The Complete Event Planning Checklist

Sep 14, 2021 / By Teresa Riccobuono
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Advisors are thinking about year-end client events and how to handle them in this somewhat uncertain climate. From 10 weeks prior to day-of and follow-up, these are the boxes you must tick for a successful event, whether it is in-person, virtual or some combination of the two.

Now that the world is opening back up in this phase of the pandemic, advisors are considering whether and when to host events. With both the Delta variant and now Mu variant here, each advisor must make their own decisions about when, where and how to hold events, of course keeping the best interests of their clients at the forefront.

Since each state and county has its own Covid guidelines and restrictions, I’m not going to discuss safety precautions except—please be certain you are following local, state and CDC requirements.

Whether you decide to put together an event in the last quarter of this year or are looking ahead to 2022, here’s what you need to know in order for your event to be successful.

Before you get started

Before you decide what type of event you want to conduct, I encourage you to work through an ideal client profile exercise. If you have never conducted this exercise or if it has been a while since you last went through the exercise, it is important to do so before dedicating resources to events, whether they be client appreciation or client acquisition events. (And here is how to do it, step by step.)

Once you have determined who you want to appreciate, replicate or acquire, the next step is to determine the type of event you want to conduct; educational, fun or both.

From my experience facilitating client advisory board meetings, I can tell you that the overwhelming interest is in fun events. As one client so eloquently stated:

As my advisor, I rely on you to keep me informed of what I need to know. I don’t want to spend my precious time sitting in a room hearing about strategies that may not pertain to me and my situation. That’s what I have you for, to tell me what I need to know and what to do about it.

And please don’t ask me to invite a friend to this type of event. They will look at me like I’m crazy. Now, if you want to invite me to a beer or wine tasting, I’m there! And that’s the type of event I can happily invite a friend or co-worker to attend.

Social Security and Medicare educational events are the exception. Due to the complexity and often irreversible decisions, Social Security and Medicare as educational topics do garner interest. Be sure you have a speaker who is well versed in current rules and strategies. (Or use Horsesmouth presentations to share the most up-to-date information yourself.)

If you really want to know what your clients are interested in, survey them. You can do this casually, through conversations, or by asking them to complete a client interest questionnaire.

If you plan to do a casual survey, be sure to add a bullet point reminder to your client meeting agenda so you don’t forget to ask.

If you plan to conduct a more formal inquiry, consider having clients complete a questionnaire when they come into your office for their meeting, or send it along with their meeting documents if they are doing a virtual meeting, but live close enough to attend the event. In my experience, the response rate is very low when sending these types of questionnaires out in the mail. Not to mention the cost involved to do so.

You don’t need to survey all of your clients, just those you want to replicate. (These would be your smiley face clients, which I mention in my ideal client article.)

If you have a client advisory board or focus group, you can certainly ask them. Since these groups are typically made up of your ideal clients, you would be gathering information from clients you want to attend.

Whatever event you decide upon, be certain it is an event you will enjoy. If you yourself are ho-hum about the event, how will anyone else get excited about it?

Steps to a successful event

Following is a list of possible steps, along with a timeline for putting together an event. This is a strong outline to follow, though not necessarily all-inclusive. Certainly if you have suggestions or thoughts about additional steps to add, please email me—I’m interested in your thoughts.

In my experience, advisors tend to discount the amount of time it takes to plan a successful event. Unless the event is intended to be a quick, last-minute get together, 8–10 weeks is ideal for the majority of events you will plan.

The checklist includes information for an educational event in case you decide to go this route. Disregard any steps that don’t apply to the event you are planning and add, as I said, add steps as appropriate.

Also of note, if you are independent, you likely won’t have the same compliance requirements of an advisor who is affiliated with a large institution.

If you would like an editable version of the timeline, again, send me an email. I will be happy to forward it to you.

8–10 weeks before event

  • Determine objective, target audience, quantity of guests and budget for the event.
  • Determine topic, presentation.
  • Contact wholesalers for interest and availability.
  • Determine A/V requirements.
  • Block off time on the calendar for weekly meetings to discuss event preparation.
  • If necessary, complete and submit any wholesaler pre-approval and reimbursement forms required by your company.
  • Save the pre-approval email with the pre-approval number (if your company provides one). You will need this for the wholesaler reimbursement request.
  • Request copy of the presentation (if using a pre-made presentation) or begin creating your own.

6–8 weeks before event

  • Review your list of venues previously researched. Haven’t researched venues? Now is the time!
  • If an appropriate venue is not on your existing list, conduct your research and add this information to your records for future use.
  • Discuss availability of date(s), capacity, menu options, A/V availability, private room, cost, payment options.
  • Visit top venues. Pay attention to parking, lighting, entrance location, valet parking. If elderly clients will be invited, consider the distance they may have to walk to get to the venue site from the parking lot.
  • Set date, time and location for the event. Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays are usually the best days. The remaining days of the week can work depending on the audience and the type of event.
  • Check the Chamber of Commerce for the local schedule of events, check the football schedule—basically, look for conflicting events.
  • Once the date is selected, block off time on the advisor’s calendar the day after the event to make calls to guests and write thank-you notes to attendees.
  • Block off the afternoon on the day of the event (if an evening event).
  • Once all details are decided: Unless you are using a pre-approved invitation, create save-the-date and/or invitation. Send save-the-date and invitations for approval. (You might want to check out GettyImages.com for stock photos.)
  • Mail or email your save-the-date or invitation after approval. Be sure to use the BCC, not the CC line, when sending the save the date (and invitation) to multiple clients. If mailing, stamp or hand write “You’re invited!” on the front of the envelope. See how that stands out? Who wouldn’t open that envelope? It won’t be mistaken as junk mail.
  • Keep track of all invitees. You will need this information for compliance.
  • If the event is not exclusive, consider adding a note to your email footer and add the event to your website as well as any business social media sites.
  • Make sure you add the event to your client meeting agenda to discuss with those whom you are meeting with prior to the event.
  • Keep track of the number of invitations provided by mail, phone, email and other sources. You may need these numbers for the reimbursement paperwork and/or for compliance.

4–5 weeks before event

  • Call your invitees, especially those you especially want to attend and those who have someone to bring that you really want to meet. Be assumptive about clients bringing a guest or two if it is a bring-a-guest event.
  • During pre-event calls, inquire about key interests and relevant financial topics. Make note of these details and use them at the event if it is appropriate.
  • Include seminar/event conversation in all client correspondence and meetings.
  • Review venue contract and contracts with any other vendors.
  • Begin putting together your “seminar-to-go” kit. Refer to the “what to bring” checklist. Send me an email if you would like a copy of what is in my Go Kit.

3 weeks before event

  • Send out invitations to confirmed attendees and others you want to attend. Include directions, parking information, entrance, room where the event will be held within the venue. If mailing, stamp or hand write “You’re invited!” on the front of the envelope. Yes, do this again. You want this important information to be seen by your invited guests.
  • Confirm presenter. Even if you have already spoken with the presenter in detail, I encourage you to still confirm.
  • Order any signage, sales literature, marketing materials, workbooks and assemble attendee kits.
  • Order or ask participating wholesalers for give-aways (ipad cover, pens, tote bag/courier bag, travel mug, book marks, clothing: polo shirts, windbreakers, stadium/picnic blankets).
  • Begin reviewing scripts and slides. Draft your opening statement. Even if you are not presenting yourself, become familiar with the slides in the event you do have to conduct the presentation due to an emergency of the presenter.
  • Prepare to mingle by reviewing my article: “Successful Networking for Introverts.”

2 weeks before event

  • Weekly invitation/confirmation calling session: Place confirmation calls with RSVP’d attendees.
  • Reconfirm arrangements with venue, including headcount, refreshments and A/V equipment. If this is a sit-down dinner event, make sure there is an empty seat at each table so you (the advisor) can switch tables in order to meet and talk with everyone. Your team members can and should circulate as well. If you have a team member sitting at each table, you can rotate tables throughout the event and not have a need for an empty chair at each table.
  • Reconfirm speaker. Request their introduction information so you can practice. Learn how to pronounce their name correctly.
  • Review roles and walk through a rehearsal. Make sure camera is in working order or the person whose cell phone is being used has a charger at the ready. Be sure everyone on the team knows their role for the event.

2–7 days before event

  • Finalize logistics. Do a walk through. Remind venue (if meal is served) to not bus tables during presentation or at least to do so quietly.
  • Confirm event details with presenter.
  • Finalize your opening statement.
  • Confirm final headcount—communicate final number to venue.
  • Create name tags, sign-in forms, comment cards, photo waivers.

Day before event

  • Call each attendee 24 hours prior to the seminar to confirm their attendance. Try to give them an additional tip like directions to the venue or the location of the room within the venue.
  • Write checks to venue and other event vendors.
  • Make sure cell phone charger is with the items ready to take to venue so photos can be taken.

Event day

Pre-guest arrival

  • Do not schedule appointments in the afternoon; spend the time mentally preparing for the event.
  • Introduce yourself to the venue staff—try to arrive 60–90 minutes early. Older clients tend to arrive quite early.
  • Confirm your event agenda with the venue staff captain.
  • Have each participating wholesaler sign the wholesaler reimbursement agreement form(s).
  • Test all audio and visual equipment.
  • Be sure camera or cell phone is fully charged.
  • Ensure projector is showing the first slide of the presentation and your wallpaper/screensaver is branded.

Once guests arrive

  • Check-in each attendee or appoint a member of your staff to do so. Have guests sign photo waiver.
  • Make sure someone is stationed at the sign-in table and confirms all written information is legible.
  • Greet every attendee and, if serving a meal, rotate among tables before and during the meal to interact with the greatest number of people.
  • If applicable, the meal should be served first, then present after. If your guests come to the event hungry, and you talk for the first 30–45 minutes, they won’t focus on you. If time allows, do not present while they’re eating, let them enjoy the meal.
  • A typical meal should last no longer than 45 minutes.

Seminar presentation

  • Once all guests are seated, begin your event by welcoming everyone and sharing the agenda.
  • If you have staff at the event, acknowledge them and their role. This will familiarize the audience with your staff.
  • Introduce COIs that may have partnered with you on the event. Introduce presenter.
  • Present seminar.
  • Ask guests to complete evaluations; collect them.
  • Some advisors have found holding a drawing for a gift certificate to the restaurant (if the event is held at a restaurant) helps increase the number of evaluations collected.
  • Give a toast or brief comment thanking your guests for attending. Thank your presenter, any professional partners and your staff.
  • Move to the exit and personally shake hands, say good-bye and thank all guests as they leave.

After your guests have left

  • Before signing the final bill, make sure it matches the number of attendees and your agreement, then get a receipt.
  • Conduct a short and simple debrief with staff, wholesaler(s), COIs and presenter.

Follow-up

  • Call all attendees within 24 hours to thank them. Call no-shows to find out if everything is okay.
  • If a client brought a guest, call the client first to find out how the guest enjoyed the event.
  • Call the guests after speaking with the person who invited them. Invite them to a complimentary consultation. (Staff may make calls only if they made a strong connection with the guest; however, the calls should come from the advisor.)
  • Send written thank you notes to all attendees.
  • Send thank you to presenter.
  • Send personal gifts to each prospect. Books, articles, white papers, small gifts are great options.
  • Have a system in place to track people who cannot or do not want to meet initially and stay in touch with them. The system should allow for two touches per week for six weeks. Alternate between email, calls, newsletters, articles, white papers. Add them to your ongoing touch system (DRIP) after the initial touches.
  • Conduct debrief meeting with staff. This should have been blocked off on the calendar weeks prior.
  • Remove any mention of the event from your email footer. Update social media. Upload photos.
  • Finalize cost of event.
  • If guests attended, track success of the event over time.

Compliance follow-up

  • Complete your compliance requirements by submitting necessary paperwork within the designated time period after your event:
    • Pre-approvals from compliance
    • Invitee list
    • Copy of actual invitation and save-the-date, if applicable
    • Copy of handouts
    • Attendee list. Attendee list must include first and last name, full address and telephone number (your compliance requirements may differ).
  • Submit reimbursement documentation within the designated time period after your event:
    • Signed wholesaler agreement(s)
    • Post-event sections
    • Attendee list
    • Copy of the invitation, if applicable
    • Detailed receipts for reimbursable expenses
  • Be sure to keep a hard copy for your records

Again, if you would like a copy of my list of what to bring, and/or an editable version of the timeline/checklist, send me an email. I will be happy to forward it along.

And be sure to let me know of any steps I have missed!

For more than 20 years, Teresa Riccobuono of Simply Organized has been a practice-management and recruiting specialist to the financial services industry, helping advisors bridge the gap between their existing and their ideal financial planning practice. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area but works with advisors across the country. She is a member of the board of directors of the East Bay Chapter of the Financial Planning Association and is currently the chair of the Public Relations committee. She can be reached at teresa@simplyorganized.com.

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