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Association Management

17 Event Planning Tips for Engaging, Streamlined Events

MemberClicks Avatar MemberClicks January 12, 2022
Table of Contents
11 min read

More organizations than ever are leaning into events (whether virtual or in-person) to pull in prospective members and engage current ones. A recent survey showed that the virtual event market alone is expected to be worth $504.76 billion by 2028.

As you begin putting together your events, you’ll want to create a robust plan so your future conferences and events are efficient and engaging for attendees, no matter what is thrown your way. 

That’s why we’ve pulled together 17 event planning tips to help you get started:

  • 9 Event Planning Tips for Improved Events
  • Ask the Experts: 3 Pro Event Planning Tips
  • 5 Event Planning Tips for Virtual Events

9 Event Planning Tips for Improved Events

Before you dig too deep into planning your next event, brush up on these tips that are designed to help you create a more effective and engaging conference for your attendees.

1. Start your planning process early.

Waiting to the last minute to nail down details for your event means that you may forget things or preferred vendors may no longer be available for your event date. So start putting together the details of your event well in advance. 

If this is a recurring event, some of the minutiae is likely worked out already, so you don’t need quite as much time to plan. But for a net-new event, the ideal is to start tackling details—setting a date, booking vendors and a venue, setting up catering, getting equipment rentals, and the other tasks on your to-do list—around four to six months ahead of your event.

2. Establish clear, quantifiable goals.

Do you know what you want to accomplish with your event? For example, do you want to attract a specific number of attendees? Maybe you’d like to recruit 20 new members for your association from the event or establish your organization as an authority in your industry? Whatever the motivation, set some clear objectives to guide your efforts. This can help set your efforts up for success. According to a recent study, 76% of people who wrote down goals and sent weekly progress reports to an accountability buddy met their objectives

Sit down with fellow organizers to create a set of SMART goals around these success metrics. Use data points like attendee feedback from previous events and previous attendee numbers to establish your goals.

3. Define your audience.

To organize your event, you’ll need to have an understanding of who you’re targeting. When you thoroughly know your audience, you can plan an event that caters to their tastes and interests. 

Who is your ideal attendee? Your target audience will inevitably impact the content of your conference. That includes the speakers you select and how you create your marketing campaign to promote your event. So, it’s crucial to narrow down the kind of people you’ll invite.

While you might normally just invite your members, as previously mentioned, virtual events offer the chance to broaden your audience and increase your reach in the process. You have the opportunity to also target prospective members as well to potentially bring them into the fold of your organization. 

Lean on member and prospective member personas to nail down the characteristics of those whom you want to invite—then you can adjust your targeting accordingly.

4. Get audience feedback before you start planning.

You don’t have to wait until your event is over to solicit valuable feedback—gather insights before you host your event. Send out a survey to previous event attendees and current members who align with your target audience and ask for their thoughts. 

For example, are there any topics they want an industry expert to discuss? Or a hot-button issue they want multiple perspectives on via a panel of speakers? Or do attendees prefer an all-online conference or a hybrid event?

Once you’ve gathered their feedback, you can integrate the best suggestions into your event planning.

5. Craft a multi-channel marketing plan.

As you put together the details for your big day, you’ll also need a cohesive marketing strategy to promote your event. You’ll obviously need to let prospective attendees know the details of your event, but don’t just keep it to one channel.

As part of your strategy, make sure you spread the word across multiple mediums, including email, social media, and your website. In every communication you deploy, make sure you include details of your event, how to sign up, and all the benefits of attending via:

  • Emails to members and previous event attendees
  • Posts on your branded social channels
  • Details posted on your organization’s website
  • Info in your regular newsletter
  • Get speakers/prominent attendees to share details with their social networks

6. Create a budget and stick to it.

During the planning process, you’ll inevitably have to outline the forecasted cost of your event. To avoid blowing your entire annual budget on a single event, it’s wise to set a realistic budget, complete with an outline of line-items costs that’ll contribute to that bottom-line number.

To help you establish a realistic number, shop around for pricing for your major costs, like your venue, staffing, equipment rentals, and catering. Ask for quotes from two to three vendors in each category, and use those to inform your budget.

7. Build an event agenda

A major part of the event planning process is settling on your schedule for the day of the conference. You’ll need to consider a few key questions, including:

  • Will you host keynote speakers, a speaker panel, a Q&A, or all of these?
  • Will you include a workshop (or multiple) to discuss trending issues in your industry?
  • Will you create breakout sessions following main speaker sessions to further engage attendees?
  • Should you establish multiple content tracks (and corresponding agendas) for attendees to “choose their own adventure”?

Once you’ve nailed down what kind of sessions you want to create, set up the sequence for the day. Establish a realistic pace for your audience, including multiple breaks throughout the day. Your team can refer back to this schedule to stay on task on the day of your conference.

8. Showcase your sponsors effectively.

When organizing a virtual conference, you don’t need to go it alone when it comes to financing the event. Contact potential sponsors to discuss funding opportunities in exchange for multiple benefits—including exposure with your audience.

Plan for how you want to feature your sponsors, including:

  • App for attendees. Use an event app to recognize sponsors, send push notifications, and ensure attendees have easy access to their itinerary.
  • Sponsor marketplace. Just because your event is online doesn’t mean you can’t cater to valuable sponsors. The right conference platform will have features to accommodate a digital sponsor marketplace that attendees can navigate to find relevant products and services.
  • Marketing materials. You can add more value for sponsors by outlining all the benefits of their participation in your event’s marketing materials, and creating audience exposure via shout-outs throughout the event.

9. Have a backup plan in case something goes wrong.

It’s inevitable that something won’t go as planned on the day of your event. A microphone could go out mid-speech, a presentation won’t pull up on screen, or attendees have trouble logging into your conference software—there’s always a chance something could go awry.

To help curb these kinds of issues, create a plan to combat these issues. That may mean considering common issues, like attendees having trouble logging on, and sending them a troubleshooting guide ahead of the event. Consider having a technical expert on hand on the day of your conference can be a great contingency in case any complicated issues arise.

You should also have backup equipment (like an extra microphone) on hand just in case. As part of your plan, also include scenarios that could be necessary if you run into issues during your event. Consider how you’d adjust your agenda if a speaker can’t attend due to an emergency, or plan how you’d move an in-person event online, if needed.

Ask the Experts: 3 Pro Event Planning Tips

If you need some inspiration while planning your event, just peruse the expert advice of these three event pros:

1. Lindsay Smith, Director of Marketing at MemberClicks

“Don’t forget the small details! Those personal touches can really heighten your event and your attendees’ overall experience. It will require a little extra work onsite, but trust me, you won’t regret it. Your attendees will notice.

One example of adding in small, fun details was the FUGA Shack at MC LIVE! 2018, MemberClicks’ technology conference designed to help association and chamber professionals thrive. FUGA stands for Feature User Gap Analysis, and by requesting a FUGA report, you can see how well you’re utilizing your MemberClicks system. 

Sounds a little dry, right? Well…ok, it is. But we made it fun by turning the room in which you review and analyze your report into a tropical FUGA shack. We had leis, non-alcoholic margaritas (gotta keep it professional!), and someone in a festive suit! Details make your event fun—and memorable!”

2. Krissy Conant, Marketing Specialist at MemberClicks

“It’s crucial that you find event contacts that you can rely on in your industry. Whether it’s for swag, lodging, or rental spaces, you need to know that you have good, reliable people handling those matters without them hanging over your head. (You have enough to handle already!)

Even better, when you’re looking to research new contacts/companies (for a resource you’ve never utilized before), go to your reliable contacts first and see if they have any strong recommendations. Chances are, they won’t do you wrong. And best of all, it’ll save you a ton of time!”

3. Alex Davis, Senior Marketing Specialist at MemberClicks

“Don’t fear the negotiation process. When you’re planning an event, there are many things that you will have to negotiate—from the food and beverages to the audio visual services. When you’re engaged in this process, don’t be afraid to push back a bit. There is always wiggle room and it could save your organization a chunk of change.

Also, treat your sponsors like gold. They’re paying to be there, and that’s a relationship that should be nurtured from the moment they sign the dotted line and hand over a check. Make sure to collect their feedback after the show so you can get an idea of how much value you were able to deliver, address any concerns, and continuously make event sponsorship an exceptional experience that vendors will want to be a part of.”

5 Event Planning Tips for Virtual Events

Virtual events are only growing in popularity, and they have their unique advantages and challenges. But with these targeted tips for planning virtual events, you can put together a strategy to create a truly engaging online conference.

1. Choose a robust virtual event management tool.

An easy way to set yourself up for success is choosing the right tools. And at the top of the list for tools you’ll need is the right event management platform.

Not only do you need an event tool to efficiently host your conference on the big day, but it also helps to have software that helps with attendee registration and marketing. This kind of all-in-one platform makes the job of planning and promoting your event that much easier.

2. Determine how you’ll engage virtual participants.

You’ll also need to consider how you’ll keep your attendees’ attention. Audience engagement is also the biggest challenge organizers face with virtual events.

So, how do you engage your attendees effectively?

As with membership engagement, you may need to deploy multiple tactics to keep your audience’s attention throughout your event. Some of these tactics could include:

  • Encourage audience members to submit questions to speakers during the conference
  • Take live polls throughout the day asking for attendees’ thoughts and opinions
  • Send attendees push notifications to remind them when it’s time to return after a break or dispatch important updates throughout the day
  • Set up discussion groups on topics speakers touch on and encourage attendees to join
  • Use gamification to reward engagement, like awarding badgers or points for asking questions or joining discussions. Reward the “most engaged” person with a prize at the end of the day.

3. Prepare speakers and presenters with everything they need.

Now, it’s time to ensure your speakers have everything they need to succeed. Keep in mind that this may be their first time presenting. Even if they’re seasoned speakers, they’ll need all the details well in advance of the big day.

That means they should have everything they need for the day of the event. For live speakers, make sure they have the right setup at home—that might mean a ring light, a high-quality microphone, and ensure they understand how to use your conference software to stream their session. 

For speakers who pre-record their talk, they should have recording software, a high-quality microphone, lighting, and should send you their recording ahead of time so you can ensure it works prior to the event.

4. Test run your event to identify technical difficulties.

To ensure you’re prepared for the big day, host a dry run of your event. A few days before your event, get together with your organizers and walk through every detail for the day of. Try to register both online and on-site to ensure it’s a breeze on the big day. Try to log in as a virtual attendee. Make sure you have a copy of all your speakers’ presentations so they’re queued up and ready to go. And ensure you have all the equipment you’ll need for the live portion of the event. 

Doing a test run this way can help you and your team identify any issues and tackle them before the big day—that way, you won’t be scrambling to correct any problems on the day of.

5. Ask attendees for feedback after the event.

Send a post-event feedback survey to ask their opinions about your event. What were the event’s strengths and areas for improvement, from their perspective? 

You can then take that feedback forward to plan better events in the future.

Moving Forward With Planning Your Next Engaging Event

Whether you’re working on a virtual event or a hybrid conference, hosting events can boost your profile in your industry and increase membership engagement

Now that you’re armed with more than a dozen effective event planning tips, you can confidently take the next steps to create a rewarding conference for attendees. 

Need some additional guidance to get you started? Learn more about planning association events with our guide to event planning for associations.

Free Member Retention Guide

Ready to retain members and keep them coming back forever and ever? This guide will teach you everything you need to know about member retention. We cover all the basics, like the first steps to member retention and how to map out your member journey. From there, we dive a bit deeper into retention tips.