Event planning considerations

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

Determining event objectives

The first item to establish is why you are holding the event and the overall goals you are trying to achieve. Identifying this early in the planning process focuses on those involved and a guide for planning and delivering decisions. Key questions to ask include:

  • 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 makes up the target audience(s) for the event?
  • What is your goal for the number of attendees?
  • What is the key message you hope that attendees will take away?

Objectives will ensure the event goals are clearly communicated to the immediate planning team and the broader audience in pre, post-event messaging. The objectives will also help make event planning and decision making more efficient. 

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

Identifying a target audience 

A target audience is a specific group of people to which an event is marketed and aimed towards. This is a key factor that plays into defining your event objectives. When determining what target audience the event attempts to reach, it is important to ask questions such as:

  • 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? (i.e. Food choices, speaking remarks/content, and program format should all factor in what will appeal to your target audience).
  • 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 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. 

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 consider 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 important to confirm the date within the calendars of key participants (i.e. VIPs, emcee, speakers, key guests, etc.).

Consulting Quest for important University of Waterloo student dates may help determine or eliminate 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 experiences into the planning process. The Community Relations and Events team can also be contacted for advice on timing for events.

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 recognize 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 

Sourcing an event venue

The 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:

  • Should this event be in-person or virtual? 
  • Virtual
    • If virtual, what are the key factors or applications that I need the platform to have (i.e. Networking capabilities, IT support, etc.)
  • In-person
    • Student displacement impact 
    • Location availability (and representation for the event. i.e. holding an environment event in an environmentally friendly building such as EV3)
    • Distance to parking
    • Appearance and optics
    • Capacity (big enough, but not so large that the room feels empty when all of your guests arrive)
    • 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.

Booking locations on campus can be challenging because space is owned by different departments across campus. The Community Relations and Events team is available to advise on location ownership and queries related to suitable venues for different types of events.

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 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 inquire 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 the 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 the 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

Identifying an external 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 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 Kerri Behling, Senior Manager of Government Relations to arrange the initial communication.

Inviting the President or senior administration

As a leader in our community, the President of the University of Waterloo 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 submit a request for participation form

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. There is always a finite period to plan and action marketing activities and a chance to stage and promote an event.

By attracting the right type and level of attendees, these ideal influencers will help create the right atmosphere and experience an event aspires to offer and 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. They can be contacted to support your event-related marketing and communication plan. 

Building a guest list

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

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 event attendee communications' efficiency and effectiveness. Tasking one individual with a master list management will ensure all updates are accurately tracked and accounted for across involved teams.

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 allow 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.

There are currently limited options within the university regarding 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 event's size and scope, invitations should ideally be sent out six weeks in advance of an event, factoring in time for designing, proofing, printing and addressing invitations. This recommended time is shorter for virtual events (closer to 4 weeks).

Invitations can be sent online. These can be in the form of a memo or a designed e-vite. We recommend using a platform like MailChimp, which also tracks open rates. Please test to ensure that your invitation is viewable on all devices and online platforms.

Alternatively, a more traditional printed invitation can be mailed to internal and/or external invitees. The choice for the type of invitation used will depend largely on the event audiences and their preferred method for receiving information and communications. We encourage you to consider the environmental implications before deciding on this choice of invitation. 

Developing a work-back schedule 

A work-back schedule is a valuable planning tool that identifies 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 can 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 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. 

Executing the event  

Event execution truly begins at least two weeks before 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.

An event scenario document will help the team remain organized throughout the event and ensure all key pieces of information needed to ensure a smooth execution are in one concise document. This document should include all location details, key participants' names and information, and outline the itinerary schedule. Once this document is complete, we recommend sending it to all participants so that everyone understands the flow of the event.  

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.  On this page, you will also find a template for a virtual event scenario and cue sheet to help you think through how virtual logistics differ and will allow you to review a screen-by-screen depiction of the virtual event.

A more detailed minute-by-minute schedule can also be drafted to clarify everyone's roles and responsibilities 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-through document. This is generally used for more complex events and is not shared with the speakers. A detailed Minute-by-Minute schedule sample can be found on 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.

We strongly recommend a run-through of the contact and agenda with all speakers and participants for virtual events. This allows you to ensure everyone gets logged into the platform without trouble and allows you to check the audio and visual for each participant. Outlining the platform's technical capabilities will help all participants feel comfortable on event day and allow them an opportunity to ask any questions about the agenda. 

Post-event evaluation and key learnings

Post-event, various elements will require an event team’s time and attention. If deemed appropriate, it is helpful to send a post-event email that includes a survey of questions about the event. This helps you gather information should like to improve upon the event in the future, or make sure that you are correctly appealing to your audience's interest. This follow-up email is also an opportunity to inform those who attended the next iteration of the event that will occur, if applicable. 

A critical factor in an event’s best practice process is effective and immediate post-event evaluation. Reviewing metrics and identified success measures (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 regarding 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 improve planning and executions for future iterations of an event. 

Finally, after an event, it is always a good idea to round out your relationships with speakers, vendors, colleagues etc. with a thank you note. This helps build on your goodwill should you need to work with these individuals in the future.

Territorial acknowledgement

When planning your event, it is important to respectfully acknowledge the Indigenous 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 most senior speaker shares the following communication in your introductory speaking remarks: 

It is important to reflect and acknowledge the University of Waterloo’s campuses in Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge are situated on the Haldimand Tract, land 6 miles on each side of the Grand River granted to the Haudenosaunee of Six Nations. 

The land inside and surrounding the Haldimand Tract, including our Stratford campus, is the traditional territory of the Attawandaron, Anishinaabe, and Haudenosaunee.

Event supplies

If you regularly plan events, it can be helpful to build out a kit that you bring to each event. We call this our 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 charge
  • 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