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Event planning 

Your guide to planning a successful event

Does the word ‘event planning’ conjure up images of large auditoriums, crowds of participants, hustle and bustle? Can you feel the fragrance of champagne and orange juice in your nostrils and hear a flurry of footsteps on the floor? If you're feeling a little intimidated now, we have good news for you: you are probably already better equipped to organise an event than you realise. 

For example, if you have already planned an event such as a company Christmas party, you will have accumulated some valuable experiences. These will include scheduling, finding out about peoples’ food preferences and intolerances, deciding on the decorative touches, and providing your guests with a satisfying experience. In other words, you have a solid record of coordinating a variety of processes, working with different people towards a focused goal and managing new developments flexibly and confidently!

Do you want to put on an event soon? If so, we provide you with a clear and concise overview of all the steps you need to take to successfully prepare, manage and follow up your project. To help you make the most of your event organising experience, we have created a practical guide to achieving your goal in a manageable and forward looking way. Planning events is a complicated business, but with good organisation it is also something that can be easily managed. Take this advice and your event planning milestones will become something you look forward to!

1. Defining the event objectives and target groups

Every successful plan starts with defining its outcome. What is the goal of your event? What sort of added value should your participants gladly take home with them?

If the goal of the event is clear and comprehensible to your staff, they will find it much easier to pull together and realise that their task contributes to the bigger picture. If you optimise your planning processes, you won’t run the risk of confusing either your employees or your participants. If you, an expert at answering questions and defining processes, remain a model of calm and clarity you will help make planning your event a success.

Your event's goals are key to its success. It is important to clearly define your specific event objectives and target group(s) in advance.

In the context of your event planning, this kind of knowledge influences the way you think about the event. It helps to align the event's implementation with the findings of your target group analysis. This approach helps drive potential product sales whereas an event for employees also comes off best if you are aware of the ideas, needs and concerns of your employees. So, think about them and address them.

2. Developing an event concept

Once your event's goals have been defined and your target group has been identified, the next step is to draw up your event concept. This lays the groundwork for your event planning and progression. For example, you will need to decide upon a location for your event. The venue needs to be easily accessible for national and international guests but also provide a good match to the occasion. 

You should also ask yourself how exactly the content of the event is to be communicated to your target audience – will there be workshops, exhibitions and/or an evening event? What requirements should the premises meet? The central question here is which experiences, focal points and content-related values should be conveyed to the participants. The event concept is the common thread that connects every aspect of your event – from decor to the visualization of content in the event space.

Of course, this also raises the key question of how much budget is available for the event – and whether the event should be organized using in-house staff or with the help of an event management agency. Assess your resources and possibilities realistically and honestly. You can't and don't necessarily have to do everything yourself.

3. Event budget planning & costing

Whether you are planning a series of lectures on office wellness or an executive conference, you probably have a limited budget available. But how much event funding do you need? This is determined by several factors:

  • Number of participants 
  • Length of the event
  • Size & equipment of the location 
  • Financial support, partners & funding

Manage cost categories clearly 

Once you have clarified these points, it's time to clearly list and calculate the budget for your event. 

Our tip: Don't make it unnecessarily difficult for yourself – a clear and well-managed Excel spreadsheet provides an excellent basis. List the main cost categories in this. These include the following items

  • Location/accommodation
  • Catering 
  • Rent for technical equipment 
  • Moderation & speakers
  • Marketing (e.g. graphic design, landing page, printing, press) 
  • Conference packages 
  • Travel expenses
  • License costs (e.g. GEMA fees, artists' social security contributions)
  • Personnel (security staff, hostesses, set-up and dismantling, etc.)

As a general rule, always take unforeseen incidents into account when drawing up your budget. This will help you avoid a meticulously planned event failing due to unexpected events such as illness, technical breakdowns, or bad weather.

Financial planning and controlling

Have you identified the categories and clearly listed the costs for the individual items? Great! Now the only thing left to do is to organize the financial controlling for the event effectively. In real terms, this means

🡪 Your financial accounting keeps track of all the transaction data relating to the planning process. It records incoming and outgoing invoices and other relevant figures punctually and correctly. 

🡪 Controlling manages all financial decisions made – and advises you on re-budgeting if necessary. 

If you are assigning these two responsibilities for the first time or reassigning them, look for calm, reliable, number-savvy people to perform these tasks. The main responsibility for making the event happen lies largely in their hands. A good trick for finding the right employees is therefore another planning milestone. 

4. Organising your event


Dates and coordination

The more stakeholders involved, the more lead time you should give your planning. Not every deadline is met every time. You should therefore plan in sufficient time buffers for each step from the outset. 

Your first appointments take place in your own team. This is where you discuss the concept for holding the event. To do this, decide with your team and/or your superiors whether the content and costs for the event meet all the agreed objectives and the financial possibilities. 

Next, check out your preferred venue in person: 

  • Parking facilities: Make sure there is adequate parking to ensure a smooth arrival process.
  • Coach access: Clarify whether the venue offers suitable areas for coach access to allow group travellers to arrive comfortably.
  • Premises: Examine the venue carefully in terms of size, facilities, lighting, and acoustics to ensure it meets the requirements of your event.
  • Unforeseen complaints: Look out for unexpected obstructions such as pillars in the room, special design elements or novelties in the equipment that could affect the quality of the event. Also check the cleanliness of the premises.
  • Safety: Clarify the safety aspects, including fire protection measures and escape routes, to ensure the safety of all participants.
  • Accessibility: Check the accessibility of the venue to meet the needs of all participants.
  • Existing equipment and technology: Record exactly what equipment and technical facilities are already available at the venue and identify what needs to be rented in addition.
  • Room layout: Plan the placement of various event elements such as registration area, checkroom, sessions & lectures, stage, exhibition, and catering.
  • Delivery: Clarify the delivery options for equipment, decoration and catering to ensure an efficient logistics plan.
  • Smoking and sanitary areas: Define the smoking areas and check the availability and cleanliness of the sanitary facilities.

Be critical when you visit the venue and ask those responsible precise questions. If the location has defects that you fail to notice, the quality of your event may suffer as a result. In fact, the more eyes you take along to the "inspection", the better! A joint inspection is not only good for team building, but also helps to gain a more comprehensive overview. If you find that the venue is suitable, it is important to clarify with your operational staff (technicians, outfitters, hostesses, etc.) how to implement the event concept most efficiently and safely in the available space.


Event programme & focal points

Despite the practical planning, it is important not to forget your event programme's focal points, which are outlined in the event concept. Once you have defined the main points of the programme, you should also present them clearly and intuitively for participants. 

Keep your target group in mind: Which topics are of particular interest to the target group and how do they add value? How can they evaluate the event later as a benefit? If you also prepare the main points of the program visually, make sure that they are easily identifiable and clearly understandable at all times. This way, participants always know what to expect. 

Make sure you also use simple language when you as this will make your program inclusive and accessible for everyone.


Marketing, logistics & catering

Depending on your event's size and budget, you will probably want to outsource some tasks to service providers. If you have a lot of participants, a security service will help to ensure that everything runs smoothly, while friendly trained reception staff will patiently answer questions and show participants the way. 

Make sure that all your service providers are briefed at an early stage to ensure that your event presents a consistent image that reflects your event objectives. Catering in particular plays a key role in this regard since numerous questions that will require your attention arise concerning the type and quantity of culinary offerings required, the cutlery needed, the practicalities of food presentation and intolerances. Those who often attend events know that good food is a key factor in determining whether an event is a success or not. Of course, there is a lot more that deserves your attention – for a more detailed insight, please visit our page on event service providers for marketing, logistics and catering.

5. Event schedule

The success of your event also depends on having a well thought-out, detailed, and comprehensible event schedule. In it, you should clarify which operational responsibilities apply to individual participants, and when exactly what needs to happen - and how you are going to coordinate everything. 

When do the lights need to be dimmed? What number should employees use to contact you and the responsible team? How and on which platform do employees communicate generally? Who steps in to cover which responsibilities if helpers suddenly fall ill? 

Clarity helps to keep people calm in the event of unforeseen events.

6. Post-event follow-up

The excitement doesn't end once you have successfully organized and held your event: carefully following up your event allows you to learn from successes and failures – and plan the next event even more effectively. Honest feedback from the participants collected after the event, for example, by means of a thank-you e-mail with an attached questionnaire, can prove extremely helpful. 

Documenting the results, preparing a final budget, and internally evaluating the entire process are also part of the event follow-up. In this digital age, IT applications that manage incoming invoices, for example, can be used for archiving and procedural documentation of an event. Depending on the size of your company, there are several recommended solutions for your digital infrastructure.

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Download checklist and start planning your event!

Need a precise and detailed checklist that shows you all your important event planning points at a glance? No problem! 

The Cologne Convention Bureau is here to help you plan your event successfully and confidently. Our checklist is available for you to download - ensuring that your event turns out to be an enriching experience.


You are planning an association congress, hybrid event or accessible event?

Quite simple with our guides

Planning an accessible event

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Planning a hybrid event

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FAQs - Frequently asked questions