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28 questions to ask yourself before planning an event

By on October 16, 2012


Here are the six steps which planners must inevitably go through and apply when launching an event:

1. Establish project bases;

2. Develop a preliminary plan;

3. Launch the event – production and logistics;

4. Create communications elements;

5. Carry out the event;

6. Analyze the complete project and write up a balance-sheet.

In this article, I will discuss the first step in establishing the bases of the project. This is the most important step, because it allows solid foundations to be determined upon which rest all project planning decisions and to understand each of the key issues involved in the event.

When you receive the initial instructions to organize an event, the project description is, 99% of the time, incomplete; lack of data, some important elements were not analysed and often we hear, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.”

It is therefore essential, at the beginning of the project, to arrange a meeting with all relevant players and decision-makers. This meeting is intended: to give an overview of the mandate, to establish the mission and objectives, determine the profile of the people you want to assign, to ensure that all people see the event in the same way and to clarify the expectations of each. This meeting brings together all relevant and essential information to plan the project by asking the right questions.


Specify the event’s mission

The first elements to be addressed at this meeting relate to the mission and direction of the event, i.e. its reason for being and the needs it aims to satisfy. It does not seek to clarify the details of the project, but rather to understand why this event should occur. Here are some questions to help focus the discussion in order to clarify the mission. I ask that you carefully analyze them with your group:

Will the event be unique (i.e. that it will happen only once, at a single location) or recurring (repeated several times, repeated each year or even carried out at various locations)?

For how many years has the event been held? Is it an anniversary that you want to highlight (e.g.: the tenth anniversary)?

What is the primary mission of the project – awareness, thanks, to motivate, to inform, to promote meetings or networking, to have a product discovered, to celebrate a special occasion, to entertain, to do business, etc.? Are there secondary objectives?

If your event is recurring, why was it created in the first place? Do these reasons still remain valid today? If not, what new realities should be taken into account? What business needs must this project satisfy?

Why must the company produce this event?

If you were to use only a few words to describe the goal to be reached, what would they be?

What are the concerns, visions and expectations of the project leaders?

Was this event done the same way, or differently, in the past? What positive and negative points have emerged from these experiences?

Is there a similar project organized by your competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses? What does your project offer that is different?

Who will be the people involved in the decision-making processes?


The answers to these different questions will help you specify the event’s mission:

Understand what was done in the past;

Check if the market and its realities have changed;

Define the essential directions and elements of the project;

Determine the visions and expectations of the work team;

Understand the culture of the company – its image, its guidelines, principles, priorities, etc.;

Decide if elements will be used only once or if they will be repeated on several occasions.

As a manager, don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions at this stage, to obtain as much information as possible. Make sure you capture the opinions and views of the various stakeholders and understand the leaders’ expectations. Summarize the discussions and make sure all participants agree with them.


Establish objectives

The second part of the meeting is to clarify the event objectives so you can:

Have a clear idea what goals the company seeks to achieve;

Define the project content;

Determine the directions to be followed;

Understand the needs and expectations of participants;

Identify the elements to be communicated;

Prioritize the objectives;

Define the results that will be analyzed.


As done for the mission definition, stop at each of these issues and discuss them with your group:

What outcome do we want to achieve, how much and how long (e.g.: meet a minimum of 500 participants at our August benefit event, turn a $20,000 profit, get 40 new members within the next 60 days, ensure that 90% of participants know the services of your company before the end of the event, etc.) ?

Are these objectives specific (simple and accurate – what is it we want, exactly?), measurable (at the quantity or quality levels – concrete facts), attainable (reasonable in a specific context), achievable (realistic) and have a specified timetable (and, therefore, with a start and end date)?

What key messages must be distributed at the event (e.g.: demonstrate the achievements of the organization and where funds collected are distributed, thank and demonstrate the importance of our employees, etc.)? Does the company wish to take this opportunity to introduce changes or new work methods?

What is it that motivates guests to take part in the activity? What are they looking for? What do they expect (gather information, develop new relationships, etc.)? Do you know their needs? Can the event respond to these needs?

What is the current situation compared to target? Is there a problem?

Have participants already heard of your company? How much do they know the range of your products or services?

What impression do you wish to leave the participants? What do you want them to remember after the event?

Is there a financial result to be achieved (e.g.: make a profit for a given amount)?


The answers to these questions will help you establish a list of objectives to be achieved through the event. Remember to be specific, classify your objectives in order of priority to focus on the most important, and make sure that they are approved by all concerned. These goals will become the guidelines of the project and the entire contents of the event will flow from them.


Analyze the target public and establish participant profiles

The last part of the meeting is to identify who event participants will be; identify who you will invite and develop the most accurate possible socio-demographic profile of the various categories of people who will take part. To help you to define these profiles, here are a series of questions to which you must find answers:

To whom is the event mainly targeted, and what other groups could participate? Determine a percentage for each category of participants (e.g.: Motherhood Salon – is for moms (70%), but dads (20%) and children (10%) may also attend)

What is the marital status of the participants – married, unmarried or divorced?

What is their profession – professionals (physicians, business leaders), employees, people seeking jobs, retirees, and women at home?

How old are they? In what age group are they (adolescent, adult, elderly, aged 18-54)? What would the average age be?

Will there be more of men or women? In what proportion (50 – 50, 80-20, etc.)?

What language do they mainly speak (French only, English only, French and English, etc.)?

Where do they come from (city, province, country)?

Do the guests know each other?

Will they remain captives of the event or will they only pass by?

Will they be alone, accompanied or with their children?

The answers to these questions will help you to:

Define the various  participant categories;

Understand who you are targeting;

Determine the language level and the language to use;

Focus on activities that will appeal to various groups;

Select content that will effectively reach all types of participants;

Specify how and with what communications tools you can reach them.


You will thus understand the realities and needs of participants and can better plan the different aspects of the event. For example, the content of your activities, your way of expressing yourself and your communication tools will vary depending on whether you are talking to a young mother in her twenties with children at home, married, who works and lives in Montréal and who seeks to entertain, or to a company executive in his 50’s without children at home who lives in Brampton and wishes to become involved in the community.

And that’s it – your first step in planning an event has been completed. You will now benefit from solid foundations on which all stakeholders agreed, and all future decisions on event content will flow from these bases.

Excerpt from ‘’L’organisation d’un événement, guide pratique’’ published: Presses de l’Université du Québec.


Lyne Branchaud was until recently in charge of events and sponsorship for Uniprix. She is now a professional coach for the meetings and events industry. You can contact her by E-mail at

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