket sales, if that’s applicable. Remember, annual summer holidays are often booked a year in advance, December diaries are often full of parties and bear in mind specifically busy periods for your industry if it is relevant - such as financial year-end. The more notice people have, followed by well-timed reminders, the more likely you’ll get the people you need and want at your event.
Events with broad popular appeal such as a Royal Wedding, FA Cup Final or even the X Factor final may impact on the readiness of attendees to be at your event. Avoid them, incorporate them (perhaps with a big screen) or, at the very least, be aware of the impact they could have.
Having an awareness of what’s going on around the time of your event also allows the opportunity to give it a theme and make it topical, which may be especially relevant for more irregular events such as the Cricket World Cup, which takes place this summer. Booking former England cricketer captain Michael Vaughan for your golf day or a motivational speech for leaders from former England cricket captain Alec Stewart could have extra impact in 2019.
6. Plan the timing of the event itself
Ensure you’ve ‘walked through’ your event in your mind and allowed enough time for each element, with opportunities for rest and comfort breaks built in as necessary.
If it’s an industry event, time for mingling and networking, perhaps over lunch, can be as valuable as your organised programme.
Timing of ‘main events’ such as conference/keynote speakers can be integral to either encouraging people to arrive on time, stay to the end or moving the day’s discussion on.
If there’s a meal, people don’t want to be rushed through it. But, by the same token, you’ll want to ensure you have ample opportunity for your charity auction, for example. Also bear in mind not to allow those elements to run on too long.
A key discussion topic when booking entertainment or speakers will be around how much time they’ll be giving you. In fact, one of the top questions we get asked at NMP Live is ‘How long do speakers talk for?’ and your booking agent should be able to help with points such as this.
7. Top notch communication will make for a great event
There’s every chance you’ll want to create a team and assign and delegate tasks to spread the load when planning a large scale event. Ensure you have good communication systems in place, such as meetings and shared documents, to keep everyone informed of tasks to be actioned, time frames and outcomes.
Similarly, ensure communication with your attendees is as good as possible and choose a channel best suited to your audience - whether it be circular emails or a dedicated Facebook page.
Whilst it’s aspirational to get as many of the details of your event as possible pinned down as soon as possible, there will, of course, be bumps in the road.
Consider building in contingencies and safety nets in terms of budget and arrangements. Using reputable providers for your key requirements and carrying out checks on the bookings should minimise the likelihood of last minute cancellations or double booking.
Discovering with six weeks to go to your event that your DJ or band forgot to put you in the diary and is not going to turn up is pretty challenging. Finding that out on the night, much more so. Using a professional booking agency will alleviate this risk.
Don’t be tempted to agree things on a handshake or to agree to pay cash on the day to reduce costs because there is often a bigger price to pay. With professional and established agencies like NMP Live you'll receive a Booking Contract, dedicated agent to oversee your event from start to finish and everything will be arranged in line with two decades of experience ensuring smooth-running events.
8. Document your event
It’s easy, when the day of your event arrives, to be so consumed in ensuring everything runs to plan that you forget to take photos and videos to create a record of it all.
Consider assigning someone this task in advance or, depending on the event, even investing in a professional to get top quality results.
A great record of the event may be the key to selling tickets or enticing delegates to a similar gathering in the future.
It may be that a video of sections of a speech given at your event is a useful learning tool to share either as a reminder with delegates who attended or with those who could not be there. A booked act may well be happy for the free publicity and tagging them in your social media posts may result in a retweet or share with their followers, which could well be good for business for you too.
Plan how to share your photos and videos and follow through on it. Live streaming from an event may allow you to hit a wider real-time audience and photos published to social media on the night can show others what they’re missing. You may want to use the photos and videos again in the run up to future events so store them somewhere accessible. You may even want to send a good photo and short write-up to the local press.
Check with your booking agent or talent over any restrictions on photographing or filming acts and the publication of them.
9. Ask for feedback on your event
Gathering good quality feedback from your attendees, as soon as possible after the event, or even, where appropriate, at the end of the event itself is a vital learning opportunity.
Spend some time planning how best to collate feedback, which will depend on the type of event you’re putting on. For a daytime conference, you may be able to structure in a few minutes at the end of the day for feedback forms. Try to structure a small amount of specific questions to give you valuable responses.
For more informal gatherings or parties that go into the night and/or involve alcohol, you’ll likely want to get feedback after the event! You may be able to use your social media channels for this or, with consideration of data protection regulations, your attendees’ mailing list.
Photos: Edward Starr