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Event Tips

Looking for how to plan an event, or need advice on event planning? Whether your planning a small gathering for students or a large event on campus, event planning is a huge task.

While no two events are the same, and events have varying goals, budgets, and audiences, there are several tips, tricks, and steps that you can take to start your planning off right and keep you on track.

We have put together some guiding questions and considerations to help you think through all of the components of an event with best practices and examples for reference. If you have questions about any of the information here, please email [email protected] for assistance.

  • Conceptualize Your Event

    Event Strategy Brief (Google doc) – Use this tool to help shape the strategy and impact of your event. Completing a brief like this with your event vision leaders can help ensure you achieve your event goals.

    Having your event goals and objectives defined will help keep the big picture in mind as you move forward in the planning process.

  • Who Are The Players?

    • Who are you bringing together?
    • Who do you want to attend?
    • Who will benefit from the event?
    • Who needs to be involved in planning the event?
    • Who will you need help from to plan and execute your event?
    • Who do you need to notify or contact as you plan and bring together details?
    • Who will do what before, during, and after the event?


  • Outline Your Event

    • What kind of event are you holding? 
      • Lecture, Banquet, Reception, Conference, etc.
    • What’s essential at your event?
      • Consider Core message, keynote speakers, food, etc.
    • What will be the expectations of your guests? 
      • Consider Time of day, Parking, Keynote Speakers, ADA Accommodations, All-gender restrooms, etc.
    • What will your event needs be? 
      • Catering, AV, Stage, Podium, ADA needs? etc. 
    • What else is happening on campus?  
      • Check this before you pick your date.
    • What outcome or actionable item do you want from this event?


  • Budget

    • How much money is in my budget for the event?
    • How much will the event actually cost?  
    • How much financial or volunteer support will I need to accomplish the event?
    • Who else is contributing financially? or with resources?


  • Timing Your Event

    • When do I want to hold this event?  
      • Consider the time of day, time of year, etc.
    • Check your event dates against religious holidays to ensure you’re selecting the best date for all.
    • Will students still be on campus?
    • Are there any competing events?  
    • When are the spaces I want available? 
    • When are my key guests or speakers available?
    • When will I need to start setting up for the event? 
    • When will we be done loading out from the event?


  • Location! Location! Location!

    • Make sure you are booked before you plan or advertise.
    • Book things you already know.
    • Have a backup plan and alternate dates.
    • Don’t overestimate attendance.

    • Where do you want to hold it (inside, outside, etc.)?
    • What spaces are available?
    • What spaces will best accommodate the anticipated attendance?
      • Consult with the Director of Disability Services as needed.
    • What is available in the space (furniture, tech equipment, etc.)?
    • Are you able to cover additional expenses associated with setting up or using that space?
    • Is the space most conducive to the type of program you want to have (i.e. noise levels, foot traffic, etc.)?
    • Do you need or have a backup location (outdoor events)?
    • What else is happening in the area/building?
    • Location drives many event decisions. So make sure you have that element in place before doing other logistical planning.

    If you are planning an event off-campus and needed assistance in sourcing venues, please reach out to the Special Events team for assistance. We can provide guidance and ideas of potential venues across the US and locally in the Twin Cities.


  • Setting Up Your Event Space

    Things you will eventually need to know and communicate when reserving a room include:

    • Furniture set up (staging areas, green room, numbers, configurations, etc.)
    • AV/Tech needs
    • Additional equipment/items needed (flags, podiums, etc.)
    • Do you need an event manager present during the event?
    • AC/Heat
    • Start and end times
    • Specific set times (if needed, applicable)

    **Also remember to update this info any time it changes. Shoot to finalize arrangements two weeks out. Check-in a week before.


  • Logistics

    Consider the needs around the following elements and how you’ll prepare and execute the details:

    • Invitations & mailing lists
    • Publicity & Promotion
    • Catering 
    • Room set – diagram
    • AV
    • Show Flow – “Day of” flow & program flow
    • Décor
    • Alcohol
    • Security
    • Parking
    • Include pronoun stickers with all events with name tags


  • Catering

    • Will you be using Bon Appetit or an outside catering? 
      • Bon Appetit exclusive spaces – The Ruth Stricker Dayton Campus Center, The Leonard Center, Kagin Commons.
    • Compostable event or china? 
    • Be sure to share this info with Reservations so Facilities can provide the appropriate receptacles.

    Questions for an outsider caterer

    • Do they provide (or are there additional fees for):
      •  Linens? Dishes? Compostable products? Staffing? Display dishes and utensils? Food signage?
    • Ask for a written estimate. Is the cost really the cost (i.e. + service + tax)?  
    • Gratuity?
    • Can they accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions? 
      • Vegetarian option – with protein
      • Be ready for other dietary too (gluten-free, vegan, etc.)
      • Make sure your caterer can accommodate a variety of possible dietary needs.
    • When they require an attendance guarantee?
      • Typically this number can go up, but not down.

    Do you have a restricted budget? 

    • Tell your caterer what you can spend for the total cost per person.
      • Costs will change dependent upon the number of attendees.
    • Save money on service by having food dropped off (if that’s appropriate for your event).
    • Consider a dessert and coffee reception for a smaller budget – adjust the time of your event.
    • Plated vs. buffet?  
      • The reality is buffets are rarely cheaper.
    • Heavy hors d’oeuvres 
      • Butler passed or display?
      • Not always cheaper than a plated meal due to unknown of how much people will consume.


  • Audio Visual

    • Consider the capabilities of your venue –  i.e.  Chapel daytime projection is challenging for projection.
    • Determine the AV needs of the speaker(s):
      • Will there be Q&A? 
      • Who will make the introduction? 
      • Multiple speakers?
        • If there are presenters using a microphone who are not used to using a microphone make sure they do a sound check prior to the program.  Nerves can affect their speaking volume.  
    • Are you planning to use projection at your event? 
      • Schedule an AV check at least 30-45 minutes prior to start time. 
        • Make sure technology is playing nice, words aren’t falling off the screen, display.
        • Sound clips in the presentation?  Need to access the internet?
      • Have backup options of any presentations – i.e. the day Google Drive died.
    • Share AV needs with Reservations when you have collected them.  It will help you, in the long run, to get AV support looped in as soon as you can.
    • Consult with the Director of Disability Services as needed regarding accessibility and accommodation inquiries and planning.


  • Show Flow/Timeline

    • The show flow is a timeline document outlining the program order so that “players” – AV and program participants –  know who will be talking when and with what AV so they can be:
      • Proactive and prepared to get to the microphone.
      • Informed for mic, projection, and any lighting cues.
    • The show flow should be shared with any presenters as well as with AV staff.
    • If a meal is involved, share the show flow with the catering team.
    • Bring extra copies to your event.

    Sample Show Flow


  • Publicity & Promotion

    Where to advertise
    • College events calendar
    • Invites and save the dates
    • Posters around campus
    • Table tents/sandwich boards (see info desk in CC)
    • The MacDaily
    Other Considerations
    • Make sure your RSVPs collect dietary and Accessibility needs from your event attendees, speakers, etc.
    • Always have someone else spell check your work
    • Go where the action is (social media, in-person visits, etc.)
    • Include accessibility information (specifically wheelchair accessibility) and access to all-gender restrooms on confirmation emails or website event information. Ex: Accessibility: At our event venue all buildings are accessible to visitors with mobility impairments. A limited number of non-motorized wheelchairs are available for loan. An all-gender restroom will be available to guests.  
    When to include Communications
    • When the public invite, i.e.: Materials going out to a larger community
    • If you want to draw a bigger crowd?  
    • High profile event. i.e.: will you need a press release or other PR?  
    • If you want to release information or invite the local press to the event (press passes, press conferences, etc.)

    If yes to any of these, engage with Communications ASAP (from Day 1 if possible).


  • Larger Event Considerations

    • Public Safety/Security
    • Parking
    • EMTs
    • Invitations and Timing
      • Should the Alumni Engagement Office and Advancement be looped in? 
      • Is the event occurring in another city? If yes, loop in the Alumni Engagement Office.
    • Check-in process
    • Tickets 
    • Ticket Distribution
    • Rentals
    • Signage
    • Restrooms
    • Multiple venues – time for people to move/use restrooms between programming.
    • Consult with the Director of Disability Services as needed regarding accessibility and accommodation inquiries and planning.


  • Special Events – How We Can Help and When to Include Us

    • If you have questions – we are here to advise.
    • If the President, Provost or other Sr. Staff are involved and/or presenting – we can advise.
      • Make sure THEIR office is looped in as well!
    • If you are holding a large-scale event in multiple venues: Orientation Week, Conference, etc.
    • If you are hosting a major speaker: public figures, dignitaries, celebrities, etc.
    • If you want a unique room set up, or if you may need rentals.
    • Any major events planned for the Leonard Center.

  • Event Resources Available to Staff

    The office of Special Events has an inventory of glassware, vases, table stanchions, lawn games, and more which can be borrowed free of charge.

    We have a limited supply of black or white table cloths which can be reserved for a small rental fee. We also have pronoun stickers that can be used at events with nametags.

    To enquire about current inventory and to request items, please email [email protected].


  • Tips & Tricks

    • Make sure your event is on the Macalester calendar – even if just a placeholder.
    • Enlist allies and assign duties.
      • Make it easy on YOU – don’t lock yourself into an assignment.
      • Do everything you can in advance.
      • Consider having one extra person there to help, in case you need a runner.
    • Utilize google docs – a good tool for sharing info with your allies.
      • Timelines, Volunteer assignments, etc. 
    • Reconfirm your details a week out – reservations, rentals, contract obligations, etc.
    • “Reserved” signs on back chairs to fill the front area and allow late-comers to avoid the walk of shame.
    • Save money with family style desserts instead of centerpieces.
    • Know your phone numbers – bring them with you – Facilities, Reservations, Event Manager, your allies.
    • Arrive Early!  This is not the day to run late.
      • Huddle with your allies.
      • Check your set.
    • Expect the unexpected – There is no perfect event. Something will go wrong. Remain calm. Take a deep breath and think through the best solution. 
      • Walk-ups, no-shows, bad weather…
      • Plan time to react.
    • Wear comfortable shoes.