Whether you’re a seasoned event planner or you’re planning your business’s first big fundraiser, there are literally hundreds of details to keep track of. From the guest list to the marketing plan to the choice of napkin rings, it’s important that every detail is aligned with the event’s mission and your clients’ needs.

At large, high caliber events, it’s almost inevitable that something will go wrong, whether it’s a dead mic outlet, a spilled glass of wine, or a late speaker. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you’re prepared for the event, and for any mishaps!

In this short guide, we’ll share our event planning checklist, broken down into categories so that you can easily visualize each step along the way to a successful event.

Event basics

Well in advance of your event, decide on the “basic fundamentals” so that you can plan the event around them in broad strokes and fine details.

  • Goals – In consultation with your clients or event stakeholders, outline the event’s goals. Whether it’s a wedding meant to celebrate a unique love story or a fundraiser for a charity, these goals will shape every choice to come.
  • Date – From developing a parking plan to sending out invitations, the date sets everything in motion!
  • Theme/Design – Create a mood board or a specific theme for the event to help inspire you as you begin searching for venues and vendors.
  • Communication– Whether it’s just sending invitations or creating a Facebook event, communicating clearly with your guests and vendors is the key to success. An event website can help keep the timeline up to date, especially for last-minute changes.

Then, get started mapping out the specifics of your event plan.


Begin planning with the full scope of the event budget in mind, including the deposit, payment plan, and final balance due (with all vendors accounted for). Then:

  • Search for venues that can fulfill the events’ goals (without draining the event budget)
  • Find vendors who are both affordable and reliable (ask them to send in bids)
  • Make deposits to all relevant venues and vendors to secure your date
  • Understand payment agreements so that your vendors are paid in a timely manner

We’ll circle back to vendors and venues since your agreements with these crucial service providers can make or break the success of your future event.

Venue details

Once you’ve secured your venue, make sure it’s properly vetted.

  • Capacity – What is the maximum capacity of your venue? Make sure that you won’t max it out between vendors, event attendees, security, and last-minute RSVPs. Otherwise, you may void your insurance policy.
  • Permits – If your municipality requires alcohol licensing or a noise permit, make sure you secure these permits in advance.
  • Rain location – If your future event is outdoors, can you secure a rain location in the event of severe weather? Make sure you understand how a change in location affects your contracts, deposits, and liability.
  • Rain date – A “rain date” can cover much more than rain. If occurrences like storms, road closures, or government shutdowns may prevent your event, make sure you have a contingency plan.
  • Emergency plan – Likewise, develop an evacuation plan in case of an emergency. Have local emergency numbers saved in your phone and written down on paper.
  • Transportation and parking – If you’re hiring out buses, golf carts, or other vehicles, make sure the transportation company carries adequate insurance. Clearly label the parking lot to avoid accidents, and make sure your event insurance covers the premises.

Vendor communication

As an event planner, not everything is in your control. However, partnering with reliable vendors and clearly communicating your expectations can help mitigate your risks.

  • Food and beverage vendors – Make sure your food vendor is aware of any dietary restrictions and clearly label all menu items. Require vendors to carry their own general liability insurance to reduce your liability in case they forget to mention a nut flour or dairy product.
  • Security – If security is helping to keep your big event orderly and safe, be sure the security company carries insurance as well.
  • Lighting, sound, and technology – If the venue does not provide a technical team, contract with a reliable vendor. Ask them to take out insurance, and share their emergency plan in case of WiFi and electrical outages or faulty equipment.
  • Entertainment and talent – Understand your contract with your entertainer. In addition to paying a deposit, setting up travel and accommodations, and preparing a dressing room, create a contingency plan in case emergency strikes. What happens in the event that they’re a no-show? Will they return the deposit? Do you have event cancellation insurance in the event of their absence?

Setting up

Eventually, the big day will arise. Depending on the depth of your decorations, you may need to add to this list, but be sure you have a plan for the following setup items:

  • Tables and chairs – Give copies of the seating chart to security and assistant planners.
  • Signs – Distribute clear signage throughout the venue, including any safety signs.
  • Decorations – From balloons to candles to curtains, make sure you have a comprehensive checklist of all the decorations you’ve purchased so that each one finds its proper place.
  • Emergency kit – An emergency kit can contain items like lighters for candle wicks, First Aid items like Advil, flashlights in case of power outages, and anything else you might need to help make guests comfortable throughout your event.

Event planning is risk mitigation

A successful event hinges upon the planner’s foresight. With a careful planning process, due diligence, and creating safeguards should something go wrong, your event will be smooth sailing (and one to remember!). As they say: expect the unexpected.

Remember to:

  • Outline the event basics
  • Create and stick to a budget
  • Find and vet a venue
  • Open lines of communication with your vendors (set expectations)
  • Set up the event with careful foresight
  • Make sure you’re insured

You might need to add a few steps of your own (being that all events are unique), but by using this framework, you’ll set your event up for success.