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To Plan Great Events, Ask These Questions First — Advice from Facebook’s Event Manager

Anyone who’s ever planned an event knows how much it takes behind the scenes to make it come together. Guest blogger, Marissa McCombs, Event Manager for Facebook and Instagram provides insight into planning a successful event. From asking your client the right questions to finding inspiration (hint: Instagram) she shares her fool-proof tips.

People always remark when I say I’m an event manager, “what a fun and easy job it must be!” Yes, it can be fun (and at times not so fun) but categorizing it as an easy job is not what comes to mind when explaining what I do. There are a lot of factors to take into account when planning an event, so I have created a guide to help establish the best plan for your event.

Step One: Know Your Client

Events you plan should take into account your client’s needs, brand, and goal whether that be for branding, marketing, sales or recruiting. Knowing your client’s needs and asking the right questions will ensure you are planning a successful event for them. Schedule a face-to-face meeting and ask the right questions:

Important questions to ask:

  • Why are you planning this event?
  • What is the goal?
  • What outcomes do you hope to result from this event?
  • Is this a social/networking event or are you planning a talk or panel? Is this a conference or one-day event? What are the hours of your event?
  • Do you need quiet spaces at the event for conversations?
  • Are you launching a new product at this event?
  • Will there be media present?
  • Who is the target audience for the event?
  • How many attendees are you anticipating?
  • Do you have VIP guests?
  • What is your budget?

The last question is the most important one. If you are an in-house event manager, budget will be something you come to the table with. If you are an outside firm, make sure this question is top of list so you know what you have to work with. The scale and scope of what you will be able to produce is largely contingent on the budget you are working with.

Remember, your client is not an event manager so they likely don’t know how all the costs add up. Try to deliver on all the things they request, while providing suggestions on where budget can be better utilized if some of the items they request will eat through a large portion of budget without adding a ton of value to the overall event experience. Don’t be afraid to offer fun alternatives which may help save money and create additional enthusiasm around your event.

Establishing this baseline will help you plan the event and choose the venue and aesthetics. Knowing your client and the audience will also determine the next step… planning!

Step Two: Planning & Timelines

Once you have determined what your client’s needs are for throwing this event, establishing a timeline for the event is best. I give a week by week deliverable guideline to ensure who is responsible and for what. This also allows for check-ins to track the progress of the event. For events sized 75-500 we have a six and a half  week lead time at minimum for planning. For smaller events like dinners, etc. we require three and a half to four weeks. This sets up all invested  parties with a timeline that is achievable. Of course this always the ideal situation but there are those times you don’t get as much lead time. In those instances, make sure to communicate what can be done in a short timeframe as a way of setting expectations.

Things to Consider:

  • Are we giving away swag, take-aways, etc?
  • Do we need a new design image/logo for this event?
  • Posters/signage
  • Guest lists
  • Event page and design or paper invites
  • Custom pieces for event: calligraphy, sign art, walls, décor, etc.

Step Three: The Search Begins

This can be the most difficult part. You can search and search and find the venue of your dreams and it’s not available on the date you need.

There are a few things that drive guests to events. Knowing what the main draw is (the venue, the speakers, the product, the brand) will help in finding the right space and creating the event. If the space is going to be a huge draw, find something that would excite guests to come. If you have a larger budget, sometimes just getting an empty warehouse you can dress up is the most fun. You can bring in themed aesthetics or custom brand pieces that will engage and excite guests visually.

The venue should fit or pair with the goal of the event and the brand of the company. For Instagram events, I always tend to find spaces that are inspiring and photo-worthy or have potential to be dressed up nicely with aesthetics. For Facebook events, I go back to the roots, warehouse type spaces that embody a sense of Facebook offices and culture. Whatever space you choose, adding things like uplights, gobo’s signage, and rentals can dress it up. When visiting a blank space try to think of the things it can become, not what it is.

You might also enjoy: Advice that will help you pick out the right venue

Step Four: Finding All Your Vendors

Once you have selected a space, asking if they have a preferred vendor list or if you can bring your vendors is the first question I ask. Catering, AV, decals, florals, rentals, lighting & sound, can all add up and having partners you have used and trust helps ensure an easy load-in and out. Pricing is usually fair with vendors you have used, so if and when using a new vendor, get those negotiation chaps on. Look at their pricing and what they are charging you. I can’t count the number of times I found hidden fees in a contract.

Choosing items your guests will like and knowing that audience’s preferences is best. For example, my Engineering groups love hearty foods like sliders and don’t care as much about aesthetics. I focus on the food for those events, while with Design I make sure both food and event aesthetics are pleasing to the eye.

Planning your event should be a fun and creative process. There are so many outlets now to get inspiration (hint to Instagram – wink) so make sure you open yourself up to suggestions and ideas. This will make you better as an event manager and keep your clients wanting more!

Explore these unique event venues in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, and Austin.

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About the Author

Marissa McCombs
Marissa heads up events for Facebook’s Product and Marketing teams, as well as Instagram’s organization. She has a passion for intricate details at events that drive people to the product and companies she represents.

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