Any event planner knows that you can’t start planning anything without knowing the goals of the event. Every decision you make, from the large details to the tiny ones, should reflect those goals. But how can you make sure those goals are articulated?
In my day job as a nonprofit event manager, I supervise a team of fabulous and talented event planners. A few weeks ago one of my planners came to me after an event, distressed. The event was a minor one, but it had not gone well, due in no part to the planner. When she sought feedback from the two stakeholders on how the event went, it was clear that the two stakeholders had very different ideas of why they were holding the event in the first place, let alone what good looked like.
While the scenario was an uncomfortable one for the planner, it’s not altogether uncommon when you don’t take the time upfront to make sure the goals are understood - and everyone agrees!
But how do you find out those goals, especially when the stakeholder (or client) doesn’t know what they want or why their holding the event? You need to ask the right questions. Some of these might seem rather obvious – but you’d be surprised how often they aren’t thought through. Here are some of my favorite questions.
What are you hoping to achieve with this event?
Is there a specific outcome or a range of successful outcomes? Encourage your client or stakeholder to be as specific as possible with measurable results wherever possible. For example, I want to raise five thousand dollars or increase membership by twenty percent. If the goals are a bit more fuzzy, such as increase goodwill toward the company, ask the stakeholder to give a specific personal example that would exhibit success, such as “Jane Doe came in thinking that our company was just okay, but left thinking we were a global leader in XYZ.” It’s okay if the goals are lofty at this point!
Who is the audience?
Audience, guests and attendees are often used interchangeably by meeting planners, but here you want to be specific and examine who the audience is. Who do you want in the room? And why are those people the target, over other groups?
Is there a call to action or change in behavior you want to see?
Going back to those lofty goals you might have, sometimes events can cause someone to change their behavior, if you know what motivates your audience.
Whose buy in do we need?
Every organization has their own processes for approval for events and spending and as an event planner you probably know them, but make sure the stakeholder is aware of who needs to be involved. This might extend outside of your organization.
Why is this event the best way to achieve your desired result?
Events are sexy, but they aren’t always the best way to meet a goal. A good event planner knows that sometimes the best thing to do is not hold an event, or hold a different type of event that would better meet the client’s needs.
How does this fit our organization’s mission and/or brand?
As a nonprofit event manager I am constantly considering mission when planning events, but all organizations – nonprofits, associations and corporations – should consider mission before beginning to plan and then all along the planning process. You’d be surprised how quickly an event can creep away from an organization’s mission. Branding is also important – while pushing the envelope and innovating are activities that I love and highly encourage, you also don’t want to cause your audience to be confused because an event didn’t really fit your brand.
Those are some of the questions that I ask that really help to clarify the objectives of an event. These are not necessarily easy questions to answer, and they certainly aren’t one word or even one sentence answers. These are simply good prompts to start an ongoing conversation around the event to establish parameters. It’s also a good idea to revisit these questions and answers during the planning process, and use the responses as the preliminary measurement for an event’s success.
Amanda Luppino-Esposito is an event planner and blogger. By day she manages an events staff for a nonprofit in the Washington, DC area. By night she blogs about event planning and entertaining for Planning It All. Amanda loves events, details, and bringing people together. In her free time she loves visiting wineries, getting lost in a good book, and slowly decorating her new house in the Virginia countryside with her husband.