When my sister decided to marry in 2009, my mother stopped sleeping.

She lay awake worrying whether the mini quiche would still be hot if it was brought out before the wedding party arrived. She frittered over whether the tables would not leave enough space for everyone to dance. And she knew she was the queen of all wedding planners when she remembered to ask someone to plate the cake.

Eventually she ended up standing in the reception venue in the middle of the night, holding a cake knife and using paper plates to stage the table locations.

Events can drive stable people to the brink of insanity. Not only does everything have to be perfect, but you have to make it seem effortless and even try to enjoy a few moments of it. The details seem to breed more details.

In ten years of event management, I have developed a system for planning that keeps me from ending up like a crazed midnight cake murderer.

Keep your eyes on the prize

The first step is to focus on the objective of the event. Are you celebrating a marriage with family and friends, inviting major prospects to see a new product, or hosting a conference? Keep your eyes on the prize; all aspects of your event should be centered around your end goal. This will not only help you weed out the tangent ideas, but will also clarify the experience for your guests.

Manage focal points

Next, compartmentalize your event. What are the 4-6 main attractions and needs? These can be food, decor, transportation, information packets, music, displays, etc. You really shouldn’t need more than 8 at a maximum. Even a complicated wedding comes down to wedding party, formal ceremony, decor, music, food, gifts/favors, and transportation/lodging.

Assign arenas of your event to different members of your team, if you have one. (If you don’t have one, perhaps you should!)

Trim the fat

Now, do your best to trim the fat. Keep each part of your event simple, classy, and elegant. Ditch the over-the-top favors for something unusual and personal. Rather than 7 different kinds of ceiling decor, focus on 2 that are beautiful and remarkable. Don’t let your event take over your life. If you do not have time for it, cross it off! Focus on what you truly love and what will give your guests a wonderful experience.

Allow extra time

Finally, allow twice as much time for everything, and plan nothing unnecessary for the last week leading up to your big day. I promise you will not be twiddling your thumbs.


Sarah Harbin has been planning and promoting non-profit fundraisers, art and cultural events for over ten years, and recently began planning personal events.
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