Event managers everywhere felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: the entire $1,135.4 billion industry shuttered overnight when stay-at-home orders were announced in 2020. Major global events like the Tokyo Olympics, The Met Gala, and the Cannes Film Festival were canceled. Large-scale event planning businesses and service providers are just beginning to recoup lost income and return to pre-pandemic operations.
In 2023, planning a large event will look different than it has in recent history. Many event businesses that successfully weathered the pandemic were able to incorporate virtual options that made event content accessible to their target audiences. In the face of recession and economic uncertainty, there are event strategy is expected to shift in three ways:
- Budgeting: Proven quality matters more than it ever has. Budgets will be limited, so organizers are looking for the best deals in all facets of event production.
- Virtual events: No surprise here. There is still a strong desire for in-person experiences, but hybrid & virtual event options will expand reach at a lower price point.
- Pivoting: Event professionals have always been able to adapt, and now have the confidence and skills to do so more effectively. Events are unlikely to be canceled, but they may need to shift in scope and scale.
We’ve put together this ultimate guide to help your business understand how to plan a large-scale event, perhaps as you begin to conceptualize your first large event in years. Read on, and plan on.
Top large event companies
How do you manage large events? If your business has a small team, or if you don’t already employ events professionals, hiring an event production company is a proven solution to managing the planning process. Large event planning companies have the skills, contacts, and resources needed to pull off an event flawlessly. They effectively manage potential risks, offer high levels of creativity, and keep a sharp eye on all moving parts and deliverables. A single point of contact before, during, and after an event also limits the potential loss of information and overspending that can occur when too many individuals take on a large-scale project. Some top event companies include:
- MKG: a creative agency that specializes in Instagram-worthy brand activations.
- Sequence Events: experiential agency providing production, strategic planning & design services.
- Colin Cowie Lifestyle: luxurious weddings, as well as corporate and non-profit events.
- BoomPop: creating custom offsites & retreats for corporate teams across the U.S.
Large-scale events vs smaller events
What is a large-scale event? What is a large-scale meeting? Typically, these are complex events and conventions with many moving parts. Meetings require ample time and space for attendees to intentionally connect and share ideas. Attendance is upwards of 500 to thousands of people, and they can take place over multiple days and/or locations. The obvious difference is scale. Compared to smaller events, a large event requires longer planning timelines, bigger budgets, and extensive communication management. Other differences to consider:
- Recurring event planning: Large-scale events usually occur on an annual basis. Key vendor and relationship management require consistency to continue delivering quality events in future years. Improvements and adjustments are made year after year in the post-event evaluation process.
- Delegation is necessary: One person can’t run a large-scale event themselves. Working with an event production company can ensure seamless communication with all involved parties and ensure all deliverables are met on time.
Common large events
Consider your highest priority business goals when planning a large-scale event: Do you hope to attract new customers? Invest in your existing team? Gather experts in your field?
In an uncertain economic climate, event budgets are likely to be limited. Many businesses may scale back the number of large events they host and supplement their events calendar with smaller in-person and virtual events. For businesses and industries that usually hold large events, common formats include:
- New product launches
- Luncheons and galas
- Trade Shows and expos
- Industry conferences
- Corporate offsites and meetings
- Holiday parties, or employee appreciation events
- Professional seminars for networking and development
Tips for planning a large event
Whether or not your business is creating a brand-new event from scratch, There are a few ways businesses can prepare for large events:
Start as early as possible.
Starting years (yes, years) in advance may sound like overkill, but you’ll need plenty of lead time for planning a large event–one calendar year is required, minimum. Connect with key stakeholders and your core team of decision-makers to orient towards the same goal early on. You’ll also want to consider if you have an ideal venue or speaker(s) in mind; their schedules and availability could impact your target event date.
Plan to overstaff key positions.
Attendee experience is more important than ever before, post-pandemic. For many in your audience, this may be the first large event they have attended in years. They may feel confused, anxious, and overwhelmed. Overstaff your people-facing roles–greeters, information desk, ushers–so your guests feel well taken care of. Jobble offers temporary staffing solutions that can help you staff up quickly.
Create some structure in the process.
Whether or not you are an event manager, understanding the 5 C’s of event management can help you to create some structure when thinking through the planning process. What are the 5 C’s of event planning?
Concept – How do you want your attendees to feel when they’re at your event? Your attendees should be the primary consideration when you flesh out the who, what, where, when & why. Who is your target audience? What will be happening there? Where will it be held, and when? Do you understand the purpose of this event?
Coordination – Deciding on a theme or general event overview will inform your subsequent to-do list: building a budget, booking a venue, and nailing down a date, among other details. Start from the beginning and move through each step. Begin promoting the event and delegating responsibilities to team members and vendors at this stage.
Control – As planning is underway, keep a cool head and stay in control. Build a timeline and set clear target dates for major deliverables. Hold regular check-ins with key stakeholders and vendors. Conduct site visits. Think through contingency planning and allocate 10-20% of your event budget for unforeseen emergencies.
Culmination – Event day is here! Everyone on site should have a day-of event schedule and a one-pager with answers to frequently asked questions. If possible, get early access to your venue and set aside time to do a run-through with your day-of event team. Throughout the day, check in with vendors, speakers, and guests.
Closeout – Don’t miss this step! Immediately after the event is over, tidy up your venue and ensure all payments and contracts are closed out. Schedule a time to check in with your team and your key partners to gather feedback to integrate into your next event. Send thank you notes. Follow up with participant surveys to be able to measure whether your event met its goals.
Common event planning challenges
Inevitably, something will go wrong during event planning. Approaching these roadblocks with confidence is part of the role of an event manager. Some examples of common struggles during event planning and how to overcome them follow here.
Your leadership team wants a major change part way through the planning process.
Be prepared to say no! Often, high-level leaders are big thinkers who are too removed from the planning process to see what you see. Offer alternatives where you can, but don’t be afraid to exercise your expertise.
A shortened timeline is forcing you to begin emergency planning for a large event.
It is becoming difficult to keep track of all moving parts and event details.
Use software like Asana or Trello to delegate responsibilities to teammates, and keep your collaborators abreast of progress on key deliverables. For the day of the event, it can be handy to keep an event binder with hard copies of important documents on hand.
Large event planning checklist
How do you plan a large-scale event? The best way is to make a list with your core team of decision-makers to identify the unique needs of your large event. This list is not exhaustive but will serve as a great starting point.
1+ years in advance
- Establish objectives and your event concept – who, what, where, when, and why!
- Select a date.
- Create a budget and set aside 10-20% for contingencies.
- Consider event sponsorship to supplement your budget.
- Book the venue.
- Research speakers and entertainment.
- Put together an event marketing and promotions plan.
8 to 11 months in advance
- Finalize venue details – how will people get there? Is it an accessible space?
- Create the venue layout.
- Finalize and sign contracts.
- Manage travel arrangements.
3 to 7 months in advance
- Finalize the menu – are you considering potential dietary restrictions?
- Get all permits, licenses, and event insurance.
- Order event merchandise and promotional materials.
- Put together a draft day-of-event schedule.
- Hire temporary and seasonal staff.
1 to 2 months in advance
- Organize a visit to the venue and conduct a walk-through with your team.
- Send reminders to attendees via email and social media.
- Check in with speakers, entertainers, and vendors to review questions & concerns.
- Review event materials – programs, branded swag, signage.
Week of event
- Confirm vendor arrival setup and breakdown details.
- Provide final registration numbers to the venue and caterer.
- Double-check the A/V equipment and wifi.
- Train event staff.
- Send a post-event survey to attendees.
- Send thank-you notes to vendors, partners, volunteers, and speakers.
- Schedule a time to debrief with your team and gather feedback. Evaluate whether the event met the goals you set out to achieve.
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About the Author: Meghna Jaradi is a freelance writer and events manager with experience working for the Seattle Times, Kitchen Arts & Letters, Book Larder, Peddler Brewing Company, and more. You can contact her on LinkedIn.