When you start to plan an event, one of the very first tasks on your event to-do list should be to create an event planning timeline. No matter your level of event planning experience, a timeline is a must-do for any and every event. If you’re not sure how to go about creating one, let us help you get started! We’ve put together an all-purpose planning template that you can use as-is or modify to suit your needs and preferences.
What Is an Event Planning Timeline, and How Much Time Does It Account for?
An event planning timeline is a checklist, in chronological order, of all the stages and steps involved in planning an event. It’s a long-term event timeline that accounts for up to 12 months of lead-in time prior to an event taking place.
The length of time the timeline accounts for varies depending on the nature of your event, and its size. For a small event, the planning checklist or timeline might be just one or two months long, with one or two phases. For a large annual event that has thousands of attendees or guests, the event timeline is up to 12 months, usually with multiple phases or stages.
Why Is It Important to Have a Planning Timeline?
Planning an event is a little like following a recipe. More accurately, it’s like following several different recipes all at once—and making sure each dish you’re cooking is finished to perfection—simultaneously! It’s virtually impossible to cook at such a level without creating a detailed timeline of everything you have to do, in the right order. The same is true of planning an event. Creating a timeline of every stage and step of planning, in the right order, is essential to getting it right.
Having an event planning timeline can ensure that you:
- Complete every task associated with planning an event and don’t inadvertently leave anything out.
- Meet all your event deadlines, including deadlines for renting seating, booking a venue, catering, music, and any other items you need to hire or services you need to contract for the event.
- Stick to your event budgeting, within each budget category and for the overall event.
- Coordinate multiple groups of people, requirements, and other elements so they’re all ready to go at the right time.
- Collaborate effectively with contractors so everyone who’s working on the event knows what to do when they arrive at the venue, without having to be closely supervised.
- Have enough time to incorporate any necessary additions or changes, without negatively impacting the event.
- Have enough time to deal with any problems that arise so they don’t affect the success of the event.
No matter how large or small an event is, creating and following a timeline can make planning that event easier. It gives you a guide to follow and ensures you don’t leave out any important details.
Quick Tips for Creating an Event Planning Timeline
An event planning timeline can be as simple or as detailed as you like. However, the more detailed your timeline is, the more useful it is. It may take longer to complete a detailed timeline, but a couple extra hours spent now will save you time and stress in the long term. Here are a few other tips for building an effective timeline.
Add Anchor Points First
In a timeline, an anchor point is a non-negotiable entry that has to be completed at a specific time. This might include entries such as client meetings, booking a venue, or paying deposits to vendors. These are items that you must complete on or before a certain date, that aren’t flexible, and that aren’t within your control.
Anchor points may seem like annoying or unnecessary burdens, but they can actually be a good thing. Anchors give you guidelines that can help you create a timeline that’s logical, consistent, and effective.
Account for Vendor Timelines
Vendors, suppliers, and other contractors have their own timelines. You’ll need to take them into account when preparing your event timeline, so you need an in-depth exchange of information when interviewing and hiring contractors. You each must know what the other’s timeline is to make sure you can fit yours and theirs together effectively. For instance:
- If your event is a seated banquet, how long will it take the caterer to prepare and serve each course?
- For a contractor who’s providing music at an event, how long do they need to set up equipment and perform sound checks?
- For a contractor who’s delivering prepackaged food and beverages, how much time will they need to unload your order? How does this mesh with your timeline of getting the items to where they need to be at the venue? What delivery time can you arrange that works for both of you?
Note that interviewing and hiring vendors is part of the initial phase of an event planning checklist. This means some parts of your short-term timeline won’t be finalized until you’ve completed this first stage. Make sure to account for this when creating timelines.
Schedule Buffer Time
No matter how complete and exhaustive your event planning timeline is, there’s always the risk of something happening that you haven’t accounted for:
- A vendor you’ve contracted for the event may unexpectedly go out of business.
- Your keynote speaker might cancel two weeks out from the event.
- Your biggest sponsor might back out, right after your marketing campaign goes live.
Problems like these can definitely put a bump in your carefully planned timeline. While you can’t exactly plan for problems to occur, you can schedule some buffers into your timeline. Then, if something does go wrong, the effect on your timeline isn’t as severe. The simplest way to do this is to add in some buffer time at the end of each major planning stage. As you get closer to the event itself, the buffer time will necessarily get shorter. For instance, at the six-month point, you might give yourself a buffer of one or two weeks. At the end of the three-month stage, it might be a week, while at the 1-month mark, it might be two or three days.
Event Planning Timeline
Not every entry below applies to every type of event. Each event is unique—a conference planning timeline won’t look the same as one for an award ceremony, for instance. For each new event you plan, you can remove any items that don’t apply and add entries that aren’t included. Or use this sample event plan as a starting point to create your own timeline templates for different kinds of events.
Make sure to note the dates of any anchor points and then reorder entries as needed to create a chronological timeline. In any given stage, add in entries as necessary for team meetings and other discussions with key decision-makers.
6-12 MONTHS OUT
- Identify event team or committee members, along with anyone else important to the planning process.
- Decide what to delegate, then assign roles and tasks to event team members.
- It may be helpful to work with them to develop their own timeline. This helps them keep track of their tasks, particularly if they’re working on multiple events or projects at the same time.
- Set the event date.
- Establish event goals and objectives.
- Determine the budget for the event.
- Choose a venue.
- Make sure to both submit and confirm your reservation for the venue.
- Define your target audience and/or guest list.
- Depending on the event, this may involve creating audience profiles and other documents that help define who your audience is.
- Develop invitation lists for invite-only events, including social gatherings and ceremonies to be held as part of larger events.
- Develop an event program/schedule that defines what’s happening at the event and when.
- Decide when to start registration and/or ticket sales, if applicable.
- Identify suitable keynote speakers, emcees, entertainment, plenary speakers, and other appropriate VIPs and special guests.
- Check availability, and book and confirm your choices ASAP.
- Choose other vendors.
- For instance, caterers, entertainment, equipment, accommodation.
- Review costs, timelines, and important dates and deadlines as part of the selection process.
- Plan out the event promotion campaign and any associated advertising and marketing.
- Determine whether marketing is done in-house or contracted out.
- Review costs, timelines, and important dates and deadlines as part of the planning process.
- Discuss options for press coverage, if applicable.
- Develop ideas for event programs/invitations and award/gift items.
- Contract a designer or use an in-house design team.
- Investigate costs and deadlines as part of the selection process.
- Review key decisions with the event team or committee and any other decision-makers.
3-6 MONTHS OUT
- Send out save-the-date notifications, if applicable.
- Finalize vendors.
- Check out options for any vendors that haven’t already been arranged, such as florists, photographer or videographer, and non-VIP entertainers.
- Book and confirm outstanding vendors.
- Confirm designs with florist.
- Confirm accommodation needs with appropriate vendors. Check the deadline for releasing unneeded rooms.
- Confirm all event VIPs, speakers, and special guests.
- Where applicable, gather biographical details for website/program entries.
- For speakers and presenters, confirm any AV/equipment/other requirements.
- Get final approval for necessary design items.
- Invitations and programs
- Printed marketing materials
- Award/gift items
- Place cards/name badges
- Review the venue’s safety and evacuation protocols.
3 MONTHS OUT
- List out any supplies that are needed for the event that aren’t being supplied by contractors/vendors.
- Place and confirm orders for needed supplies.
- Finalize the guest list for invitation-only events.
- Finalize and place orders for design items.
- Award/gift items
- Place cards/name badges
- Collate and confirm event program and schedule.
- Speaker/presentation order
- Topic confirmation
- Length of presentation
- AV requirements
- Contact VIPs to determine accommodation needs.
- Book and confirm VIP accommodation.
- Confirm catering menus, including special dietary requirements for invited guests.
- Determine event security needs.
- Book and confirm security service.
2 MONTHS OUT
- Assemble items for mail-out.
- Address and assemble invitations.
- Send items for mail.
- Send out digital invitations where applicable.
- Approve final copy for programs and any other printed materials.
- Do a venue walkthrough with applicable personnel; for instance, facility/venue manager, vendors, tech/AV services.
- Discuss tech/AV setups.
- Determine any need for directional/other signage.
MONTH OF EVENT
- Finalize guest list once RSVPs are received.
- Finalize VIP/guest accommodation.
- If applicable, release unneeded rooms before the hotel’s deadline. (Consider retaining a few to accommodate last-minute RSVPs.)
- Send any remaining printed items to the printer (no later than three weeks before the event or another date determined by the printer).
- Event programs
- Place cards/name badges
- Printed marketing materials
- Directional/other signage for venue
- Send any setup requests (e.g., AV setup) to appropriate venue parties.
- Arrange any press/PR events, e.g., send out press releases to appropriate news agents.
- Confirm photographer/videographer.
- Write up and share a list of photo opportunities.
- Create seating chart for any sit-down events.
- Develop any scripts needed for speakers/emcees at the event and distribute to the appropriate people.
- Develop cue sheets for the AV team, if applicable.
- Book transportation for speakers and VIPs.
- Confirm fees/honorariums for speakers and presenters.
- Send payment requests to admin/finance department, as applicable.
- Set up an on-site rehearsal/run-through if required.
- Send final email/mailout to guests/attendees, including:
- Suggested attire
- Map and directions
- Parking instructions where applicable
- Determine roles and responsibilities for on-site team on event day.
1 WEEK OUT
- Confirm transportation for speakers, VIPs, and special guests.
- Make any necessary revisions to accommodate late RSVPs.
- Final caterer confirmation.
- No later than 48 hours before the event, or as determined by the caterer.
- Make sure to provide an updated headcount according to latest RSVP numbers.
- Final confirmation for other vendors, including security, entertainment, equipment, flowers, etc.
- No later than 48 hours before the event, or as determined by the vendor.
- Review roles and responsibilities for your on-site team on event day.
- Finalize transportation for speakers and VIPs.
- Email or print media/remarks release forms for speakers and VIPs to sign.
- Distribute any remaining PR items, e.g., press releases, guest lists, VIP appearances.
DAY OF EVENT
- Arrive at event venue early for setup.
- Check AV/tech setups.
- Place any directional/instructional signage, place cards, badges, etc.
- Bring any required registration materials, e.g., guest list, name badges, card readers.
- Run an event walkthrough with your event staff.
- Run through roles and responsibilities, as necessary.
- Review locations of restrooms, elevators, stairs, and accessibility points.
- Review evacuation procedures, including fire exit locations.
- Have extra copies on hand of any planning materials, e.g., schedules, programs, agendas, cue sheets, and press releases.
- Check-in with vendors as needed. Provide any last-minute instructions or requests.