Sample Event Timeline

six months to one year in advance

  • Determine the purpose, type of event (luncheon, reception, seminar), and theme for the event.
  • Determine a budget for the event.
  • Check community calendars for conflicts with other major functions prior to selecting a date.
  • Select the date(s) but be sure to clear it with important participants and stakeholders.
  • Notify appropriate university administrators.
  • Select and reserve event site(s); reserve a block of rooms at a hotel if applicable. Check for disabled access.
  • Create a detailed timeline; include due dates for printed material and contact information for event suppliers/vendors.
  • Select and order recognition items (and have them engraved), event souvenirs, event portfolios, favors, etc.
  • Reserve special equipment, e.g. vans, tables, chairs, tents, etc.
  • Create a promotion and publicity plan.
  • Determine your target audience and develop a preliminary guest list database.
  • Develop a rain plan for events held outdoors.
  • Arrange for reserve parking.
  • Interview and choose all event-related suppliers (caterers, florist, entertainers, printer, photographer).
  • Determine a master of ceremonies and the program speakers. Mail a letter of invitation to them.
  • Acquire all necessary administrative approvals, i.e., insurance, alcohol service form.

three to six months in advance

  • Finalize the design of all printed/electronic materials (invitations, save-the-date cards, programs, brochures, commemorative language on awards and plaques, promotional, and event-related advertisements).
  • Finalize guest list.
  • Design and mail save-the-date announcements, if appropriate.
  • Confirm program participants. Obtain biographical information/publicity photos.
  • Launch publicity and promotion campaign, if appropriate.
  • Confirm hotel and transportation arrangements for out-of-town program participants/dignitaries.
  • Plan preliminary security arrangements.
  • Determine audiovisual needs and reserve equipment.
  • Place preliminary catering orders.
  • Plan event décor and determine sources.
  • Confirm entertainment bookings and finalize performance agreements.
  • Print confirmation cards, tickets, credentials, and parking permits.
  • Update Web site.
  • Determine R.S.V.P. date (usually a week prior to the event date, but may vary depending on the size of the event and when the caterer requires a guarantee number) and print and mail invitations (4-6 weeks prior to event).

two months in advance

  • Finalize décor and room arrangements.
  • Mail an itinerary and event information to speakers.
  • Arrange for event VIP gifts.
  • Identify personnel to assist at the registration and other tasks.
  • Order directional/informational event signs.
  • Compose and print the program (menu cards, if needed).
  • Order ceremonial items.
  • Meet with facility manager and inspect the venue. Request cleaning and repairs, if needed.
  • Update your security vendor on your plans especially if you are planning an event which might generate a large audience or when high-profile dignitaries are invited.
  • Finalize the audiovisual presentations.

two to four weeks in advance

  • Record and acknowledge guest responses as they are received; send confirmations and other event-related items (tickets, parking passes, maps) to attendees as soon as possible.
  • Prepare event-related information packets, if appropriate.
  • Prepare table numbers, table seating assignments and place cards, if appropriate.
  • Prepare a program script; include introductions and specific time limits for each speaker. Send to speakers for approval and edits, as needed.
  • If your event is located in another city, determine a specific date to ship the materials. Contact the facility manager for the correct mailing address so the materials will be accepted and not misplaced upon arrival.
  • Provide briefing materials to appropriate university administrators.
  • Check progress on publicity efforts and revise and update plans if necessary.
  • Finalize security plans.
  • Send detailed final instructions to all speakers/dignitaries.
  • Contact the caterer if the attendance is significantly higher or lower than previously discussed.
  • Take delivery of event-related giveaways. Check for correct amount.
  • Acquire and enlarge a diagram of the room to be used as a seating chart. Determine location of restrooms and public phones at event site.
  • Contact grounds and/or custodial personnel if cleaning is needed for the venue and surrounding areas. If you're planning an event outdoors, be sure the sprinklers are turned off.
  • Order radios/cellular phones to be used for communication between event and facility staff. Be sure contact lists are distributed among event personnel.

one week in advance

  • Determine the intentions of invited guests who have not replied.
  • Prepare and print the guest list in alphabetical order.
  • Finish table assignments and place cards.
  • Prepare a seating chart and print the seating list in alphabetical and table number order.
  • Prepare name badges, if appropriate.
  • Brief event staff.
  • Gather all event items such as gifts, plaques, and trophies.
  • Plan an arrival briefing for VIPs, if appropriate. If necessary, schedule a rehearsal time for the keynote speaker(s) with the facility's technical staff.
  • Confirm arrangements with all event-related vendors (catering, florist, photographer, etc.).
  • Confirm security arrangements. Provide security staff with VIP itineraries, if appropriate.
  • Deliver program script to speakers and other event support staff.
  • Confirm catering arrangements and guarantees.
  • Prepare an event box with supplies, such as tape, string, pens/pencils, staplers, clipboards, baskets, extra black name badges, etc. Charge cell phones, radios and place items in a convenient, secure place.

event day

  • Arrive as early as possible; this allows time to problem solve, set up event material, check room arrangements, audio-visual equipment, etc. before your guests arrive.
  • If possible, assign one worker as your assistant to run errands and be available to help if problems do occur.
  • Have all the appropriate event-related documents (maps, phone numbers, catering orders, seating charts, name badges, table assignments, guest lists) and event box with you.
  • Check all facilities (including restrooms) and grounds.
  • Set up a media registration table with press kits, if appropriate.
  • Set up venue with place cards, signs, favors, awards, programs, etc. If you're short handed, inquire whether the catering staff can help distribute these items.
  • Set up registration area. Place name badges in alphabetical order. Be sure it is ready at least 1 hour prior to the start of your event.
  • Ensure that all event personnel are ready and signage is in place. Distribute radios/cell phones to the appropriate event staff.
  • For last minute cancellations or "no shows" consider filling the seats at prominent tables with volunteer staff.
  • Welcome your guests with a smile. Avoid hinting to your guests that things might be less than perfect. Chances are, no one but you will notice.
  • Strive to ensure that the event ends at the specified time.

post event

  • Follow up immediately with key event participants for their input and to ascertain if the event purpose was achieved.
  • Reconcile and process for payment event-related invoices.
  • Prepare and mail thank you notes to event staff and speakers.
  • Hold a wrap-up meeting with event staff to discuss what went well, and to determine areas that may need improvement in the future.


Sources: Special Events, Planning for Success by April Harris, published by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and Gala! The Special Event Planner for Professionals and Volunteers by Patti Coons, published by Capital Books, Inc.