Define Your Why: How to Bring Focus to Your Event
Planning an event can be overwhelming. Your job could include everything from picking the event theme, format, venue, decor, entertainment, and more.
No matter if you’re planning a wedding, birthday party, company gala, non-profit fundraiser, or a live sporting event, it’s easy to get lost in the event planning process.
It’s hard to know how to make some of the hundreds of decisions that come with event planning or even where to start. That is one of the biggest roles an event planner plays: being the decision-maker.
It sounds simple but it’s not.
The most common mistake I see with event organizers and planners is that they lose focus on the why behind their event. They’ve forgotten the whole reason that they started the entire planning process.
Common signs that you’ve lost your way in the planning process is that you’re running over-budget, you’re struggling to sell tickets or sponsorship packages, or your volunteer and event staff recruitment is going slower than you expected.
So how do you avoid getting lost in the planning process?
You need to identify your “why” from the beginning. This will act as your guiding light or “North Star” as I like to call it as it helps you make decision after decision throughout your planning process. Your North Star can be as simple as one word or one to two sentences. It says why you’re hosting, planning, and funding this event.
Let’s see a North Star in action. When I was directing an annual charity event in Shanghai for 300+ guests, my organizing committee and I set our North Star as “to raise more money for our charity.” Whenever we had to make decisions, especially if it had a financial impact, we would come back to this question: will this help us raise more money for charity?
If the answer was no, the discussion was over, we wouldn’t do that thing or buy that service. If the answer was yes, we were ready to move forward.
When deciding our decor plan for the charity gala, we went with a simple set-up, utilizing elements the venue provided for free instead of purchasing floral arrangements. We made that decision with the help of our North Star because it helped us objectively look at the added expense of having an intricate floral design. We said no because it wouldn’t directly help us raise more money for charity.
The day of our event rolls around and the expected temperature is in the 40s, unseasonably cold for November in Shanghai. Our party was taking place on a rooftop, with over 60% of our space outdoors. We ended up paying to bring in six outdoor heaters at the last minute. Using our North Star, we determined that if people were cold, they would probably leave the party early and not bid on items or participate in the raffle and that WOULD impact our main mission of raising more money for charity.
I worked a different event, getting brought in halfway through the planning process to work on the logistics. The client had already picked the theme of the event. As we worked on the event, something felt off between the client’s messaging and the theme of the event.
The client was a family-focused organization and wanted guests to be invested in their message about the importance of family. But their event theme revolved around alcohol-tasting and shopping. There was disconnect between their goal of the event and the overall theme.
By the time the organization acknowledged that disconnect, they were too far into the planning process. Their event was objectively a success in terms of attendees and funds raised but they might not have been the right attendees or the right donors since the event didn’t align with their mission. A family BBQ or funfair day might have fit better with what they were looking to communicate.
The sooner you define your North Star, the sooner you can create an event that rings true to you and your organization.
So what is your event’s North Star?
Why are you hosting this event? It’s such a simple question and yet so effective. When you define your why, you’re able to make informed decisions between this or that and sift through the wide world of event possibilities.
Your North Star will most likely be different for every event you do. If you’re a professional or college sports team, your North Star might be “to create a memorable day for fans, no matter the outcome of the competition.” For a couple planning their wedding: “to celebrate our love for each other” or “to bring our family and friends together.” For a corporate conference: “to inspire attendees to create change in their workplace.”
Whatever you decide is your North Star, stick to it, and use it as your sounding board. If I’m working on a team to plan an event, I make sure we all agree on our North Star and repeat it often. For some events, I’ll write it in the top of notes every time I work on it or on a Post-It note on my desk. Just keep it top of mind and you’ll never host an event that lacks focus.
Your North Star can help you decide which vendor to work with, what printing you need at your event or can you go digital, what SWAG to give out, and which sponsors to approach.
It’s very easy to get bogged down in the details of the event and forget why you’re even there. If you can hone in on your WHY, you’ll find you’re much better equipped to make decisions and achieve your event goals.
Logan is a freelance event manager and to-do list maker with over six years of event experience. She loves reading and listening to podcasts, which she credits for her interest in writing and telling stories. After five years in China, she relocated to Seattle, WA where she continues to drink too many cups of coffee, explore becoming a bobsled driver, and search for the best local food (in Shanghai, it’s jianbing — a Chinese breakfast pancake — yum). Connect with Logan on Instagram and LinkedIn.