Coming into the world of association event management offered many changes from my background in planning social events. I was used to working with one individual for any particular event, which changed to working with several individuals. What was once the bride for a wedding, or the couple for an anniversary party, became association volunteers, board members, venue sales managers, and vendors for every service you can imagine. While many details I had become familiar with were still there, several aspects had changed. With these changes, I had to approach an event with a different understanding and appreciation for what social and association events offer individually and what each stands for.

During our lifetime, we all have planned social events on a smaller scale; it could be a birthday party for a child, a friend, or an anniversary for your parents. It’s a labour of love that took months or even years to plan to perfection. The world of association events is no different. Whether you are just getting into this type of planning or you have been doing it for years, there are considerations that you can make to make the process easier in the future.

Here are a few things to consider as you move forward in planning an event for your association:

Is there a one-size-fits-all approach to planning events? Absolutely not! Events are not just one type. Every event, from small to large, from simple to complex, must have an expected outcome and a plan to achieve it. The key to understanding how to best tackle the (sometimes) daunting task of planning an event?

Do your research!

  • Familiarize yourself with previous events and other events within the industry, and then add your touches to make it unique and memorable.
  • Consider your attendee demographics. For a social event, you likely know those who will attend as they’re usually family or close friends, but this is not the case for an association event, especially if your association has not invested in member research.

If you’ve done your homework by looking back at previous years, including evaluations from prior events, you should:

  1. Be able to determine the types of individuals that will be interested in your event and,
  2. What appealed to the majority and what did not?

It will save you a lot of time in the long run if you don’t have to go back and re-assess each time there is a change to the demographic.

Not only are events different, but there will be various attendees every year, from old to new, and we should welcome all with a unique experience. This is the perfect opportunity to take the time to get to know board members that will be attending your event, as you will most likely be corresponding with them throughout your planning process. It will build your relationships and help them understand your overall objectives for the event before they attend – ultimately saving time for you both during and after the planning process is complete.

Also, consider the goal of the event. For social events, this is typically to celebrate the occasion. This can be similar for association events but should be a topic of discussion with your corporate leaders, as different associations and events will have different agendas depending on the event type and purpose. From there, you can evaluate past speakers and content to decipher which types are more likely to hit the target, allowing you to consider your audience when recommending a potential speaker for your event.

Collect your current resources for content speakers, collateral materials, awards, etc. Each resource has associated contact information, so use your list to help you reach out to every resource throughout your event’s planning. That way, you are not reinventing the wheel. You could use the information that has already been created and potentially save yourself time on research and even on fees if you were to hire an outside vendor to develop all this information for you.

It is important to keep your task list handy and legible, as with any event, there are many moving parts and losing track of an important to-do list can bring any event from top-tier to disaster in the blink of an eye. For more information about creating and managing a to-do list for any occasion, see my colleague Katrina’s post titled “Creating To Do Lists that Keep Your Association Work on Track.”

The reality is that while there are many aspects of association events that differ from social events, many similarities allow drawing on knowledge from both areas to plan and execute the perfect event for whatever purpose you have in mind. It is important to utilize your knowledge and be open to opinions and change, as collaboration can help achieve the best results for all parties involved. There is endless information available on the internet to help you get started – whether through guides like this one or searching out organizations and people to learn from who are well-versed in the specific tasks you will need to complete.

Read about returning to in-person Association events here.