Event planning

This section will outline useful strategies to utilize when planning an event, as well as objectives to ensure the event is a best practice success. 

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Determining the event

The first item to establish is the “why?” behind an event. Answering the “why?” early in the planning process provides a focus for those involved and a guide for planning and delivering decisions. Key questions to ask include:

  • What is to be achieved by holding the event?
  • Is there a current need or interest in the area in which the event is focused?
  • Have there been similar events held on campus in the past? If yes, what was the response and feedback?
  • Is there enough time to thoroughly plan, publicize and promote the event internally or externally to ensure its success?
  • Are there resources available to execute the event?
  • How many people will be required to make the event a success?

Answering these questions becomes useful when working with other individuals or departments across campus on an event. Aligning on the objectives, theme, audience and format for the event early on will provide initial clarity and direction and will make the event planning process more efficient - putting the team in a better position to make the event a success. Clearly defining the "why?" behind an event also provides the opportunity to incorporate strong new ideas into the early planning stages and provides a strong foundation to base a post-event evaluation upon.

Defining the objectives 

Objectives will help ensure the event goals are clearly communicated to the immediate planning team and the broader audience in pre, during and post event messaging. The objectives will also help make event planning and decision making more efficient. When defining the objectives, it is important to make sure they are related directly to the event and to the desired outcome. Questions to ask during this process are:

  • What is the ultimate purpose of the event? (inform, network, fundraise, etc.)
  • What are the main goals you would like the event to accomplish?
  • Who will be attending the event?
  • When will the event take place?
  • Where will the event take place?
  • What is the potential size of the event?
  • Is the event formal or informal in tone?

The answers to the above questions can be used to establish objective statements.

Once identified, the objectives may serve to provide added inspiration for developing the event in terms of the overall style, duration and any incorporated activities.

The Community Relations and Events team is experienced in organizing and managing a wide variety of events and is available to discuss ideas at the development stage. The team also maintains a university-wide events calendar, which can help promote campus events and can be consulted to help avoid clashes in the timing or goals of events taking place across campus.

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Identifying a target audience 

A target audience is a specific group of people to which an event is marketed and aimed towards. When determining what target audience the event attempts to reach, it is important to ask questions such as:

  • Should the event appeal to a specific group of people or to a diverse audience?
  • What type of audience (i.e. students, faculty/staff and/or community members, etc.) will be invited to the event?
  • Will the target audience benefit from the event and will they see the need for the event?
  • How will the event best support the target audience and their interests?
  • Is the target audience easily accessible?

After answering these questions, it is common to have identified more than one target audience. It is important to understand the best methods for reaching each audience. One method does not always fit all audiences. While most students may be well served with a social media post or e-mail, reaching a community audience may take strategies such as traditional media and targeted print communication. 

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Choosing an event date and time

Time is one of the most valuable, and often overlooked resources in planning events. By beginning to plan well in advance, the chance of securing the best choice of date, venue, speaker/talent and guests increases substantially. It will also provide greater flexibility in dealing with unforeseen changes and/or developments along the way.

When deciding on an event date, it is critical to take into consideration statutory holidays, summer vacations, the start of the semester, etc. It is also important to consider the audience when deciding on the timing of your event. It may prove challenging to get a large audience on a Thursday or Friday afternoon or the day after a national holiday or break. When choosing a date, it is equally as important to confirm the date within the calendars of key participants (i.e. VIPs, emcee, speakers, key guests, etc.).

Consult Quest for important University of Waterloo student dates that may help in determining or eliminating an event date. 

When deciding on the timing of an event, it helps to draft a scenario or minute-by-minute schedule for the sequence of planned activities. Important time allowances to factor into your schedule include travel distance between parking locations and venue(s), networking periods, seating guests, speeches and/or presentation timing, and catering breaks. 

It can often help to think about what has worked at past events and incorporate these types of experiences into the planning process. The Community Relations and Events team can also be contacted for advice on timing for events.

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Budgeting for an event 

An event budget can act as a valuable outline of projected costs, which will provide an essential tool for monitoring estimates and expenditure. The Community Relations and Events team has designed both a basic and detailed Budget Template, available from the Planning Tools page, which can be used as a resource to track event costs. The Budget Template is simply an example template that can act as a guide. The Community Relations and Events team recognizes that budgets for events will vary greatly depending on their size and scope and teams may be most comfortable continuing to use their own versions.

The scope and detail included within an event budget will depend on the nature of the event and resources allocated to it. Standard costs to account for typically include:

  • Venue (if applicable)
  • Catered food & beverage
  • Décor​
  • Audio/visual equipment and infrastructure
  • Equipment rental (e.g. tables, chairs, stage, etc.)
  • Creative design and digital content generation
  • Printed promotions and materials (e.g. tickets, programs, ads, signage, etc.)
  • Media promotions (e.g. photographer, videographer etc.)
  • Speaker/talent fees (if applicable)
  • Speaker/talent travel and accommodations (if applicable)
  • Police and security (if applicable)
  • Safety and insurance 

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Choosing an event theme

Choosing an event theme is essential to the planning process as it provides the central idea through which the event is built. Similar to the event objectives, the defined theme will provide all those involved in the planning and execution process with clarity around event content and key messages. The overarching event theme is critical to the success of an event, and as such, it is important to determine the best way to communicate the thematic message. When deciding on an event theme it can be helpful to ask:

  • What type of theme will the event incorporate?
  • What types of thematic decor is needed?
  • What types of promotional materials are needed?
Type of theme Explanation and example
Examples of theme types
Audience

Built around audience demographic

(e.g. graduate students, Engineering Science Quest camps, etc.)

Topical

Built around message

(e.g. employer information session, Town Hall, etc.)

Locale

Built around a specific building or location

(e.g. Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre)

Story

Built around an editorial story

(e.g. history of the University of Waterloo Canada Day Celebration)

Content

Built around unique content

(e.g. Waterloo Innovation Summit)

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Sourcing an event venue

Venue is another key component to the success of an event and is impacted by the overarching event theme. The venue can serve to amplify the theme by providing the appropriate style of environment and experience. When choosing the location of an event, be it on or off campus, consider:

  • Student displacement impact 
  • Location availability
  • Distance to parking
  • Appearance and optics
  • Capacity
  • Stage and/or seating setup
  • Available facilities, equipment and amenities
  • Accessibility
  • Insurance and safety/emergency plans

The key factors in determining a venue will most likely include the location, availability and capacity. Touring potential venues for a site-visit is the most effective way to confirm whether a particular venue is a suitable option. The site-check also acts as a valuable way to determine the most appropriate layout for the event, including the proposed seating plan, registration area, reserved media seats and directional signage to and from the venue facilities and exits.

An event can often be held across more than one venue. Multiple venue options work most effectively when each of the venues are located in close proximity to each other, for example combining the J.G. Hagey Hall of the Humanities and the William M. Tatham Centre as co-host venues for a multi-phased event.

The Community Relations and Events team is available to advise on queries related to suitable venues for different types of events.

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Involving a VIP 

The involvement of VIPs is often critical to the success, return on investment and exposure of an event. VIPs can be internal or external to the university, and can vary in expertise, profile and speaking proficiency. The earlier a VIP is approached and invited to participate in or attend an event, the better, as their calendars are often booked many months in advance. This is particularly important when inviting a VIP to host or speak at an event, but also applies to VIP guests invited simply to attend.

Biographical information about a speaker or host for publicity material and/or briefing documents for internal administration or events staff is a valuable resource. Contact a VIP’s office to enquire whether they have approved promotional content and imagery for use to publicize a VIP’s involvement. Always ensure that a VIP’s team has approved any applicable content to be used in event communications and collateral. 

It is also important to ensure a VIP’s team has as much information on the event as needed, including background context, key messages, location, timing, speaking order including who is introducing the VIP, and any high-level notes to aid in speech preparation, including speaking duration and the identified target audience.

All key information can be shared in advance with a VIP’s team by providing a comprehensive briefing package including an event scenario and travel itinerary. 

It is recommended that the following elements be confirmed with a VIP’s office:

  • Event date(s), times, venue and parking
  • Style, format and duration of presentation
  • Special requirements for a speaker (e.g. audio/visual, dietary, etc.)
  • Details and terms of payment, if applicable. Specify in what form payment will be made and when, particularly for international visitors
  • Details of anticipated audience
  • Other key participants in the event
  • Other activities in which the person might like to participate while visiting and/or functions to which they are invited
  • Ensure that speakers are formally introduced at the event

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Identifying an appropriate external VIP host

The University of Waterloo has a rich network of partners, alumni, government officials and community supporters who can be approached to participate as host of an event. If planning to ask a VIP who is external to the university to preside over or host an event, the Community Relations and Events team is available to act as an initial conduit through which external suggestions and connections with such appropriate individuals can be made.

If planning to invite a government official or dignitary to an event, please contact Rob Esselment, Associate Vice-President, Government Relations to arrange the initial communication. Rob Esselment can be reached at resselment@uwaterloo.ca or ext. 32562.

Inviting the President or senior administration

As a leader in our community, President Feridun Hamdullaphur welcomes opportunities to participate at special events.

The Office of the President is engaged in the planning and delivery of any events that the President will preside over or have some type of involvement in.

If you would like to request the President’s participation in an event, please contact the Office of the President at president@uwaterloo.ca

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Incorporating entertainment

When deciding on whether local or high profile entertainment will be incorporated as part of an event program, the event objectives and overall theme should be considered. The entertainment engaged should support the message communicated to the target audience and enhance the desired event experience. Typical questions to aid in narrowing the decision when incorporating event entertainment include:

  • What type of attraction will best suit and interest the target audience? (e.g. music, activity, installation) 
  • What type of entertainment value, education or message will be shared?
  • What types of talent align with the theme of the event?

Similar to VIP speakers, when organizing talent and entertainment, it is best to contact an agent several months in advance to ensure availability.

The Community Relations and Event team is available to support as a liaison for your entertainment search, agreement and contract negotiations. 

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Developing a marketing and communications plan

The development of an effective marketing and communications plan is essential in the delivery of a successful event. Events are, in general, annual or special initiatives that take place in a specific and relatively short time frame. As such, there is always a finite period to plan and action marketing activities and a one-time-only chance to stage and promote an event.

By attracting the right type and level of attendees, these ideal influencers will help in creating the right atmosphere and experience an event aspires to offer, and will assist in incremental event promotions through word of mouth and independent social media conversation.

When preparing a Marketing and Communications Plan it is essential to consider available resources. There are three key resource factors to consider:

  • Budget – establish the basic marketing budget at the outset
  • Time – be aware of what is realistically feasible in the time frame available
  • Team – agree on roles and responsibilities and contact internal department sources for additional assistance 

The university’s Marketing and Strategic Communications (MSC) team is responsible for managing the institution's brand and reputation on our campuses and around the world. The Integrated Communications and Marketing, Media Relations, Digital Initiatives, Internal Communications and Creative Services teams work cohesively to support events and programs across campus, and can be contacted to support your event-related marketing and communication plan. 

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Building a guest list

The guest list is one of the most important elements in the event planning process. It ensures that the right audience is influenced by an event experience.

It is typically the responsibility of the individual event coordinator to pull together a targeted guest list. In addition to the guests outlined by the coordinating team, it may also be appropriate to ask other departments or colleagues within the university who share an interest in the event for suggestions and additions.

Compiling and tracking all invited guest information, including names, titles, affiliations and e-mail addresses on a master list aids in the efficiency and effectiveness of event attendee communications. Tasking one individual with the management of a master list will ensure all updates are accurately tracked and accounted for across involved teams.

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Inviting and registering guests 

Registration is an important element of any event. It facilitates the accurate tracking of attendee information as well as the overall number of attendees. Tracking registration numbers allows visibility into RSVP outcomes, indicating whether additional guests need to be invited to boost registration or if a follow up invitation or reminder is required.

Within the university, there are currently limited options in regards to the type of online registration management tool approved for use. A registration page can be created and customized to an event by utilizing the Waterloo Content Management System (WCMS), or through an externally supported platform, such as Ticketfi.

Depending on the size and scope of the event, invitations should ideally be sent out six weeks in advance of an event, factoring in time for designing, proofing, printing and addressing invitations.

Invitations can be sent online in HTML format to ensure they are discernable on all devices and online platforms, or a more traditional printed invitation can be mailed to internal and/or external invitees. The choice for type of invitation used will depend largely on the event audiences and their preferred method for receiving information and communications.

The Community Relations and Events team is available to offer advice and guidance on appropriate and effective invitation language and content. 
 

For more detailed information on invitation design and production, visit the Planning Resources section. 

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Developing a work-back schedule 

A work-back schedule is a valuable planning tool that helps in identifying milestone elements within the event planning phases. Creating a work-back schedule can protect the planning team from setting unreasonable expectations for an event phase element. The team is able to foresee and establish any required buffer or lead times and ensure timelines are reflected in the work-back schedule. The work-back may also reveal additional task requirements an event team must meet that were not considered previously.

To build a work-back schedule:

  • List what needs to be in place for the event to run efficiently and fluidly on and before the event date     
  • Break each line item down into the detailed steps that need to take place in order to complete a particular task:
  1. What tasks need to be accomplished?
  2. Who is responsible for accomplishing each task?
  3. By what date does a task need to be accomplished?
  • Once each item has been broken down into steps, determine which tasks need to occur first, in priority sequence, and often simultaneously. Begin building tasks into your work-back schedule, adjusting, adding and editing as your planning process moves forward.

Download a copy of a sample Work-back schedule from the Planning Tools page. 

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Executing the event  

Event execution truly begins at least two weeks prior to an event, with the focus placed on the build-up and event day run-through. At this stage, all contingency plans are prepared and ready for implementation.

Event execution details, including key participants involved, venue notes, minute-by-minute flow and contact information can be summarized in one comprehensive event scenario document, which can be used as a reference tool for the planning team and key participants during execution. The event scenario will help the team remain organized throughout the event and ensure all key pieces of information needed to ensure a smooth execution are close at hand.

Building out the detailed event scenario will also provide the opportunity to re-confirm the date, location and timing for the event with respect to the venue, VIP offices, catering, audio/visual technicians, event volunteers, parking and any other key individuals or organizations involved in the event.  

Request a sample Event Scenario from the Planning Tools page.   

A more detailed minute-by-minute schedule can also be drafted to clarify the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in delivering the event. A minute-by-minute schedule can be used as a basis for briefing the broader execution team and can act as a hypothetical walk-though document.

Request a detailed Minute-by-Minute schedule sample from the Planning Tools page.  

During the execution of a large-scale, multi-phased event, it may be helpful to create an event resource binder. The binder will contain critical information you need on site. A resource binder may include;

  • Comprehensive contact list including e-mails and cell phone numbers (e.g. volunteers, team members, speakers, suppliers)
  • Detailed event agenda
  • List of the order of speaking participants and their titles
  • List of available parking, accommodation, and other operational elements
  • Logistics documents including talent contracts, insurance forms, tent and staging permits, etc.

It is recommended that the planning team set aside time to meet and run-through the detailed day-of event flow, to ensure all team members are clear on their responsibilities and time requirements. An event run-through will help identify any potential challenges or factors that had not been considered in the planning phase, with an opportunity to construct contingency plans around possible challenges.

Post event, there are various elements that will require an event team’s time and attention. It may be necessary to contact attendees who were not in attendance, send thank you e-mails or cards to those who attended, supported or presented as part of the event, ensure vendors are paid, etc. This is also an opportunity to inform those who attended of the next iteration of the event that will take place, if applicable. 

It is also suggested that event coordinators create an event toolkit, consisting of some or all of the following items:

  • First aid kit
  • Scissors
  • Rubber bands
  • Scotch tape
  • Duct tape
  • Mechanical tape
  • Highlighter
  • Pens
  • Sharpies
  • Post it note pad
  • Business cards
  • Pad of paper
  • Sticky tack
  • Zip ties
  • Phone charger
  • Sunscreen
  • Bottle of windex/pads of glass cleaner wipes
  • Roll of paper towel
  • Measuring tape
  • Extension cord
  • Notice of photography signs (laminated/reusable)
  • Garbage bags
  • Rubber gloves
  • Branded UWaterloo umbrella
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Nametags
  • Mac adaptor
  • Wireless clicker
  • Brush and dustpan
 

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Evaluating key learnings

A critical factor in an event’s best practice process is effective and immediate post-event evaluation. Reviewing metrics and identified measures of success (e.g. objectives, desired goals and outcomes, opinions of attendees, marketing and communications conversions, media pick-up, etc.) can provide useful insights into improving the event for future executions. Additionally, monitoring actual event spending against the budget estimate will provide useful lessons for future events in terms of cost-savings and necessary expenditure.

The process by which teams debrief and evaluate events varies and can be handled using different methods, including using feedback from attendees and colleagues captured through a survey, measuring timeline success, or drafting a fluid documentation of the successes and failures encountered by the execution team.

Although debriefing metrics and methods may vary, the key learnings distilled from the evaluation process are critical aspects of the event planning process. These key learnings will provide information that can be shared with the event planning team and will help improve planning and executions for future iterations of an event. 

Territorial acknowledgement

When planning your event, it is important to respectfully acknowledge the Aboriginal land on which the event is being held. If your event is being hosted at the University of Waterloo, the Community Relations and Events team recommends the event emcee include the following communication in your introductory speaking remarks: 

(The Host, i.e. The University of Waterloo) acknowledges that we are on the traditional territory of ‎ the Neutral, Anishnawbe and Haudenosaunee peoples. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, the land promised to the Six Nations that includes six miles on each side of the Grand River.

For more information, please visit the St. Paul's University College, Waterloo Aboriginal Education Centre website

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