Corporate Events Checklist

How to plan the perfect corporate event




Updated: Thursday 7th November 2019

If you have ever wondered what makes a successful event, the answer is detailed planning and preparation. And for an event to be totally under control, someone must be in charge of making decisions and ensuring everything is getting done on-time and within budget.

Although the idea of planning an event sounds like an exciting way to spend your time at work, when it becomes a reality it can undoubtedly feel like a daunting task – especially when it’s just another thing to add to your already overwhelming to-do list. Nevertheless, when you get it right and see your colleagues having a fabulous time, the rewards are undeniably worth all the effort.

In this event planning guide you’ll find a wealth of practical advice resulting from our experience, which will take you through a step-by-step planning process to organising the perfect corporate event on your own. As corporate events can vary, from team building days and conferences to award ceremonies and Christmas parties – some parts may not be totally relevant to you. Just skip past those parts.

Establishing the event brief

1. Start with the event’s purpose

Every organisation is different, so depending on who is staging the event (company, department or corporate client) the event’s purpose will change. Your job is to get under the skin of why the event is happening in the first place. It may be something simple such as a reward dinner to say thank you to the top 10 performing sales people to something more complex like a cutting-edge industry conference to position the company as an authority and build relationships with potential customers. Find out as much about the event as possible.

✓ What the event is for?
✓ Why is the event being organised now?
✓ What type of event is required?
✓ Who will care about the event and why does it matter to them?
✓ Who will be attending and what sort of reaction are you seeking from them?
✓ Have any similar events been arranged before (if so: get details, such as where, what went well and what didn’t?)

2. Define the requirements

Make a detailed list of the event requirements.

✓ Where is the preferred location?
✓ When is the preferred date?
✓ What are the timings? (All-day or just the evening?)
✓ Any accommodation required?
✓ How many guests will be invited? (are partners invited?)
✓ Is transportation to and from the location required?
✓ What is the dress code?
✓ What is the desired event format?
✓ Is food and drink required?
✓ Is entertainment required?
✓ What about a theme?
✓ Any decoration required?

3. Find out the budget

Everything hinges on the budget, so you’ll want to find out what you have to work with before you start getting any big, unrealistic ideas. Obviously, some venues and activities cost more than others, but so do food, drinks and entertainment – so you’ll have to account for all of that.

✓ Find out how much money you have to spend.
✓ Determine the purpose of the corporate event and allocate the budget by what is most important to meet that purpose. For example, a team-building event might spend more of the activity rather than the venue.
✓ Set aside a back-up fund for all those unexpected expenses.

4. Create event objectives

Once you fully understand why the event is taking place and the other key requirements, it is crucial to think about what success looks like. Put together a list of objectives that will always keep you focused on making the event a success and less like to distract you from what is important. This may range from delivering a family fun day that gets higher feedback ratings than the previous year for the same budget to something more specific such as organising a press day for your new product that generates coverage from particular publications so you may decide to prioritise factors like the date around those key journalists availability over everybody else.

✓ Brainstorm and write down your event objectives. These objectives will be your North Star throughout the rest of the project.

Planning the event

5. Set a date

You’ll want to get a date pencilled in as early as possible, especially the more people invited. Remember, your colleagues may need to arrange childcare or juggle other commitments well in advance.

✓ Send potential date options around the office to figure out when will be best. The number of responses will also probably give you a rough indication of numbers for the event. You won’t be able to please everybody so go with the majority.
✓ Send out a calendar invite or ‘save the date’ email to everybody just so they know to keep that date free. This is also a great time to find out about any allergies or dietary requirements if there’s food involved.

6. Find a venue

If you see a venue you want, book it well in advance. Unsurprisingly, all the best venues get booked out weeks ahead, so you’ll want a head-start on the competition.

✓ Research online and request quotes on venues that meet all your requirements.
✓ Ask the venue’s events team all your questions – after all, they know the venue and will have ideas to share with you.
✓ If you have a number of options, try to provisionally place them on hold.
✓ Visit the potential venues for yourself and take photos for later. Ask the team what they provide and what you’ll need to hire.
✓ Determine whether they’ll be doing the clearing up, or you. If so, you might want to hire someone.
✓ If an overnight stay will be required, check the accommodation options nearby.
✓ If you don’t have confirmed numbers (which is almost always the case) ask if you can book for minimum numbers and add guests on later.
✓ Double-check the quote before you sign. You don’t want any hidden charges.
✓ Negotiate, if you can.
✓ Formally confirm your chosen location and release other venues on hold. Book accommodation if required.

7. Making it look good (optional)

Depending on the type of event you’re hosting, you might want to bring in a theme. Obviously, this is more appropriate for the more casual events like evening socials or team-building days, but it also depends on your company culture too.

✓ Choose a theme and research it thoroughly. Ask around the office for suggestions/inspiration.
✓ Set dress codes, buy decorations and book everything needed to bring your theme to life.

8. Serve up the food

Almost no matter what time of day your event is, you’ll need to make sure guests have some kind of food if you want them to stay. Whether that’s breakfast or evening nibbles, filled stomachs are definitely a way to prevent any conflict and keep everyone happy.

✓ In-house catering or external caterers? In-house is likely to be cheaper and your venue might already have its own specialist restaurant. Some venues won’t want external caterers on-site, so you’ll need to check.
✓ Choose how the food will be served. Sit-down meal with a set menu? Buffet? Nibbles on tables?
✓ Consult with chefs to choose a style of food for the event
✓ Organise a vegetarian option if required and try to accommodate as many other dietary requirements as possible.
✓ Arrange a menu tasting, especially if you’re booking for a large group. Good food is important to all events.
✓ Confirm the menu.

9. Order in the drinks

No matter how exciting the event planned may be, there will always be the colleagues who are simply there for the booze, particularly in the evening. That’s just how corporate events work. It’s arguably the best way to get people on-board but can cause the budget to rapidly spiral out of control.

✓ Choose arrival drinks. Start the afternoon or night off with a glass of wine or bubbly as your guests walk in.
✓ Decide if you’re going to pre-order drinks or set up a tab. A tab is clearly the riskier move, but the more popular one. Perhaps narrow down the choice of drinks to keep it more budget-friendly (that, unfortunately, means fewer jäger bombs).
✓ Do you want waiter service, or for your guests to head to the bar themselves? Alternatively, have drinks conveniently placed around the venue.

10. Choose the playlist

Music sets the mood. That’s a simple fact. Whether it’s a relaxed entrance playlist as people wait for the event to begin or a full-on party playlist, there’s a soundtrack for every event.

✓ Create a playlist. You can either handpick the songs yourself or use an app like Spotify which has pre-made playlists for every mood.
✓ Depending on the event, you might want to hire a DJ, musician or live band to perform
✓ Make sure you have all the kit needed to play your music including loud enough speakers so everyone can hear.

9. Book entertainment (optional)

The right entertainment can certainly make the event go down in history, but it won’t always be appropriate for every setting. Socials, parties and award ceremonies are the perfect opportunity to get some entertainment onboard. Plus, a lot of popular venues, particularly here in London, already incorporate entertainment activities like crazy golf, ping pong and more.

✓ Choose the entertainment to suit your event. Ideas include: comedians, circus performers, casino tables, murder mysteries, arcade machines, pool, fairground favourites and karaoke, but if you’d prefer to tone it down slightly, try wine tasting or have cocktail making performances.
✓ Source relevant and reputable suppliers. Agree on exactly what is involved.

11. Organise talks, speeches and awards

Ultimately, every event is going to have at least one speech, and depending on what type of day, it might even be an afternoon of talks, so it’s not something you want to forget about.

✓ Notify any external guest speakers about the date, venue and time slot.
✓ Ask directors or managers whether they want to make a speech or give any recognition awards. Try to keep it short and not to have too many, or people may get easily bored.
✓ Make sure the venue, or any other suppliers you’ve hired, have a microphone. If not, you’ll have to hire one. Don’t forget an extension cable!

12. Add a little extra

Those little extra details can make all the difference. People might not comment on them as much as the food or the activities, but trust us, little luxuries go a long way.

✓ Upgrade the toilet facilities. Add fresh flowers, scented candles, good quality soap and soft paper towels for a pleasant experience.
✓ Hire a photographer. Use the high-quality shots for the company website, blog or social media.
✓ Have a cloakroom. People will relax more, not having to carry their jackets and bags the whole time.
✓ Hire friendly security (if necessary) to make your guests feel welcome.
✓ Consider making goody bags with popular treats like chocolate and wine.

13. Visualise the event

Think of this like a rehearsal, except it’s all in your head. You’ll want to get a clear picture of how the event will play out, so you’ll be ready for any potential hiccups.

✓ Visualise each stage of the event from a guest’s point of view. Make sure you haven’t left anything out and note down all the timings for your itinerary. Remember guests need time to leave work and get ready.
✓ Find out when suppliers need access to the venue and confirm these times with your venue contact.

14. Organise transportation

For your event to run smoothly, you’ll need to make sure your guests can actually make it there on time. Making sure everyone knows the transportation options is key.

✓ Circulate taxi numbers and public transport directions by email well in advance of the event.
✓ Organise a coach, if required, making sure everyone arrives and leaves at a suitable time.

15. Invite the guests

The easiest way to get people to come to your event? Invite them, and then you’ll probably have to chase them.

✓ Send out invitations or calendar invites with the date, start time, finish time, venue address, format of the event, theme (if any) and dress code. Include any menus and ask them to RSVP.
✓ Get invites designed if appropriate. You may also want to print out flyers to stick around the office.
✓ Nominate reps in each department to collect RSVPs and menu choices.
✓ Chase guests for responses.

16. Create the table plan (optional)

Thanks to all the behind-the-scenes office politics, a table plan can be just as tricky as a wedding to get right. No one wants that awkward confrontation. Thankfully not all events need them, and you can, of course, have people sit wherever they want. Team-building events, however, may require people to change up who they sit with.

✓ Plan table arrangements so that guests can mingle with colleagues that they wouldn’t usually get the chance to speak to.
✓ Either print out a table plan or make (or order) name cards for each of the tables.

17. Put together a full itinerary

Stay on track for a successful event with a detailed itinerary, the best way to stay organised and ensure the event runs as smoothly as it can.

✓ Create a document that includes everything about the event. You may want both a digital copy and a hard copy. Make sure your hard copy includes contact names, numbers and email addresses for everyone involved, including the suppliers.
✓ Send a copy of the itinerary to everybody involved in running the event, including suppliers, venue staff and any entertainers.

During the event

18. Managing the event

Up until this point, if you’ve pre-planned like a professional, your event should run smoothly, but you’ll still need to be around to tackle any potential issues.

✓Keep the itinerary with you.
✓Introduce yourself to all suppliers and venue staff, establishing yourself as the point of contact.
✓Keep your suppliers happy if you want even better service. Food and drink go a long way to doing that.

After the Event

19. Ask for feedback

Want to plan an even better event next time? Find out what your colleagues actually thought of the event – what they particularly liked and disliked.
Ask your guests to fill out a survey of what they enjoyed. SurveyMonkey is a great tool for this, but emails work too.

Hopefully this list has given you a newfound confidence in planning your next corporate event. It’s a good idea to keep this as an actual checklist to keep you on track, crossing off tasks as you complete them.

Found this post useful? Find out more about corporate events at John Cabot.