As fun as the job sounds, party and event planning is serious work — just ask the professionals. According to Smart Meetings Magazine, the event planning industry employs 1.7 million people and brings in $458 billion annually. But you don’t have to be a specialist to throw a great party — you just need to follow our party-planning guide. After all, the key to a great party is great planning. We’ll walk you through the planning process so you can make sure your next event is one to remember (for all the right reasons.)
Hone your vision
Getting what you want starts with knowing what you want, so begin by articulating your goals. Don’t worry about the nitty-gritty of logistics yet — that will come later. At the moment, focus on brainstorming ideas and ideals so you have a clear sense of what you want to achieve. Start with the basics:
- Will your party be big or small? Start assembling a guest list so you know how many people you’ll need to accommodate. A rough head count is important because it affects decisions such as venue, meal planning and entertainment options.
- What about tone? Is this going to be a formal affair or a laid-back get-together? Again, this kind of decision informs later planning, so it’s good to get it out of the way sooner rather than later.
- What’s the point of the event? Will it be a celebration, or a fundraising opportunity? Will there be a guest of honor or a main event? Are people mingling, listening to a speaker, or both? Make sure you note everything guests and the hosts are supposed to get out of the event, so all needs can be considered.
- What kind of venue do you want? Think outside the box: can you use a stadium or a retreat center? What about a college or historical site? Remember, brainstorming is all about wishful thinking. You can have a hard conversation about your budget later. For now, follow the advice of GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons and just “focus on what you want to have happen.”
- Finally, what’s your timeline? If your party is around the corner, you’ll have to fast-track some decisions about things such as venues, entertainers or invitations. If you have a while to plan, you can take time to explore options, which might be easier on your budget and scheduling.
Gather ideas, and designate priorities
If you are planning a party for someone else, borrow a tactic from professional party planners, and quiz the client to better understand their objective. Partyplannerslounge.com provides a great list of questions for this task. Questions such as, “What are five words you would use to describe the ideal event?” and “How important are flowers and decor?” will help you align your goals with the client’s vision.
If you’re not sure where to start, scope out the massive entertainment databank at evite.com. The site has compiled extensive entertainment ideas guides for every kind of event imaginable, from graduations, to bachelorette parties, to Chinese New Year. You’ll find a list of suggested activities, menus, decorations, and any special etiquette or information specific to your occasion.
Make a plan of attack
After you have you have an idea of what you want, gather some tools to help you strategize. Start by making a list of all the things that need to get done between now and the party. Get inspired by the Party Planning Checklist over at Marthastwart.com, which organizes necessary tasks on a timeline. Having a timeline will let you pace your efforts so you won’t feel overwhelmed by the whole process.
When you have a checklist, group tasks by category, such as food, entertainment, venue/equipment, invitations, and decorations. If you’ve got a planning committee at your disposal, start thinking about who might be a good match for certain jobs. If you’re flying solo, start thinking about which items you’ll need help with. You don’t have to do everything by yourself. According to life coach Laurie Leinwand, most people enjoy lending a helping hand if they can. Don’t be afraid to invite people into your project. If you’re excited about it, chances are good your friends will be excited about it, too.
Don’t re-invent the party wheel
Once you have a plan, start thinking about how to put it in action. Lucky for you, you’re not the first person to ever plan a party. In fact, there are some wonderful resources to help you streamline the process. Head over to bounjourevent.com, where they’ve got tips cataloged by party type and a generous list of event planning templates for things you never knew you needed. Templates include budgeting tools, sign and menu templates, a celebrity participation guide, scheduling tools, and even an audio/video cue sheet to make sure your sound personnel are sharp and ready to go. Use these tools to guide your work.
If you prefer a less complicated approach, take advantage of the many apps designed to keep you on track. The free Today To-Do app offers a day-to-day to-do list so you can remember everything that needs to get done. Or, kick it up a notch with the OmniFocus app, which offers synchronized task management and lets you get fancy with voice and image task entry.
Ready, set, party!
Once you have a vision, a plan and an oversight strategy, you’re ready to get started. There’s nothing left to do but begin. Jump right in with the first item on your to-do list, and you’ll be on your way to party town.