I recently attended a conference in Orlando, Florida, where I heard a speaker say, “Event planning is like a high wire act without a net.”

It made me laugh, but as I thought about it, I realized it’s very true! Basically, once your event starts, there’s no turning back.

That’s why the key to any successful event is to plan early and plan often. You want to make sure the event achieves your goals as well as your attendees, so everybody has a great experience.

So, how do you do it? Start by keeping the following things in mind during the planning process:

Define your goals for the event

Determine your expected return on event (ROE). The single most important question to ask yourself before planning your event is, “What is the goal of the event?”

It might be as simple as doubling the number of registrants from your previous event, or perhaps you would like 100% of the people you train to obtain their continuing education credit (CEU).

And since it’s rare to plan your event in isolation, it’s important to share what success looks like to all of those involved.

Figure out when to start planning your event. The question I get most from people is, “How far in advance should I start planning my event?”

The answer: It really depends on the number of events you’re hosting each year.

If you’re doing only one event a year, I would start planning about nine months in advance. This will give you plenty of time to secure a date and location. If doing a few events a year, I would start planning at least 90-days in advance.

Regardless, it’s important to send out a “Save-the-Date” email as soon as possible. This will give people the opportunity to offer input about what they would like to get out of the event and make sure they get it scheduled on their calendar.

Create a timeline for your event. Once you have secured a date and location, you can start putting together a road map to make sure you achieve your ROE.

I would recommend writing out a schedule of weekly tasks, with specific dates for completion, and who is responsible for completing them.

And, most importantly, make sure everybody on your team is aware of the “plan.” This will keep things on track so nothing falls through the cracks.

Put yourself in your attendees’ shoes — what things would YOU look for in an event?

Make sure attendees can get the information they need—when they need it. One much overlooked practice is to have a single point of contact for an event. This would include a name, phone number, and email address for this person. If potential attendees have a question, you want to make it easy for them to get the answers they need—when they need it.

You also want to make sure the event details are clear. Whether it’s directions to the event, transportation information, parking facilities, etc., you want to avoid no-shows or late comers because the little things weren’t included in your event materials.

First impressions do matter—make yours count! It’s likely that the first impression someone will have of your event is derived from your email invitation, so it needs to sizzle (or pop)! It should look professional and communicate the basic information about your event.

This is your call to action for the invitee to take the next step, which is to click “Register Now!” And this link should reside in two locations—one at the top of the invitation and one at the bottom. This way it can’t be overlooked.

Make it easy & affordable for people to register. If there is a fee to attend your event, I would highly recommend you provide an early-registration discount. This will encourage people to register early.

It can also have a domino effect for increasing attendance. The act of seeing early registrations will provide social proof to others that this is something they should jump on—ASAP.

Successful meetings and events are vital to the overall success of small businesses and nonprofits! It’s your opportunity to speak face-to-face with your audience, so it’s important to make this a great experience—for everybody!

What tips do you have for planning a successful event? Let us know in the comments below!